By Sadiyah Evangelista
I ask myself, why do victims of abuse “most of the time reunite with their abusers? I asked this question because about 10 years ago I found myself in a physically abusive relationship telling myself for a year I am never going back, but I did. I always said no man would ever put his hands on me, but here I was a 24-year-old new bride dealing with the very thing I said I will never tolerate. I think from the very moment the first physical altercation occurred to the very last, I planned on leaving literally about twenty something times, but just couldn’t. I thought.
In this article I will first illustrate the statistics of domestic violence nationally and for the State of Texas from the U.S. Department of Justice published June 12th, 2005. I will also explain some of the factors of why women stay with their domestic abusers.
One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. The majority (73%) of family violence victims are female. Females were 84% of spousal abuse victims and 86% of abuse victims at the hands of a boyfriend. The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
Family violence accounted for 11 percent of all reported and unreported violence between 1998 and 2002. Of these offenses against family members, 49 percent were a crime against a spouse, 11 percent a parent attacking a child, and 41 percent an offense against another family member.
Seventy-three percent of family violence victims were female and 76 percent of persons who committed family violence were male. Simple assault was the most frequent type of family violence.
One of the most frustrating things for people outside an abusive relationship is trying to understand why a woman doesn’t just leave. On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times (Remember it took me about 20+, I stopped counting). The reasons they return or stay in the relationship vary from case to case.
Lack of resources, responses by services and authorities, and traditional thinking by the victim, abuser or those surrounded by the abused woman, are the main reasons that compel a woman to continue in her abusive relationship.
When dealing with lack of resources, most abused women have at least one minor child. Many are not employed outside the home nor have property that is solely theirs. In many cases, abusers have cut off access to cash or bank accounts. Most abused women fear losing joint assets and custody of their children. Ultimately, abused women fear a lower standard of living for themselves and their children.
Many times abused women will try to empower themselves and seek help outside of the home only to be placed back into the fists of the abuser. Often, clergy and social workers are trained to “save the family” rather than to stop violence, hence the victim trusting in the “wise” guidance of the preacher returns to hell at home.
Too frequently, police treat incidents of domestic violence as mere “disputes” rather than as serious crimes in which one person is physically assaulting another. Police may try to discourage women from pressing criminal charges. Attorneys are often reluctant to prosecute cases because many of the women recant and there is not sufficient evidence to pursue the case. Justices rarely assign the maximum sentence or fine possible. Restraining orders and peace bonds do little to prevent abusers from repeating their violent patterns of behavior.
Sadly, there are too few shelters to keep women safe.
Finally, because of victim’s traditional way of thinking, an abused woman will hold herself mentally hostage to a relationship that could ultimately kill her or her children. Many women don’t view divorce as a viable alternative. Many abused women don’t accept the notion of single parenting. They believe a bad father is better than none at all.
Many abused women are conditioned to believe they are responsible for making their marriage or relationship work; that if the relationship fails, they have failed as women. Society has often taught these women that their worth is measured by their ability to get and keep a man.
Many abused women feel isolated from their families and from society. Isolation is either the result of the abuser’s possessiveness or jealousy, or it may be an attempt on the part of the victim to hide signs of abuse from the outside world. Either way, such isolation leads many victims to feel they have nowhere to turn.
Drugs or alcohol were involved in 39 percent of family violence victimizations. In 20 percent of family violence incidents, the offender had a weapon.
About four in 10 family violence victimizations did not come to police attention between 1998 and 2002. Thirty-four percent of victims of unreported family violence said they did not tell law enforcement officials about the matter because it was private or personal. Another 12 percent said they did not report it to protect the offender.
Fifty-eight percent of family murder victims were female, and 26 percent were under age 18. Among murdered children under age 13, 66 percent were killed by a family member. Eighty-three percent of those who killed a spouse were males, as were 75 percent of those who killed a boyfriend or girlfriend.
In Texas alone, in the year 2005 there were 187,811 incidents of family violence in 2005. There were 12,356 adults living in domestic violence shelters in 2006. There were 8,511 forcible rapes. There were 120 homicides as a result of domestic violence in Texas in 2006. Of those 120 domestic violence homicides in Texas, 43% were committed by a spouse and 24% were committed by a dating partner. Six children were killed in Texas as a result of domestic violence in 2006.
Often, victims externalize or rationalize the reasons for their abuser’s behavior, casting blame of circumstances such as stress, financial hardship, job stress, chemical dependency, etc. Between violent episodes, there are periods of calm during which the abuser is charming, nurturing, and caring. Those traits which initially attracted him/her to his/her victim resurface and the victim sees her abuser as a loving person, thereby reinforcing her decision to stay.
Why women stay in abusive relationships as you can see is an extremely complex issue, and it has no single, straightforward answer. Many women believe they can’t leave their abusers. We can judge these women but remember, if you look to your left or to your right, someone you know or even you have experienced this abuse. However, as dismal the statistics may seem and as hopeless as the rationale of why women stay with their abusers is, there is hope, there is protection and there is Supreme guidance that will allow a woman to break free from the vicious cycle of her abuser. She will learn to know that she can leave him, safely and securely no matter what she is enduring at this time. I did.
God willing, these words will help those in these vicious cycles break free to see beyond their current predicament and/or circumstances to have freedom, justice and equality as it concerns domestic violence.
Sister Sadiyah Evangelista