Domestic Violence and the Wrong Question

I have lived through domestic violence. I grew up in a home where it was a daily occurrence. I was subjected to the attentions of a man who should have known better. Against my better judgment, I still found myself following down the statistical path and  married a man whom after convincing me to move away from family and friends finally was allowed to fully express his need to control me and eventually my daughter.

Throughout all the abuses of my life, I kept hearing the same question: “Why didn’t you just leave?” This is a question that has bugged me because it has no answer that makes other people happy. If a woman doesn’t leave, then it’s assumed it’s not really as bad as she says it is. Or worse, that she somehow is less of a person for not standing up and protecting herself or her children. If a woman retaliates against her abuser instead of leaving, she is often “villainized” as over-reacting and has to explain to a disbelieving jury how, over time the abuse she endured came back out in one massive storm. The laws are set up in such a way, that she will be the one behind bars while in most cases, her abuser walks free. Rare are the cases that she  actually kills him and saves other women and children from his abusive ways.

When discussing Domestic Violence, it’s easy for people who’ve never experienced it to think that leaving is as easy as just walking out the door; turning away; hanging up a phone. It’s easy to take the emotional attachment out of a relationship and treat it like acquaintances meeting on the street. Of course you wouldn’t let a stranger beat or demean you. But Domestic Violence relationships start off just like any other romantic relationship. Happy. Sweet. Loving. It’s only over time that they progress to something more sinister. They last because the abuser has built a web, like a spider that makes it difficult to extricate oneself from the influence. Abusers are charismatic in public and easily win the affection of friends and family. But in private they slowly begin taking more and more control either through force or most often playing on the emotional investment of the victim. Eventually, we begin to convince ourselves that maybe we aren’t doing everything just right. If we tried just a little bit harder like he suggests, then he’d be happy, too. The desire to keep everyone happy overrides the common sense to just give up and walk out before it gets too dangerous to leave. So many women and children die every year because of a conditioned emotional investment that I liken to a deadly Florence Nightingale Effect. We care for someone. We envision them happy and satisfied with life. We try to help them get there. We invest our lives to do so. Unfortunately in this situation, “the patient” is not suffering a broken leg that can be healed. In the case of Domestic Violence, the patient is looking for control. His “happiness” is only defined by his ability to subjugate, destroy and overpower.

But yet still people ask “Why don’t you JUST leave?” Maybe a 15-year-old can JUST leave, depending on how crazy the “boy” is she was involved with. But most grown women can’t JUST leave. We have to explain ourselves. If we say abuse, people try to convince us it didn’t happen, or we were just imagining it. Or worse, “It couldn’t really be THAT bad.” Then we are called out to explain why we THINK it was abuse and not just normal relationship ups and downs. After all, no one is perfect. And if the abuse happens in a marriage, it’s even harder to JUST leave. People want you to “work it out.” Or tell you to just “try harder.” Again, “It can’t really be THAT bad.”

As I was trying to extricate myself from a long relationship and marriage, I was often asked “Why didn’t it start earlier?” The funny thing about that question is, the answer. IT DID START EARLIER. But I was already invested and conditioned. The very fact that I left my home, my friends, my family, a great job and gave up my joys of flying and dancing every week to move to a place I never wanted to live and had no connections is a big indication that the abuse had begun much earlier. It just grew over time and eventually with my death-defying pregnancy became too much to bear.

But still yet, I get asked the question, “Why didn’t you JUST leave, sooner?” The truth is, once I recognized the situation, I still didn’t want to admit it to myself. I was a strong, seemingly independent woman. I was educated and had achieved some amazing things in my life. I had already escaped a dangerous situation when I left the home at 17. Could this really be happening, again? To me? It was only once I realized the man I married didn’t exist, did I begin to take control of my life again. But again, I didn’t JUST leave. I had to be careful. More careful than many would have been able to be, and more careful than some thought I needed to be.

But through all of that, I still hear, “Why didn’t you JUST leave?” This is the WRONG question. As a witness to violent abuses growing up and as a survivor of violent abuses as both a child and an adult, I find this question offensive and demeaning. It’s not the right question to ask.

Domestic Violence is a real phenomenon and it’s growing exponentially. It is not a problem of one demographic but crosses all generations, ethnic groups and economic classes. Even women are becoming the aggressors now.

Domestic Violence is not something we can just ignore or put on the victim anymore. The question “Why didn’t you JUST leave?” does just that. It assumes the victim is in control and has the power, ability and resources to JUST leave. It lets the aggressor off the hook. It lets him walk around free proclaiming his innocence. Because if it really were “that bad” he’d be in jail, right?

The RIGHT question that should be asked is “Why didn’t he JUST STOP?!” He’s the one in control. He’s the one who made the decision to push it just a little further. He’s the one who decided to do in private what he would never do in public. Why didn’t he JUST STOP? Just like in a deadly plane or car accident, the pilot or driver in command is the focus of the problem that needs to be fixed. Until we can start focusing on that question, Domestic Violence will continue to be an epidemic. It’s time to change the question and put the responsibility of change where it belongs; on the abusers.

If you or someone you know is suffering from Domestic Violence, don’t hesitate. The life you save could be your own.

If you need immediate assistance, dial 911.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE  (7233)

For more information and to find local support organizations visit the website for the  National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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About Supovadea

Single Mom, Certified Rocket Scientist & Aerospace Engineer, Private Pilot, Amazon, Dancer, Writer, Eternal Optimist, Survivor, Dreamer, 2,910 NM ENE of where I belong.
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5 Responses to Domestic Violence and the Wrong Question

  1. Derek W says:

    Zee, I hear you loud and clear. And one of the reasons I haven’t been able to say anything is that I am not in your shoes. I can only read what you write and try to imagine the scene. I, like everyone else, have my own baggage and problems, and I feel that my problems can also be viewed from the outside as “Why don’t you ____?”

    “Why don’t you leave?” and “Why don’t he stop?” are very interesting viewpoints to the problem. In my older age, I have just stopped believing things can get better by themselves and started believing in “Q-bert” effect: if I stay “here”, something WILL get me. However, if I keep moving, I might get to the finish line and avoid the pitfalls. I may ALSO land in a worse/same situation.

    I feel that even if I land in a worse/same situation, I might have an easier solution to THAT problem than the one I just left. Reminds me of a joke:

    911, what’s the emergency?
    There’s been a hit-n-run accident!
    Where did it happen?
    Right here on 1st and sickamore!
    Can you spell that?
    Yeah! S-I-C-K-A…, um, C-I-K-A…, um….hold on! I’m gonna drag him to Elm street!

    So, solving the problem maybe as easy as making the problem worse. I’ve always felt as a man that I physically have more strength than all the females I’ve been with, and that I should always use that strength as a tool to better the situation than to worsen. Everyone is equal, so why should I hold anyone down.

    The “Why don’t you leave?” question, I feel, becomes an easy suggestion (from the outside) because people have ended relationships for far less reasons than being abused, hit, put down. Relationships have ended on misunderstanding in times (pick me up at 1; I thought you said 1:30) or wandering eyes (I saw you look at that woman!).

    So, when someone is being physically hurt, it seems an obvious solution to not ONLY rid yourself of the abuser, but to make that person pay for they’re crimes.

    I very much understand when family, kids, home, and location comes into play, its get much more complicated.

    Zee, as always, I appreciate your writings, and you take care of yourself and that wonderful kid of yours!

    • Supovadea says:

      True. People do end relationships for some really silly reasons. The problem with abuse though, is that it’s hard to prove sometimes. Similar to the Sickamore/Elm problem. Naming it for what it is before you can get safely away can make the problem even worse. In cases of current and ex law enforcement or military, it can often end very badly with no one going to jail, but instead to the grave.

      As common as domestic violence is (1 in 3 are victims) it’s still a very taboo & uncomfortable topic. Men generally don’t want to hear about it because they feel women speaking out assume all men are abusers. Women don’t want to speak about it because there is always somebody’s story that is more horrifying that it can make them feel like they have nothing to complain about it. It’s getting better now. There is help for victims, but there is no “social” penalty for the abusers.

      Victims spend their lives recovering. Abusers just move on to the next. Their friends and family don’t try to “help” them, or even warn people away. Heck, an abusers friends and family rarely turn their back on him. But a victim will often find friends and family who disappear because they either don’t believe, don’t want to hear about it or are embarrassed by the fact that it did happen. I have family members who have ostracized me because I spoke out when I was 17. They still won’t talk to me, but they’ll talk to him. No “social” penalty for the abusers.

      I appreciate that you make an attempt to understand it. Unfortunately, odds are you will run into it someday. A friend or family member. They’ll benefit from your compassion.

  2. Derek W says:

    I wouldn’t worry about what other people think. I would worry about you and he (or you and she) first.

    Either leave or fix it. Staying with problem is just detrimental.

    You are right. At this age in my life, I am very cynical. You learn over time when things can be fixed and things need to be thrown away. When things are thrown away, only options are find a new one, or forgot the whole thing.

    Thinking that the bad situation would ever work is silly. Life is too short.

    (sorry if i seem rough…)

  3. Supovadea says:

    I don’t worry anymore about what other people think or say. I speak out now, because I don’t worry about what others think or say. I’m tired of being silent for fear of people reacting to me differently or as in the case of an insensitive, selfish, former coworker, running off to tell my then husband what I inadvertently blabbed to her in a weak moment. But I used to worry. Part of it was trying to maintain a safety net. but also, there is still the stigma against the victims. “What happens in the home…”

    Anyway, I no longer worry about what others think. I’ve finally reached a point in my recovery where I can openly discuss it. I have distance on my side though. Some aren’t granted that because of lengthy custody battles or just no resources. Yes, the courts still believe that an abuser can change and has the genetic right to mess with the upbringing of a child.

    I also have documentation on my side. I have doctors and nurses reports and observations, as well as bank statements and bills to prove the case against one abuser and doctors and police reports to prove the case against another. I have no fear of people thinking things weren’t really bad anymore. I know they were and can prove it.

    In my case, I am currently opting to forget about romance for me, and am hoping only to surround my daughter with other couples who are happily married so she’ll see it and know it can happen. My feelings may change someday, but for now, I’m not interested. I just want to make sure that I speak out for those who have yet to find their voice, or the strength to share their stories.

  4. Pingback: Through the Eyes of an Island Girl 2010 in review | Through the Eyes of an Island Girl

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