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Why does she stay?

Why does she stay?  It is the question we all ask.  It has been explained and argued about in books, at conferences, and in personal debates and discussions for years across the country.  The question permeates the mind of the law enforcement first responder, the medical first responder, the social worker, the next-door neighbor, and every other person in our culture dealing with battered women.  The question is always just below the surface, even if we never voice it.

Based on research, the fundamental problem with this approach is obvious.  It blames the victim for the violence.  Her injuries become her fault.  The impact of the violence on the children becomes her fault.  Because she stayed, the violence has escalated.  Tragically, when victims are blamed by intervention professionals, or even caring, well-meaning neighbors or family members, they are not more likely to get help. 

Woman with Tear

The other troubling aspect of the question is the assumption that underlies it.  In asking, we assume that if she leaves, the violence will stop and she will be safe.  Neither assumption has any basis in reality unless a lot of people work together to help her.  The research is now incontrovertible that when a victim leaves her abuser, she is actually in greater danger than when she stays.  The truth has been confirmed:  Battered women know instinctively what we now know statistically—victims are in more danger when they leave than when they stay with their abusive partners.

The reality of the danger to victims when they try to leave should therefore guide everything we do to help them.  We should rethink our deep-seated biases, our words, and our unspoken assumptions.  And we should eliminate the question from our vocabulary.  Never again should we be caught asking “Why does she stay?” unless we understand the complexity of the answer.

 Battered Woman  
  • She stays out of fear for her life. 
  • She stays out of love for her partner. 
  • She stays out of fear for her children. 
  • She stays because her options are so limited. 
  • She stays for complicated reasons related to dependency,
        lack of self-worth, lack of resources, and a lack of community

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