When survivors stay with their abusers beyond the first clear episode of violence, they are often blamed for both the violence and its continuance.
But staying where there has been abuse does not signify consent or permission for the abuse.
Attempting to leave an abusive relationship can be blocked or punished by an abuser in a variety of ways: increased physical injury to the victim; threats to harm the children or the family pets; shifting the guilt (“If you did this, I wouldn’t have to do that”) to the survivor; and making the victim feel powerless (“You know you can’t survive without me, you’re too stupid to be able to take care of yourself.”)
It can be difficult for someone outside the immediate situation to understand that neither confusion nor submission are consent. Most people endure occasional meanness from a partner because it seems like an aberration that (they hope) won’t be repeated. Only over time, does the methodical nature of domestic violence become obvious. Many try to change their own behavior to end the abuse, long before realizing that it’s the partner’s behavior that must change.
Blaming the victim perpetuates the myth that the victim is the one at fault. Blaming the victim only increases the trauma of abuse while obstructing the process of validation that’s critical for the change and personal growth that contribute to healing.
“I thought if I kept the perfect home, dressed a certain way, made the requested meals and bought the right brand of snacks, things would be better,” said one survivor. “But the rules kept changing and I finally realized I could never please this person or ever do the right thing.” After time and with no network of support to encourage resistance, it becomes a way of life.
The more victims are isolated from family and friends, and the longer the abuse and control continue, the more normative the situation becomes. Low self-esteem, bitterness, and lessened sensitivity to danger can make it appear that the victim “chooses” to stay. When in reality, staying can seem to be the best option when looking at the difficulties and lack of support in leaving and facing the world alone.
And finally, if the abused partner has no vehicle or access to public transportation, does not control the money and has no meaningful social contacts, escape can loom as a far greater danger than the volatile situation at home.
Turning Points Network has been described as nonjudgmental as well as compassionate, resourceful and successful by the survivors the agency has helped heal from abuse. At TPN, each person can regain their self-confidence and find the skills to transition to their definition of independence at their own pace and in their own very individual way. “I learned so much from the others in my peer support group,” one survivor explained. “I could never have found out who I really am and how strong I am without the patience, kindness and positive encouragement I experienced every day at TPN,” said another.
If you or someone you know needs help or information regarding domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking or human trafficking, call the TPN Crisis and Support Line, anytime 24/seven at 1.800.639.3130.
OUR TURN is a public service series made available by Turning Points Network in celebration of its 40th anniversary of providing violence-prevention education programs in our schools, services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and helping people move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turningpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.