Many people believe victims of domestic violence – women, men, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning and other genders – can and should simply walk away from their abusive partners. They also believe victims have the power to “just get out” whenever they like. Nothing could be further from the truth! The reality is: Leaving an abusive relationship doesn’t put an end to the violence or fear. In fact, it increases the likelihood that more abuse will occur.
Children, family members, friends, pets, possessions, etc., may also be at risk because domestic violence is about one person asserting power and control (and often privilege) over another. If we were to ask abusers/perpetrators, many would say they believe their victims “belong” to them, so often they resort to any means necessary to secure “their property.”
While it may have seemed comforting to hear there was a significant decline in intimate partner homicide years ago, one life harmed by or lost to domestic violence is one too many. And if current trends seem fuzzy, the victims and survivors should be more important than the numbers. But numbers are relevant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that intimate-partner violence resulted in 2,340 deaths in 2007 – accounting for 14% of all homicides. Of those deaths 70% were females. According to the World Health Organization: Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
What we know now is pretty much the same as what we knew then:
- According to Casanave and Zahn in 1986, almost one fourth of the women killed by their male partners in one study in Philadelphia and Chicago were separated or divorced from the men who killed them.
- Also, 28.6% of the women were attempting to end the relationship when they were killed.
- In one study of spousal homicide, over half of the male defendants were separated from their victims.
Most people can list a number of reasons why victims might respond (stay, return) in certain ways at certain times and have strong opinions on the subject, but we must be careful so we aren’t blaming those who are still dealing with a dangerous individual and potential realities. The abuser is responsible for the violence they inflict.
Knowing we should not blame the victim, perhaps then, better questions to ask might be: Why does someone continue to hurt another they claim to love? Why doesn’t the abuser just stop? Why does domestic violence still exist? Why is it still tolerated for some (e.g., certain personalities on TLC, in the NFL, on the big screen, etc.)? What can we do to hold abusers responsible? Even if death is not the end result, why does it seem that some people are more concerned with forgiving abusers/perpetrators and less concerned about the overall health and wellbeing of victims/survivors? After all, shouldn’t it be about the victims and survivors?
Some content appeared in the original release of the SLHLE, “What should she take when it’s time to leave?” (March 24, 2010).