Davina James-Hanman on domestic violence
Why does she stay? That is the wrong question to ask about domestic violence and is based on several false assumptions.
First, it assumes that leaving ends the violence. It doesn’t. It is at the point of separation that most women are killed; many more are assaulted, raped and harassed for weeks, months or years.
It also assumes victims are responsible for stopping the abuse. Why do we even care whether she stays or goes? Her behaviour is not the problem.
Also implicit is that women are somehow “putting up with it” and leaving is the only option. In fact, abused women try a variety of strategies. Some issue threats, of leaving or involving the police, some physically fight back, others try to reason or modify their behaviour. To label these efforts as “putting up with it” is insulting and inaccurate.
The question also ignores what happens when she seeks help. Many service providers expect that women should behave like “proper victims”. This means being grateful for the chance to live in bed and breakfast for a year waiting for a flat on a rundown estate because you fear not being believed if you object. This means not objecting to joint sessions to make arrangements for child contact in case you are labelled uncooperative. It means crying in court if you want to secure a conviction and avoid being seen as vindictive.
By expecting women to behave in this way we add to their sense of shame, their humiliation and sense of failure.
Perhaps the most pertinent consequence of “why does she stay?” is that we leave the abuser unaccountable. We also leave children who have lived with domestic violence with the message that violence is how you get your own way.
Rather than assuming that the “solution” is for the couple to separate, a better question might be: “Why is he abusing her and how is he allowed to get away with it?”
Davina James-Hanman is the director of AVA (Against Violence and Abuse)