So why did she marry him, move in, have kids? Why, when the feel of his fist is still fresh on her face??
Or maybe the abuse is not physical, but only emotional. Or financial. Maybe she’s only allowed to do what he says, go where he says, see who he says.
I met a woman once who said she came to this country with her husband in good faith… until, once here, he said she was to go nowhere without him. She didn’t know anyone else here so she became a virtual prisoner inside her home for six years.
Why didn’t she leave sooner? She and she and the other she and her and the hundreds and thousands of ‘she’ everywhere… why doe she stay?
It’s always the first question. Sometimes the only question.
And the answers… not so simple.
She stays because she’s afraid, isolated, shamed. Because it’s her home. Because she’s given away her power, been told she’s stupid and worthless one too many times. Because she’s been told her whole life she’s stupid and worthless. Because she believes she’s stupid and worthless. Because there are kids and pets and threats to harm them or take them away.
Because there are threats. Always threats.
Because she is deflated, broken, and because he threatens suicide if she leaves. Always threats. Because to leave is failure; because she came from a broken home and doesn’t want her kids to come from the same place. Because she will be seen as pathetic for having stayed so long so it’s better to stay even longer and not let anyone know. Because people blame the victim. Because people blame the victim… Because people blame.
She stays because she’s fought this fight ten thousand times and hasn’t got the strength it takes to fight back anymore much less start a new life, no matter how right and good and sensible she knows that would be.
She stays because she doesn’t even know she’s being abused. It started small. It was only emotional. He has a temper but he loves me, the kids, he always says he’s sorry. Because this time is the last time. Because this black eye is the last black eye, he said so. He promised. He cried, he begged. He’s really just a teddy bear underneath… he needs her, he said. And she needs to be needed. What else does she have?
She stays because he is her family. Because of For Better or Worse. Because even though she looks fine and manages to function, she is so messed up emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically, she can’t even see straight. She stays because it’s easier at this stage to hope… so she hopes he will be in a good mood today and when he isn’t… it’s too late again.
She stays because she doesn’t want to be seen as weak, or overly dramatic. No bones broken, just a little scuffle. He’s got a temper. I mentioned that, right, the temper?
She stays because the most dangerous thing she can do is leave. It’s bad enough under normal circumstances but if the guy has money, that danger is multiplied. He can have her watched, followed, hurt or worse. And he almost always does.
And where is she supposed to go? Family? Friends? He’ll find her. A hotel isn’t safe. So you tell me… where does she go?? In this weakened state. Where?
That she leaves at all is extraordinary. It takes monumental courage.
And the women that manage it should be applauded and protected. They aren’t just ‘leaving’, they’re fighting for their lives. I see them at the women’s shelter where I volunteer. They land on the doorstep not because it’s an easy fix but because, for a short time at least, they’ll be safe. The windows are bullet proof; there are cameras at the door, you have to be buzzed in. The police are on speed dial.
Sadly there are never enough beds, never enough shelters. The problem of abuse is only getting worse. Sometimes women are sent out of town, wherever a place can be found. Imagine leaving your home with nothing, your abuser’s voice still ringing in your head, screaming that if you leave he’ll kill you or someone or something you love, and it will be your fault he says. If you leave, he won’t be accountable for what he does. It will be your fault.
The shelters are a place to breathe and think and get some help with what to do next. They’re a place that reminds women they aren’t alone, that their problem isn’t unique to them.
Why does she stay?
Because until she finds the strength to do anything else, it’s all she can do.
And even if she finally musters the courage to leave, she may very well go back at some point. For all the same reasons.
She wants things to be better. She really does. That’s part of the problem.
Factor in a situation where names and faces, celebrity and corporations and big money are involved and you can be sure there are those that will do their best to convince her staying is to her advantage, in order that those others save face. And money.
Her face for theirs.
Now factor in having nothing.
Or being somewhere in-between.
Because it doesn’t matter, rich or poor, abuse is the same.
Why does she stay?
Here’s a better question: why does he stay?
But you’ll notice no one’s asking that.
(Note: The woman who was a prisoner in her home for six years, finally escaped. I met her at the shelter she ran to, where she found safety and community for the first time since coming to Canada and where, in a writing workshop, she wrote about the taste of mangos, the memory of a tree outside her childhood window. As she read aloud it occurred to me that she will heal, she will survive and maybe even thrive, not in small part because she was careful to leave at the right time. When she was ready, when she knew where to go, when she had enough courage. So many factors to consider.)
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For further information and assistance, including a list of shelters in Ontario, and across Canada:
—Public Health Agency of Canada