As survivors of domestic violence, we are often asked, “Why would you stay with someone who abused you?” We often overhear people commenting that a woman who stays in an abusive relationship must ultimately like being abused. Since October is domestic violence awareness month, we are drawing from our personal experiences to answer that very question: Why do women stay? We hope to enlighten and educate as part of the overall goal to create more awareness and support.
Fear: We were too scared to leave. We knew that if we left, our abuser would become more violent, and if he found us, he might kill us. We didn’t want to live with abuse anymore, but we did want to live—and taking the risk of leaving had frightening consequences.
Money: For most of us, we had very little to no money of our own. Leaving home without any money is terrifying. You never know if you are going to end up sleeping on the streets, which is not an option when you have young children.
Lack of space in shelters: Finding a space in a domestic violence shelter is very difficult. Even if we could find available space for ourselves, it often didn’t have enough space for our children. Choosing between our own safety and staying with our children is a decision no one wants to make.
Our children: Even when space was available for our children in a shelter, we felt guilty about uprooting them from school and their home and bringing them to a crowded shelter where they didn’t know anyone and didn’t want to be there.
Loneliness, low self esteem: Being abused is isolating. We lost contact with our friends and most of our family. We had no one to turn to for help when we needed it. Our abuser told us for so long that no one else would ever want us. Eventually, we started to believe him.
Hoping for change. Many of us really did believe that if we were good enough girlfriends or wives, he would change. He never did.
Thankfully, with the help of the Elizabeth Stone House and the incredible network of domestic violence advocates in the Boston area, we were all able to overcome these obstacles and move on with our lives. We are very fortunate but it was and continues to be hard work. The next time you hear yourself asking, “Why does she stay?” try asking yourself, “What obstacles might she be facing? What can society do to help?”
As awareness of domestic violence grows, the hurdles that hold people back—including fear and low self-esteem—can be overcome.
The writers are current and former residents of the Elizabeth Stone House in Roxbury, formerly in Jamaica Plain.