It is a question almost always asked of a woman living in the perils of an abusive relationship. “Why does she stay?”
The question not often asked is, “Why does he choose to hit her?”
The first question suggests, in some way, that she has options, that she is in control of the situation.
For the woman, the question of ‘why does she stay’ is a reflection of our belief that she knows how to get out of the situation she’s in. That she feels in control and powerful enough to make a different choice. Yet, abuse, by its very nature, is designed to undermine, to tear away an individual’s sense of self-efficacy, to destroy their belief in their power to change what is happening in their life and the options they have to do so.
In not asking the question, “Why does he choose to hit her?” we are placing the responsibility for the abuse solely on the woman. We are suggesting the relationship and all that is happening in it are of her doing. He is just being who he is. He is just doing what he does.
In not asking the second question we make abuse a woman’s issue. Solely.
Yes, she knows abuse hurts. She knows it destroys self-esteem, drives you crazy with its crazy nonsense, its brutal reality, its ugly existence.
She knows abuse is wrong. So does he.
She knows he could kill her. So does he.
The responsibility for abuse is 100% the responsibility of the person choosing to use violence as a tool to get what they want, to control another through using their physical size and other measures such as control of money to exert power over another.
Why does she stay?
She stays because after years of living in the confusing, terrifying, reality-shifting, crazy-making world he creates with his abuse, she’s learned to take it, to not stand up to it but instead, to lie down to it. She’s learned to believe him when he says, she cannot leave, she’ll be nothing without him. She’ll have nothing without him. He’ll kill her if she leaves.
She’s believed everything else he’s told her. Why wouldn’t she believe he’d kill her if she left him?
Why does she stay?
She stays because of the children. Because she has no money and no control or access to their finances. She stays because he tells her to. Because she believes all the lies he’s told her about why it’s her fault, how she’s the bad one, she’s the crazy one, the one who doesn’t deserve anything other than what she’s getting.
She does not stay because he hits her or because she likes his abuse.
She stays because she believes no one can stop him. He’s told her that often enough. It must be true.
She stays because she not only feels worthless, undeserving, like he is all she deserves, she believes it. He’s told her so many times that she is worthless, a piece of garbage, stupid, ugly, and every other horrible word he can think that will make her believe it’s true. She does. Believe it.
The real questions, the ones we don’t ask, the ones we shy away from, the ones we don’t yell out and insist he answer?
Why does he do it?
Why does he lie and manipulate and scream and yell and hit and do everything he can to convince her she is unworthy of anything other than what he gives her?
Why does he choose to hit her?
This is a repost from August 17, 2015. I am honouring the 16 Days of Activism by making my voice and my actions matter in the vision to End Gender Based Violence. #MyVoiceMatters #MyActionsMatter @WomenCanada #EndViolence #GBV