Updated: Feb 11
Addressing a Cultural Myth related to Domestic Violence.
The question, “Why didn’t you just leave?” has been asked many times of abuse survivors. This question has also been asked when others are talking about the survivor. This demonstrates that the myth, "the victim can just leave the situation", has pervaded our culture.
In general, this can be a valid question, in the sense that nothing will change for the victim if *she does not take action, such as changing her circumstances, seeking support, taking steps to be safe and reporting the abuse to authorities.
But this question itself is too simple and tends to put the onus on the victim. When only asking this limited question, the myth, that all the victim has to do to solve her problem is to just leave, is perpetuated. Also, this myth, communicates that because she didn’t leave, she is somehow culpable in the abuse. Unfortunately, this can go as far as thinking that something is wrong with her and even labeling her as someone who has a “victim mentality”.
This is the direction that this myth can take us. A direction of judgment, shaming and blaming the victim, which solves nothing and lets the abuser off the hook.
What is needed, is an understanding of what is preventing the victim from being able to leave.
Some of those things are;
• The abuser has made threats, instilling the fear and/or demonstrating by action that he is fully capable of following through with his threats.
• No access to resources, he has taken all the control in the area of finances, transportation, ext.
• Isolation from safe community, friends, and family.
• Shaming from the abuser, family, friends, church, culture that she is not doing her part correctly as a wife.
• A previous attempt to report and/or leave that did not have the follow-through needed, leaving the survivor to return to the circumstances with the abuser and the abuse got worse.
There are many more things that prevent a survivor from getting free from the abuser. To fully understand those things, in order to cultivate a culture where she can leave in safety, is to ask different questions.
Questions such as;
• What is preventing her from being able to leave?
• What type of dangers is she facing if she would try to leave?
• How is the perpetrator being held responsible for his crimes (yes crimes such as assault and battery) that he is committing?
• What do we, as a society, need to do to encourage, support and provide safety for victims of abuse so that they are acknowledged and are safe when reporting abuse and leaving the abusive person?
• What do we need to do as a society in holding abusers accountable and helping abusers not to abuse?
These, and many others, are the questions that need to be asked.
When these questions are asked instead, understanding happens and ferreting out real solutions happens.
These are some ways the myth, "the victim can just leave the situation", can be dispelled and replaced with the truth, "the victim is under bondage, therefore, cannot just leave".
Let's ask a better overall question;
“How can she be supported in her desire to be free from the abuse that she is suffering?”
And give a better response to the abuse survivor (who has left) maybe,
“I am so glad that you no longer are being abused and thank you for sharing with me”.
* All genders and men suffer from relational abuse also, this I do not deny. For the sake of discussion and in general, because women are statistically more likely to be the victims of abuse, I will be using she/her for convenience in the writing of this blog.