Why do women stay?
Many people get frustrated when they hear that women live in homes with violent offenders, especially if they have children in the house. They assume that women can simply pack up and leave, and if they dont, that they must have been allowing the perpetrator to abuse them. There is no focus on the man (an overwhelming majority of cases are male violence against women and children) and his choice to be a poor partner and father, the focus is on the victim.
If women could leave, they would. No one wants to expose their children to violence, or be a victim of violence themselves. There are very complex factors involved that must be addressed in order to demonstrate just how difficult it is to leave someone that is highly tactical, manipulative and abusive.
Listed below Meyering (2012) explains five important reasons why women might not be able to “just leave” with their children to avoid being abused or having their children witnessing abuse:
1. Safety concerns
Fear for safety is one of the primary reasons women stay in violent relationships. Research shows that women and children are at a higher risk of partner violence (including homicide) following separation. The researchers identified disputes over children as a major factor increasing the risk of violence following separation (Dobash & Dobash, 2009).
Women may also be concerned for the safety of their children and other family members or friends. In Humphreys and Thiara’s (2003, p. 200) study of post-separation violence, 18% of women reported threats to other family members.
2. Housing difficulties
A common barrier for abused women is the real fear of homelessness resulting from ending a violent relationship. A shortage of crisis and longer term accommodation means that women and their children may not be able to access housing support if they leave the family home to escape violence. On an average day in 2010-11, 59% of all new requests for immediate accommodation were unable to be met by Australian homelessness services funded under the (then) Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). New requests represent 4% of total demand for housing assistance (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011, p. v).
Long waiting lists for public housing and the high cost of rental in many parts of the country present few housing options for lower income women who leave their home to escape violence, particularly those with children (Braaf & Barrett Meyering 2011).
While there is an increased policy emphasis on women and children staying in the family home and having the violent partner leave, women often lack the financial resources to keep their home in the long term.
3. Financial barriers
Financial concerns are another major barrier to women ending a violent relationship. Women who participated in the Clearinghouse’s financial security study said that they did not end the relationship because they were financially dependent on their abusive partner and/or were threatened with financial consequences if they tried to do so. Some women were also forced to return to their partners because of financial insecurity (Braaf & Barrett Meyering 2011).
4. Lack of access to support
For many reasons (including fear, shame, thinking they will not be believed, and familial, cultural or religious pressures), victims are often reluctant to report abuse or seek assistance from services ). In 2005, only 36.8% of Australian women who experienced physical violence by a male partner (current or previous), boyfriend or date in the previous twelve months reported the most recent incident to the police (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, p. 21). An even smaller proportion of women who were sexually assaulted by a male partner (current or previous), boyfriend or date in the previous twelve months reported the most recent incident (19.7%). Of all women who had experienced partner violence since the age of 15 years and had children in their care during the relationship, 59% reported that the violence had been witnessed by children (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005).
Women may be isolated from social supports as a result of the violence (and government legislation), making it difficult to seek help. For example, their abusive partner may prevent women from seeing family and/or friends. In the IVAWS, 11% of Australian women who were in a relationship reported that their current partner had restricted their contact with family or friends during the previous twelve months (Mouzos & Makkai 2004, p. 49).
5. Social attitudes and beliefs
Social attitudes and beliefs also play an important role in women’s decision-making. Women may stay in the relationship because of other people’s reactions to the violence are barriers to ending a relationship. Many women fear that they will not be believed by others. Abused women believe child protection blames them for being victims and does not hold the abuser accountable (Weithorn, 2001). This sentiment will continue on a larger scale if the ‘failure to protect’ laws see the prosecution of women for ‘allowing’ their children to be abused instead of focusing on the perpetrator.