WORKING WITH BATTERED WOMEN: A Handbook for Health Care Professionals

Table of Contents


What are the challenges women face in leaving abusive relationships?

The other side of the dynamics of domestic violence against women is that women stay in abusive relationships when it seems clear they should leave. So why don't women just leave abusive relationships? The number one reason is fear.

  • Fear of injury or even death: women who are separated from abusive partners are five times more likely to be killed. He threatens to hunt her down and kill her, her children, friends or family if she ever leaves him. He also threatens to kill himself, and she feels responsible for his life and well being.

  • Finances: women are compelled by society to rely on men for money and support. She may not want to sentence herself and her children to live in poverty if she leaves. Obtaining and enforcing orders for child support can be time consuming and emotionally draining, and all too often, fruitless. And lack of sufficient financial support for service agencies also makes leaving difficult. There are not enough battered women's shelters in Saskatchewan and the ones that exist are often full. There are not enough support groups or counselling services for abused women, especially in northern and rural Saskatchewan. And professionals with whom the woman may have contact, such as members of the clergy, doctors and lawyers, have often received no training on the issues of abuse, and therefore respond in unhelpful or inappropriate ways.

  • Family: relatives can blame a women for breaking up a family. She made her bed and she should lie in it by putting up with the abuse. Many people feel that the woman is responsible for the emotional health and well being of her family. Women are trained that it is their role as wives to nurture their husbands and children and to create a home full of love and happiness. If they are not able to do what is expected of them, they are led to believe it is because they are not good wives or mothers. Therefore, they try desperately to change their behavior in the hope that his abusive behavior will then stop and the marriage can be saved. For many of these women, the admission to others or even to themselves that their marriage is "failing" would be an admission that they are failures in their primary role in life. The husband already blames her for his violence, his unhappiness, her unhappiness, and the unhappiness of the children. He tells her it is her actions or inactions or appearance and so on that provoke him and cause the violence, and she believes him. Or her family may have been intimidated by the abuser, so there is often nowhere for her to go. Society is still reluctant to get involved in "private family matters".

  • Faith: some religious groups may pressure women to stay in an abusive marriage—'til death do us part—which is sometimes exactly the case

  • Father: women are concerned about their children growing up without a father. They are reluctant to uproot their children from their home, pets, toys, schools and friends. Children desire a happy two-parent family. They usually love their father, but want his abusive behavior to stop. They worry about him, and often blame their mother for the separation.

  • Fatigue: the abuser keeps a women so focused on him and on the immediate present, she is too physically and emotionally exhausted to plan for a different future. He may deprive her of sleep and food. He does not allow her to be sick. He forces her to work at one or more jobs, and to be solely responsible for the children and the household. To avoid or minimize abuse, she learns to anticipate his every need at the cost of her own. She walks on eggshells, keeps the children quiet, tries to stay out of his way. Isolation and loss of self-esteem are also part of her overwhelming burden. She begins to see herself as he defines her—fat, ugly, stupid, a bad mother, a bad lover, a bad housekeeper. He controls her entire life, what she does, whom she sees, and when and how long she does it. He makes her believe she is going crazy. He begins to lie about unimportant things. She gets pulled into his agenda. He isolates her from family, friends, community resources, schooling and the work force, and her ability to conduct reality checks is severely diminished. He controls her communication by not allowing her to speak on the phone, by listening in on phone calls, by opening and censoring her mail. She is not allowed access to a vehicle. She is locked in the house, or winter boots and coats are locked in a closet, or the phone is locked in a box, or….

  • Fantasy and Forgiveness: She loves him. She doesn't want the relationship to end, just the abuse. He is not violent all the time. She believes the abuser's apologies and hopes he will change.

  • Familiar: It's what she knows—she can't imagine leaving to go to something unfamiliar/unkown.

  • The Cycle of Violence: Abusive behaviour usually follows a set pattern, which has been termed the cycle of violence. Understanding the pattern also helps explain why it is difficult for women to leave:


Table of Contents

maintained by AiR (Sask, Canada)