Feminism | Posted by Maram E on 09/2/2015

Why the Conversation About Domestic Violence Needs to Change

Domestic violence awareness is crucial.

“Why does she stay?”

It’s a question outsiders continue to ask about those in abusive relationships. The situation may seem black and white to many: If someone is assaulting you, then you should leave them. In reality, however, domestic violence is not this simple. Rather than ask “why does she stay,” we need to re-frame the conversation by asking “why does someone abuse a woman they claim to love?”

1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime — a number that’s likely even higher considering that as many as 70 percent of domestic violence cases go unreported — and women between the ages of 20 and 24 are at the greatest risk. Many are aware of the physical consequences of this experience: In fact, an estimated 38,020,000 women have experienced physical partner violence in their lifetimes and 1 out of 3 female homicide victims are murdered by their current or former partner. But there are also economic consequences — like the fact that 8,000,000 days of paid work have been lost annually as a result of abusive relationships — and psychological ones, like depression, anxiety, emotional distress, and poor health. It’s hardly a problem restricted to the U.S., either: 70 percent of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual abuse by a partner during their lives

So why do women risk their well-being to be with partners who harm them? There are a variety of complex, intersecting factors. Many survivors grew up in abusive environments: They have witnessed this behavior since birth and consider it normal. Others internalize abuse, have low-self confidence, feel guilty and shamed and justify their partner’s behavior by convincing themselves they deserved it. Survivors could be afraid of being alone, could have fallen deeply in love with their partner before the abuse started, or think it’s temporary situation and that their partner will change. They could also be too embarrassed to admit the reality of situation and fear being seen as weak. They are often genuinely afraid of or threatened by her partner. Especially when children are involved, they may prioritize raising them in a two-parent home or be financially dependent on their partners. In fact, the number one reason domestic violence victims stay in abusive relationships is because they are financially dependent on their abuser and 98 percent of all financial abuse occurs in all domestic violence cases.

But despite the many reasons centered on survivors, we must not overlook why people abuse in the first place. While men are 15% of the victims of domestic abuse, the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are men. Men who abuse usually have a history of violence: They tend to commit more crimes, have lower levels of education, be more introverted, and less conscientious than the average American man. Men who abuse may have had troubled relationships with other women, may have been bullied, had/have depression, or been isolated. They may regard their partner as an easy target for releasing anger and view violence as a means of gaining control. Also, abusers may have grown up witnessing other men abuse women and therefore believe it’s normal, justifiable behavior.

Encouraging women to speak up, helping them build self-esteem and courage and providing them with resources is therefore important to decreasing domestic violence. But it’s also essential to shift the conversation about domestic violence from remedying it after the fact to preventing it from occurring in the first place. Exposing everybody, but especially men, to workshops, activities, and classes that teach what it means to respect others from a young age is important. There should also be better policies and stricter consequences for those who commit these acts.

For more information on solutions to domestic violence, check out these standout anti-domestic violence organizations.

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  • Popfem @ at 12:58 am, September 5th, 2015

    So many good points in this article!

    I think another problem is that some people are in denial about the relationship being abusive since their partner doesn’t seem like an “abusive monster.” There are so many stereotypes about what DV looks like. http://wp.me/p2Dofg-6W

  • PopFem @ at 1:32 am, September 5th, 2015

    So many great points in this article!

    I think another problem is that some people might be reluctant to use the word “abuse” because their partner doesn’t seem like an “abusive monster.” There are so many stereotypes about what an abusive partner is like. http://wp.me/p2Dofg-6W

  • Twentieth Century Fox @ at 11:46 pm, October 22nd, 2015

    […] feminist perspective and include everything from pop culture, reproductive rights, sexuality, violence, and transnational statuses of […]

  • Erinsfire @ at 11:48 am, July 31st, 2016

    YES! DO NOT ask “why does she stay?” Rather ask why does he hit her? Why doesn’t HE leave? Put the abusers into the shelters instead. Put the blame on the perpetrator and I guarantee you’ll see a constructive change.

  • Erinsfire @ at 11:50 am, July 31st, 2016

    No one should say “abusive monster.” Say “John Collins” or whatever the perpetrator’s name may be. Tell it like it is. And put the abusers in the shelters where they may receive the treatment and education necessary to make better choices and grow up.

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