Monday, September 22, 2014
Experts: Leaving an abuser is not as easy as it seems
Posted: Friday, September 12, 2014
She stayed because she had nothing without him. She left because she had nothing to lose.
Even a year later, the local domestic abuse survivor still fears for her life. Even after she moved out of state to get away from her estranged husband, she worries any personal details might risk her safety.
They dated for 18 months before marrying. It was a happy time, she said. He was American. He was kind. No bad habits.
But a month after they got married, everything changed. He started drinking alcohol in excess. He refused to let her talk to her family in her native language. He refused to put her on his employer health benefits plan.
“He just decided that I was his own. He could do anything he wanted with me. It was a nightmare from day to day and it was getting worse,” she said. “I am not the kind of person who would stay too long. That was enough for me to understand nothing could be done.”
Her story is one often heard by Ifeoma Aduba, the executive director of A Woman’s Place, Bucks County’s domestic violence services provider.
But it’s a story that most people rarely hear, she said. The story of domestic violence takes place mostly behind closed doors.
On the rare occasions when abuse goes public — as it did this week with the release of surveillance video of NFL player Ray Rice delivering a knockout punch to his then fiancee in February — Aduba wonders if anyone thinks about how it impacts the person who was abused.
“I hope she is safe,” Aduba said, referring to Rice’s now-wife, Janay. “I can only imagine what conversations are in that house. If it’s anything like a typical domestic violence relationship, it’s (being said that it’s) her fault.”
The video of the February assault has sparked public outrage and criticism directed not only at Rice and the National Football League, but also Janay Rice. Some media pundits and online commentators have questioned, even joked, that she instigated the assault or downplay the severity of it since she remains with her husband.
In response to criticism against Janay Rice, the Twitter hash tags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft began trending with domestic violence survivors offering reasons for staying and leaving an abusive relationship.
“It’s very convenient for people who don’t want to take responsibility for what they did, or what they could do, to point their finger at the victim,” said Peg Dierkers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It’s a convenient way to shift the focus off the bad actor to the person who was hurt.”
Ending an abusive relationship is far more complicated than packing your stuff and walking out the door, domestic violence experts say.
Abusive behavior typically graduates, making it hard to recognize before it gets physical. Children, financial dependence, lack of outside support, religious beliefs and emotional ties make the decision to leave far more difficult, domestic abuse experts say.
“It’s not a made-for-TV movie where we’ve got to wrap this up in two hours; where 20 minutes in, someone is punched in the face and says, ‘Oh let’s go on a second date,’” Aduba said. “The vast majority of the time, when people come through our doors, they don’t want the relationship to end. They want the violence to end.”
It’s not unusual for clients at A Woman’s Place to remain in abusive relationships while working with the agency to develop a safety plan, Aduba said
“It’s more than the public probably thinks — a lot more,” she said. “We all really want to believe we would somehow be immune, that we would never end up in that bad situation. Everyone wants to believe they’d never ever stay.”
But most do stay. Most don’t report the abuse either, experts say.
Individuals who are abused will leave, on average, seven times before finally staying away, according to statistics. There is a high risk of death or injury associated with leaving, and the risk last months or years, according to national statistics.
Still, Aduba isn’t surprised that the release of the more graphic surveillance video has reignited the Rice controversy so many months after the incident occurred. Sometimes people need to see something to believe it, she said.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon to actually see it happening. Part of the challenge anyone who is victimized faces is, as humans, we want to see it before we believe it,” Aduba said. “We want that clear, tangible, I can almost touch it reason. We keep looking for that reason. He had to have had a reason.”