That's the question many people ask when they aren't denying or dismissing long-term domestic violence -- although most of them notably don't include the word trapped.
Having been raped by a boyfriend who loved me and having been choked by a husband who loved me, I have to ask: What's wrong with all those people who don't ask what's wrong with those who use violence against loved ones? What is wrong with people who don't put distance between themselves and someone they care about instead of staying and hurting them?
Love isn't expressed through wrapping your fingers around her throat and squeezing until she gets the message that you are the boss. Love isn't expressed through saying, "I never did any permanent damage and I easily could have." Love isn't expressed by telling the person you just raped, "It always hurts the first time."
What is wrong with people who swarm escapees of violent relationships demanding that the escapees forgive their terrorists and reunite with them because the violent person now feels bad and hates being alone? What is wrong with people who deny evidence of physical and psychological violence?
When we ask ourselves why we don't intercede when we witness domestic violence and want to do something to help, we see the barriers and the risks. Someone who will harm those closest to him or to her may decide that harming us is an act of self defense. Police know that when they respond to a domestic dispute that they are going toward a potentially lethal situation.
Yet too many people flippantly ask why didn't she (or he) just walk away?
Sometimes victims are trapped because they are treated like prisoners who will be subject to more violence if they escape and will be treated well if they don't attempt escape and do as they are told. Other times the traps are booby-traps and landmines that lay in wait for unsuspecting victims and which are kept armed by people who would never commit an act of physical violence themselves.
This topic is covered in the book Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Interpersonal Violence) by Evan Stark.
An excerpt: Underlying the question of why battered women stay are the beliefs that they have the opportunity to exit and that there is sufficient volitional space between abusive incidents to exercise decisional autonomy…these beliefs are demonstrably false in the millions of cases where abuse is unrelenting, volitional space closed, or decisional autonomy is significantly compromised. An equally controversial presumption implicit in the question is that exercising the option to leave will reduce a victim’s chance of being hurt or killed. In fact, around 80% of battered women in intact couples leave the abusive man at least once. These separations appear to decrease the frequency of abuse, but not the probability that it will recur. Indeed, the risk of severe or fatal injury increases with separation. Almost half the males on death row for domestic homicide killed in retaliation for a wife or lover leaving them. As we’ve also seen, a majority of partner assaults occur while partners are separated. So common is what legal scholar Martha Mahoney calls “separation assault” that women who are separated are 3 times more likely to be victimized than divorced women and 25 times more likely to be hurt than married women.
This verifiable information shows that the traps are real and potentially deadly. Yet too many people continue to insist that all of the traps are internal to the victim and that there are no logical, external traps which keep victims in violent relationships.
We can begin to make a significant difference by asking: What are the external traps and obstacles which hinder victims of violence from escaping and recovering from what they have endured.
More importantly, we can ask how we can eliminate those traps and obstacles?
Every time we see someone involved in an abusive relationship, we should ask: What needs is the abusive person getting met either during the abusive acts or because of those abusive acts?
For an answer think about people who have a habit of wishing that an abused person were partnered with them. They don't want to abuse, but they like the way the abused person focuses on the abuser.
From what I've seen many abusers are emotional black holes. They want other people to fill them up, but a black hole can never be filled. Rather than recognizing that fact, abusers blame their victims for not keeping them filled like they should.
Too little study has been done on how emotional black holes are created and how they can be replaced by something healthier. Unless we address the root cause of abuse we'll be scrambling to deal with the fallout of domestic violence.
Labels: Violence Against Women