Domestic violence has been present in our society and it has been an accepted practice of many cultures around the world for hundreds of years. An Old English Common Law allowed husbands to beat their wives just as long as that the stick they used was not thicker than his thumb; hence the phrase "Rule of Thumb." For many women around the world, cruel and humiliating words, hard kicks and stinging slaps are a normal part of everyday life. These women are victims of physical and emotional abuse, also known as domestic violence.
I often ask myself "Why do women stay in abusive relationships?" or "Why don't they just leave?" but these types of questions have a tendency, whether inadvertent or not, to blame victims and to insinuate they like being abused. Acts of domestic violence occur every fifteen seconds in the United States. Domestic violence is a crime that is often unreported to the police due to the embarrassment associated with being a victim, pressures from family and society, and fear of retaliation from their abusers. Many victims may not immediately leave an abusive relationship because of these reasons. There are three main factors that play a significant role in a woman's decision to stay in an abusive relationship.
A lack of resources is often the main reason why women stay in an abusive relationship. Most battered women have at least one minor child. Often they are not employed outside of their home, and the abusers have will often cut off access to cash or bank accounts so the victim won't leave. Abused women have a fear of losing joint assets and custody of their children. A victim will sometimes have a fear of a lower standard of living for themselves and their children. The second factor that plays a role in a women's decision to stay in an abusive relationship is the response by their local services and authorities.
Police often treat incidents of domestic violence as mere "disputes" rather than as serious crimes in which one person is physically assaulting another. The police may try to discourage women from pressing criminal charges against their abuser. Attorneys are often reluctant to prosecute a domestic violence case. A judge will rarely assign the maximum sentence or fine possible and restraining orders and peace bonds do little to prevent their abusers from repeating their violent behaviors again. Sadly there are too few shelters to keep battered women and children safe. The third and most common reason why victims of domestic violence stay in an abusive relationship is because of "traditional thinking."
In "traditional thinking" many women don't view divorce as an alternative. Abused women will not accept the notion of single parenting. It is a common believe between victims of domestic violence that a bad father (or in the case of a lesbian relationship, a bad partner) is better than none at all. Between the aggressor's violent episodes, there are periods of calm during which the abuser is charming, nurturing, and caring. Those traits which initially attracted him/her to his/her victim resurface and the victim sees her batterer as a loving person, thereby reinforcing her decision to stay. Many women in our society today are raised to believe that they are the ones responsible for making their marriage or relationship work; that if the relationship fails, they have failed as women. Our society has often taught these women that their worth is measured by their ability to get and keep a man. These are the three main factors why battered women decide to stay in an abusive relationship, but what can we do to prevent domestic violence or help someone who you believe is a victim?
If someone is saying "I am being abused" take them seriously. Offer them your support or comfort to them but remember their needs and try to respect their decisions. If a victim has support and encouragement from the people that love them they will feel better about the decisions they make. Call the authorities immediately if you feel concerned about the person's safety. Always look for signs of abuse. A victim can have trouble sleeping at night and show signs of anxiety or agitation. They will not make much eye contact and may frequently cover up their limbs as to not show bruises, cuts, or scrapes.
In conclusion, physical and emotional abuse can never be eliminated from our society unless society refuses to tolerate it. This won't be an easy task as it will require an overhaul in the basic nature of our society, and it begins with the recognition of the worth of every person as an individual. If our state and federal laws don't start giving a harsher punishment for domestic violence offenders (especially repeat offenders) the weaker will continue to be hurt by the stronger in our society- physically, mentally, materially and spiritually.