Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're Asking the Wrong Question

It had to happen. The focus changed from Ray Rice's assault to questions about why Janay stays (and even married him soon thereafter). This morning NPR News hosted a thoughtful discussion about why victims stay.

It's the most asked question in our industry, "Why do they stay?" It's as if we think that we can end relationship violence if victims would only leave. That premise ignores the reality that abusers will just move on to another partner and abuse... or  will continue to abuse their current partner even after they've left the abuse. We think that walking away frees the victim. Not necessarily. Sometimes staying in the relationship makes them feel safer because they can see when the abuse is escalating and take action to reduce risk. Out of the relationship they'd be continually on alert as the abuser has made it clear that leaving and living are not options. Sometimes the abuse victim doesn't have the option of walking away from the relationship and closing the door on the abuse. If there are children in common, there may be court ordered visitation agreements. The person they are leaving may be an abuser, but also answers to 'Daddy'  or 'Mommy'. Every child swap is a chance to replay the abusive power and control dynamic. Will the abuser even show up for the kids on time. Will (s)he stage a huge fight? Say vile things about me in front of the kids? Not return the kids and leave me terrified that some terrible feared fate has befallen them to punish me for leaving?

And let's talk about love. This is the person you've chosen to spend you life  with...maybe have a family with. Often abuse survivors don't want the relationship to end... they just want the abuse to end. And after an incident, the next morning there's often remorse, apologies and promises to make things different. Weeks ago Ray Rice stood before all of us and talked about making the biggest mistake of his life. He apologized, professed a sincere desire to  change...promised to be a better man. How many of us listened to him and cautiously entertained, if not forgiveness, a willingness to see what he did next and earn back our trust? We looked into his eyes and saw an imperfect human...and did not turn our backs. You might say- we stayed- tentatively, cautiously, hopefully. And we don't love Ray Rice. We haven't committed our heart and life to this man... raised a child with him.

Who are we to question why someone stays? The social media world is full of  people telling their reasons, trying to help us understand. 
Domestic violence is complicated. There's no perfect map or flow chart to navigate these difficult decisions. Daily DVRC's advocates hear so many reasons why someone chooses to stay.  These are often thoughtful, heart wrenching  choices to ponder. I could write volumes on the complexity of this decision, but  I believe social media may have provided some insight in just 68 characters:

#Why I stayed  So my children could have a father
#Why I left       So my children could have a mother

There were probably many incidents and many changes of heart between those two tweets. Does focusing on why they stay solve the problem? I think  our energies are better spent on preventing abuse from happening.

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