So very often, when we read about domestic abuse in mainstream media, we are talking about the victims. “Why did she not leave?” seems the golden standard in reporting about abuse. It is a question we need to stop asking. Why not ask “why did he continue to abuse her?” or perhaps even more important “how can I help?”
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?”
– Shannon L. Alder
Shifting Blame Away From Victims
Perhaps we don’t even have to change the question altogether, we just need it to shift its focus. Perhaps the question really should be “why couldn’t she leave?”
It is so important that we shift blame away from victims. They have been blamed by their abusers enough, believe me. This is the ‘big lie‘ that abusers tell their victims to keep them in place. Because by telling the victim they are to blame for their predicament, they feel it is up to them to ‘fix’ the situation. I know I keep hammering on about this, but nothing about abuse has anything to do with the target. It is ALL about the abuser. Abuse is not losing your patience, it is structurally and consistently destroying someone. That is something the abuser chooses to do, the target does not have a say in that.
The question is not “why did she not leave?” because that makes her responsible, it implies she makes herself available to abuse. When we ask “why couldn’t she leave?” we examine the circumstances under which the abuse was allowed and able to continue.
Why Are We Only Asking About Her?
There seems to be a very persistent gender-stereotype that target of abuse are always women and perpetrators are always men. Looking at the statistics though, that is a very distorted idea.
Academic surveys overwhelmingly show that men are victims as frequently or more frequently than women.
(check out DVmen.co.uk for more info).
It really would help tremendously if we can start asking why he was unable to leave her, at least half of the time!
We have explored the gender-stereotype in the podcast Women Are From Earth, Men Are From Earth.
Why Are We Even Questioning This?
Why are we so busy asking victims to justify their stories and decisions anyway. The most important question by far is: ” How can I help?” followed closely by “How can we prevent this from happening so much?”
Should we not be more worried about the fact that domestic abuse is fairly common? SafeLives reports that about 28% of women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse at some point in their adult lives. Add to that male victims and children… should we speak of a pandemic yet? Because this happens all around the world. Yet, we still feel uncomfortable talking about it.
And trust me, as long as we keep asking “Why did she not leave?” nothing is going to change!
Abusers, whatever their relationship to you, use various methods of control and manipulation. Understanding these tactics of abuse may help you better understand what’s happened and how you can heal yourself now.