WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST LEAVE?
As the director of a domestic violence shelter, a big portion of my time is spent on public education; the most common question I get is, of course, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
I’m quick to point out that there are many factors that contribute to why she stays in a relationship that leaves her physically bruised and battered, a relationship that erodes her self-esteem, and one that makes her doubt her own sanity. I can say she fears that if she leaves, he will track her down and follow through on his threats to kill her or the children. He will tell her she’s an unfit mother and will threaten to call “the authorities” and tell them she’s a bad mother. I will tell them her family and friends long ago gave up on her, their repeated pleas for her to leave and her inability do just that, weakened a tenuous support system. I will tell them he wasn’t always a “bad” man, he was attentive and caring in the early days and she thought the jealousy was a sign of love.
I will share that you can’t tell an abuser by looking at him, he could be your neighbor, your grocer, your minister. He comes from all walks of life, all socio-economic groups. He may hold a well-respected job, his public personality charming and engaging, but once the door closes at home the deception ends and the bad personal behavior emerges, the words and fists fly.
“Why doesn’t she just leave?”
Many do leave, often in the middle of the night, brought to our emergency shelter by police officers, friends, or the medical advocate who responded to a call at the hospital ER at three in the morning. Many arrive wearing only the clothing on their backs, while others come dragging black garbage bags, stuffed and overflowing with all their belongings, scraps of paper, torn photos and broken mementos tossed on top of children’s sneakers and eyeless teddy bears.
If I could take a picture of domestic violence it would be this “picture” that has been imprinted on my memory: she came to us on a week-day morning after he had left for work, multiple stair-step sons all with the same haircuts and the same bewildered look on their small faces. Distress visible on her face, tears in her eyes, and shaky hands, in a quivering voice she asked “can you help me and my boys?”
Introductions made, paper work completed, a shelter room tour, and a quick breakfast were the next order of business. Advocates voices, soft and reassuring, offered comfort to Mom and boys. As I walked toward my office I heard her ask in a voice almost inaudible: “can you lock up my savings?” As I turned around I saw her “savings,” all copper in a see-through fruit jar.
“Why doesn’t she just leave?”
This is one of the faces of domestic violence. They are the women who are our daughters, our sisters, our friends. Each share a universal theme, but each is unique on the path of her journey. A journey that will lead her to safety, to peace and healing, a journey that will help her regain her voice, a voice that’s strong, sure, and respected.
Remember those copper pennies the next time you hear someone ask: “Why doesn’t she just leave?”