Susan G. S. McGee’s excellent article, 20 Reasons Why She Stays: A Guide for Those Who Want to Help Battered Women, which was originally published in the Journal of the Michigan Bar in 1991 is now available on the web. When the topic of intimate violence comes up, all too frequently we hear the question, ‘why does she stay?’. McGee points out that,
This is the wrong question.
The questions we should be asking are: Why do assailants terrorize and torture their partners? Why is it that the vast majority of batterers are men and the vast majority of survivors are women? Why does the community allow battering to continue?
We routinely scrutinize and evaluate the survivor. What is she doing wrong? How can she change? What should she be doing? By doing so, we avoid looking at the behavior and intentions of the perpetrator of the violence. This error rests on the assumption that if we could change the survivor or force her to leave, the battering would end. This allows the assailant to continue his terrorism unchallenged, since the focus is not on what he is doing but what his partner is or isn’t doing. Since violence and abuse in an intimate relationship is under the sole control of the assailant, by constant microscopic examination of the survivor, we miss how we can reduce or stop the violence. By our misplaced focus on survivor behavior, we also miss the ways our culture condones, supports and gives permission for battering.
People believe that if a battered woman REALLY, truly, honest to goodness wanted to leave she could just get up and go. (Therefore, if we can “get” her into shelter or convince her to leave we’ve done good. Our job is over). We overlook the environmental barriers5 that prevent women from leaving, ignore how the batterer is trapping her, and too often focus on psychological “characteristics” of survivors instead.
Further questions we should be asking are how do many, many women overcome incredible obstacles and achieve safety and non-violence for themselves and their children? Why do women/survivors leave? When do women leave? How can we be helpful to women in the process of leaving? Since women are usually murdered after they leave, how can we increase safety for women who do make the courageous decision to escape? Which specific counseling, advocacy and support methods are helpful to women and which are not? What does outstanding advocacy look like? How can we reach ALL survivors and get them the information and support they need? How can we mobilize the community to support survivors and to prevent domestic violence?
In our work in the community, we should be pushing for graduated, consistent consequences for batterers, including jail time (because if he’s in jail, he can’t assault her).
And by the way, why doesn’t he leave?
You can read the rest of McGee’s essay here.