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Why Don’t They Leave the Perpetrator?

This question can rarely be avoided while talking about domestic violence. Strangely, everyone is concerned: “Why doesn’t she leave the perpetrator?”, instead of asking “Why does the perpetrator use violence?”

Multiple reasons may influence the victim’s decisions.  The power and control wheel reveals why this decision is never easy. Apart from increasing risk of reprisals (murder) once the decision to leave has been made, the fear of losing the children, the lack of social support networks, public pressure “to save the family at any cost”, there are gender stereotypes that emerge at the socialisation stage and instil the beliefs about women’ s submissiveness as well as their actual economic dependence and the popular tendency to blame violence on the victims themselves.

A survey of Lithuanian residents conducted in April 2017 reveals that we are inclined to blame victims of violence and reproduce unfounded myths. For example, 85 per cent of respondents (89 per cent of men and 81 per cent of women) agreed with the belief that if she wants to, a woman can always end the relationship with the perpetrator and divorce a violent husband. In real life, however, quite often violence, stalking and blackmailing does not end with the official divorce or otherwise ending the relationship. The truth is that the risk of being injured or killed increases significantly if attempts are made to leave the aggressor. Only he decides when to stop the persecution, and this belief can only be changed by applying strict enforcement measures.

Every second Lithuanian believes that women who have suffered violence from men know what relationship they are entering (51per cent), and while blaming men for violence they tend to “paint everything black” (53per cent) and they often provoke this kind of behaviour themselves (53 per cent), so they should take the responsibility for the consequences.

With these beliefs prevalent in society, women who suffer violence find it especially hard to open up and ask for help, because others (family members, friends, colleagues and even specialists), by corroborating the perpetrator’s claim that “it is all her fault”, actually support him.

When 5 to 9 out of 10 survey respondents doubt testimonies of battered women and are inclined to support the perpetrators thus shifting all the responsibility on the victim’s shoulders, it is no wonder that people living under constant tension and fear of violence are hesitant about seeking help.

There are several factors that potentially restrict battered women’s co-operation with the police and other institutions:

  • Fear of retaliation by the perpetrator.  If they try to leave, women are frequently threatened with injury, getting killed or with killing their children. 40 to 45 per cent of women killed by their spouse had divorced them or were about to end the relationship. [15, 24].
  • Social isolation. Women hesitate to leave because they have small children, are isolated from friends and family, feel shame, often have nowhere to go and do not know about available services.
  • Financial dependence. Usually women do not have the same income generating abilities as men do, so separation condemns them and their children to a marked decrease in living standards[16].
  • Emotional dependence and fear. Many victims are devoted to the relationship, love their partner and hope for positive change. Some fear that he would not bear them leaving or he threatens to kill himself if she leaves.
  • Low self-esteem. Having suffered physical violence and verbal abuse for many years, victims lose trust in themselves and doubt their ability to live on their own.

Instead of questioning the decisions of a battered woman we should find fault with the perpetrator, for it is him that violates the law, destroys lives and brings losses to society. When we rid ourselves of the habit of blaming the victims, we will empower them to seek help.