Domestic abuse affects one in four women and one in six men in their lifetime. Either one in four women and one in six men are total fucking morons, or abusers set up a very specific system that prevents their victims from leaving. Societal attitudes and the media give them a helping hand too.
I didn't know anything about domestic abuse until it happened to me and always assumed that I would just leave but I can tell you now that it's not that simple. I've been told by well meaning people: "You don't seem like the kind of girl who would put up with that!" which is meant as a compliment, but reveals the ignorance of people who have no understanding of what's involved.
Here are just some of the reasons an abuse victim doesn't leave. I've mainly used her/she in this post, as it's based on my experience and refers to statistics for female victims.
1. They don't know they're being abused
I know! Doesn't that sound ridiculous?!
When I was in my abusive relationship, I never googled, "Am I in an abusive relationship?" or went on the Women's Aid website for advice. I didn't consider myself a battered woman. In fact, after I left the relationship, I still didn't realise it had been abusive.
The main reason for this, in my opinion, is that we are all so poorly educated when it comes to domestic abuse that we can't even recognise it when it happens to us. The media only reports the very worst cases (broken bones, acid attacks, even murder), so my view of what domestic abuse entailed was very narrow. I'd "only" been to A&E once, so I was lucky!
2. Isolation from family and friends
One of the key indicators of abuse is being isolated from your friends and family. This can be in the form of physically moving away from them, preventing you from seeing them, or kicking up so much fuss about you seeing them that you make the choice not to bother any more. Or maybe the Holy Trinity: all three of these tactics!
A domestic abuse victim will be assaulted, on average, 35 times before she goes to the police, if she goes to the police. By that time, she may not have many friends left she feels will support her. Of course, that's probably not true and it's just her skewed perception of her relationships but it still means she would be unlikely to say anything to them.
We've all been there. We gush to friends and family that we've finally met a great guy or gal. They're bloody perfect! We're going to be so happy together! Then you realise they're a flaming pile of garbage.
Well, it's one thing to tell your pals that your boyfriend cheated on you, or makes sexist jokes and another to tell them, "You know that guy I was raving about six months ago? He likes to get drunk, lock me in the house and beat the shit out of me!"
Attitudes to domestic abuse have changed and are definitely continuing to change for the better but there's still a struggle to communicate to older people the seriousness of the situation you're in. I'm sorry to say that when I told my mum that my boyfriend had hit me, she told me I'd made my bed and I should lie in it. Never assume that people can just go home to their parents.
4. Hope for change
Domestic abuse has a strange cycle. After my boyfriend had hit me or choked me, or whatever he was in the mood for that day, he'd bawl his eyes out and apologise. "I can't believe I did that to you! I love you so much!" etc etc. So...I'd end up...comforting him...
It was a strange pattern, one I can only equate to Stockholm Syndrome. It's extremely common in abusive relationships. When you're in the Bad Times and fight or flight kicks in, you want more than anything to be out of that situation. I tried to climb out of the window of every flat we lived in together, and one of them was on the fourth floor. He'd take my purse, keys and phone from me until I'd "calmed down" and lock the door so I couldn't leave.
When you are in the Good Times (not being beaten), everything feels back to normal. Maybe they really won't do it again, like they said. You are hopeful that there will be a change. Of course, there never is.
5. It's dangerous
I'm sure you know the statistic: Two women are killed in England and Wales as a result of domestic violence every week. What a lot of people don't know is that 75% of those murders happen as the woman is trying to leave, or once she has left.