Why doesn’t she just leave? — time to stop blaming the woman

In a week that marks International Women’s Day (March 8) and Mother’s Day (March 11), CAROL BAUMANN, new manager at COPE Galway Domestic Violence Refuge & Outreach Service at Waterside House talks about why we need to ask a different question when talking about Domestic Violence.

Carol Baumann, COPE

Carol Baumann, COPE

When we hear of violent and abusive relationships, we often ask the question – “why doesn’t she just leave him?” or “who would put up with that?”

These are questions that women living in such a relationship can face – often from friends or families (after they have found the courage to open up about their circumstances ) and too often from the agencies they may turn to for help.

When we ask this question, however, we are failing to understand the foundation of an abusive relationship: control, intimidation, erosion of self-esteem.

Women who are continuously being put down and controlled by their abusers, for days, weeks, months and even years; women who are intimidated and threatened and told that they will lose their children if they leave; lose their children if they stay; women who are sometimes living in fear for their lives – Is it reasonable to ask them, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’

Is it reasonable that such a woman is expected to somehow find the strength to leave her home with her children in tow; to find somewhere to live in the midst of a housing crisis? She also needs to find the means by which to pay rent, buy clothes and put food on the table – because you can be sure that the abusive parent is not going to give her any money. And everywhere she turns for help, she has to tell her tale again – why she is in this situation, what has been done to her.

With 2018 a year when we celebrate one hundred years of women having the right to vote, and during a week when we celebrate International Women’s Day on today (Thursday ) March 8 and Mother’s Day on Sunday March 11, let’s really begin to show how much we support our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends and colleagues who are in abusive relationships - let’s change that question.

Let’s stop blaming the woman and expecting her to find solutions when she is living under stress and tyranny and instead let’s begin to ask, ‘Why does he do it?’ or ‘How does he keep getting away with it?’

At COPE Galway Domestic Violence Refuge and Outreach Service, we can and do help and support women in such circumstances to get away from a dangerous situation.

In 2017 COPE Galway Domestic Violence Services saw 75 women and 62 children admitted to its refuge, with a further 53 women accommodated in an emergency bed. We were unable to accommodate 258 women, and their 441 children, due to lack of space. The outreach service supported 210 women and provided court accompaniment for 189.

With figures like these, isn’t it time we changed the conversation? A woman who survives these relationships is brave and strong and fully deserving of our understanding and our support. Next time you hear about a woman being abused or if someone you love discloses abuse, rather than ask ‘why don’t you leave?’, ask her ‘what do you need right now and what can I do to support you?’

COPE Galway Domestic Violence Refuge and Outreach Service, based at Waterside House, is the only 24 hour accessible refuge in the Western region. It provides refuge accommodation, information, support and court accompaniment to women and their children experiencing domestic violence. There is an Outreach service for women in the city and county who are in abusive relationships and who need support and information on their options.

In 2017 COPE Galway Domestic Violence Services worked with 338 individual women and 214 individual children. We provided 615 outreach appointments to 210 individual women; provided 189 women with 225 court accompaniments and offered 212 play therapy sessions. We were unable to accommodate 258 women with their 441 children on 326 occasions due to lack of space.

In a 2014 study entitled ‘Violence against women: An EU-wide survey’ by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA ), it was reported that 14 per cent of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a partner and 31 per cent of women have experienced psychological abuse by a partner.

COPE Galway’s Domestic Violence Service, based at Waterside House, offers support to women and their children who experience domestic violence and abuse. If you are concerned about your own situation or that of someone you love, please phone us confidentially on 091 565985.

Be safe, be believed, be supported.

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