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Violence: Decision Making
Decision-Making by Victims
of Domestic Violence
Probably the most common
response by the community, law enforcement, and social
service agencies to domestic violence is requesting that the
victim leave the abuser.
The inference is that
stopping the abuse is her responsibility. It's not.
It not only places the
focus of interventions on the victim’s behavior, but also
1) leaving is a viable
2) ending the
relationship is what the victim desires;
3) ending the
relationship is in the child’s best interest; and
4) leaving will stop the
Usually, one or more of
these assumptions is not true.
A battered parent
involved in the Family Division of the District Court will
have to manage complex and conflicting demands. The victim
may have to weigh the threat of the removal of her children
against the potential retaliation the perpetrator may exact
if she complies with the requirements of a case plan. She
may hesitate to participate with an assessment for fear that
abuse will be substantiated against her. The batterer may be
working to undermine her efforts to comply with a case plan.
Not knowing who her allies are, the victimized parent may
not offer up all of the information she knows, leading the
court or others involved with the family to believe she is
lying or trying to protect the perpetrator. For a battered
parent there may be no clear decision to make or all choices
may seem dangerous. When a battered parent is protected from
abuse, she then is better able to protect her abused child.
Even if the abusive relationship dissolves, frequently
victims want their children to have a relationship with
their fathers if it can be done in a way that does not
compromise their own safety or the safety of their children.
Adult victims may
experience depression, stress, isolation, and loss of
self-confidence which in turn, may affect the ways in which
they care for their children. Victims of domestic violence
are usually in the best position to determine what measures
will increase or decrease their safety and the safety of
their children. It is important that this determination and
autonomy be valued and respected. Supportive, non-coercive,
and empowering interventions that promote the safety of both
the adult victim and their children should be incorporated
into child abuse and neglect proceedings.
Barriers to Leaving
The fact is that victims
often do leave. They leave and some come back to the promise
that the violence will never happen again, that their
partner will get treatment, treat them better - lots of
Everyone deserves to live
without violence. Many battered partners simply want the
violence to stop. In the face of abuse and assaults, a
battered parent often confronts difficult decisions. How
will she protect herself and her children from the physical
dangers posed by her partner? How will she provide for her
children? How will she manage the complex, and for many
families, enduring relationship with the batterer over time?
The barriers to escaping may be invisible to those outside
of her world, but they are extremely powerful. Victims of
domestic violence stay in abusive relationships for many
reasons, some are:
Belief that the
violence is her fault.
Hope that the batterer
Poverty and economic
dependence (including lack of safe housing, loss of income
and ability to provide for the children, loss of
employment due to domestic violence, lack of job skills,
and loss of health insurance benefits for children).
Social and geographic
Fear of further
violence (she may have made attempts to leave before and
there was an escalation in the abuse).
Protection of the
children (she believes that if she leaves he will kill her
or the children or she won’t be able to protect them if he
get unsupervised contact with the children).
Lack of knowledge about
the community’s resources and how to access help.
with systems and friends (she may have tried to talk to
others about what is happening in the home and received
unhelpful or judgmental responses. Or, if there was prior
system involvement, the police and court may have failed
to hold the perpetrator accountable for violence,
reinforcing the messages the abuser has sent her about his
ability to remain above the law).
(conflicting feelings of fear, shame, bewilderment, hope
that things will improve, and a commitment to the
Lack of confidence
(after living with an abusive partner, the self-esteem of
most women has been eroded to the point where they no
longer have confidence in themselves, including their
ability to survive alone, and may believe that there are
no other options).
Her belief system (she
was brought up to believe that real fulfillment comes from
being a wife and mother or that divorce is wrong. She may
even be encouraged to stay in the relationship by family
members or religious leaders).
Fear of bringing shame
on her family or cultural group.
Legal status (if a
woman is undocumented she may be afraid of identifying
herself to authorities for fear of deportation. Her abuser
may have withheld filing the proper paper work in order to
keep her under his control. If she is an immigrant/refugee
she may not be aware of her legal options and believes she
will have no way to support herself and her children).
intimidation, stalking or coercion. Victims of domestic
violence may face additional barriers in accessing
services if they are members of a group typically
under-served by traditional agencies. Social service
organizations and civil and legal systems have not been as
responsive to victims whose primary language is not
English, victims with disabilities, lesbians, gays,
bisexuals, transsexuals, and trans-gendered people, and
victims from diverse cultural and/or faith groups.
Identifying culturally appropriate and accessible services
is a crucial part of effective interventions for families.