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Domestic 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 assumes that

1) leaving is a viable solution;

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 violence.

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 reasons.

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:

  • Love

  • Belief that the violence is her fault.

  • Hope that the batterer will change.

  • 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 isolation.

  • 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.

  • Bad experiences 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).

  • Emotional dependence (conflicting feelings of fear, shame, bewilderment, hope that things will improve, and a commitment to the relationship).

  • 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).

  • Language barriers

  • Escalating violence, 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.


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