Janet left her house one morning with a bruise around her eye, a baby in her arms, and a look of defeat on her face. Why did he hit her again? What had she done? This was not the first time he had lashed out, and she began to see that it wouldn’t be the last. She had left him before and she could do it again.
This time it would be different. This time, she wouldn’t go back to him no matter how passionately he told her he loved her, and no matter how much he begged her to come home. She wanted to escape a dangerous situation and pursue a better life for both herself and her baby. Janet came to the Pregnancy Care Centre looking for help. Janet’s counselor explored safe housing options, talked about a plan of action with her, and offered her clothing and parenting classes through our Centre. When Janet was asked if she would be willing to report the violence to the police, she said “no.” She did not want to create that kind of tension with her partner, and she really did care for him. She did not want him to get in trouble for what he had done.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common and very complex. Before the violence starts, the woman’s partner begins to make fun of her, blaming her for their problems. There is emotional detachment and effective communication becomes challenging. It’s hard to predict when his anger will become violent, but eventually it does. The pattern between these violent outbursts is consistent—he offers her gifts, he speaks kind words to her, and treats her wonderfully. The pair is calm and happy together for a time, and she remembers why she fell in love with him in the first place. Days, weeks, or sometimes months pass with no issues. But then, the abusive partner begins to change. She can see it in the way he distances himself from her and in the way he tries to control when she goes out. She feels it when he starts becoming cold and unfeeling toward her. She can hear it in the harsh words he says about her and he raises his voice more often. Then, the violence begins and the cycle repeats. The time between the abusive episodes seems to get shorter. Yet, like Janet, many women end up going back to their partner after trying to leave, or not reporting the situation at all. There are several reasons that a victimized woman may not report the incidents. In a 2012-2013 document entitled Report to the Community, the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter stated five main reasons that a woman may choose to stay with her abusive partner.
One of the reasons for staying in the situation is that she believes things will become better. She genuinely loves her partner and she feels a sense of commitment to him. If she has children involved, or if she is pregnant, this offers additional motivation for her to stay and make things better. A second reason is that she doesn’t believe that she can get through the challenges of going it alone. She may have difficulty finding the resources that she needs, and feel that there may be little benefit to leaving. Third, she may begin to believe that she somehow deserves the abuse she is receiving from her partner. The lies that she is being fed by her partner may cause her to feel that she is to blame for the problems in her relationship. Fourth, she may be concerned about what her friends and family will say if she reports the abuse and decides to leave. She may be worried that they won’t believe her. If she’s married, she may come from a background or religious tradition that tells her it’s wrong to leave her spouse under any conditions. She may therefore feel that she is trapped in the abuse with no escape. Lastly, she may not report the abuse and/or choose to stay with the abuser for fear that he may come after her. According to the report, this is the number one reason for staying with an abuser. The woman may feel that her partner will come after her regardless of what the police are able to do. She worries that the consequences of reporting him will be greater than the benefits. She may also be concerned for her children—what if he comes after them? It may seem too risky to leave. For these reasons, and more, many women who face domestic violence end up remaining in the vicious cycle of abuse. However, there is hope.
There are many agencies around the city that offer counseling supports, programing and resources for women facing domestic violence. When women come to the Centre, we help to direct them to these resources, and encourage that they report the incidents to the Calgary Police. The Victim Assistance Unit at the Calgary Police Service wants to lower the risk and prevalence of domestic violence. They are here to help and to advocate for the rights of women facing domestic violence situations. If you or someone you know is being abused, contact the Calgary Police. If you are pregnant and are in an abusive situation, you do not need to face this alone. Come and talk with us. We offer non-judgmental support and we are here to help you.
The Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. (2012). 2012 Report to the Community. http://www.calgarywomensshelter.com/document.doc?id=92.