What you need to know about Intimate Partner Violence: Part 3

Trigger Warning: Violence

Why does she stay? Why doesn’t she just leave him?

As much as it makes my teeth grind, these are legitimate questions. If you don’t understand the system of abuse in IPV, then it must seem really odd that someone would remain in a space that was unsafe for them and their children. There is no short answer for these questions, as the circumstances for each relationship are different. It would make a difference if, for example, you were a victim of violence and your husband was a judge, a lawyer or a police inspector. It would make a difference if you had no money, no supportive family, no job and no where to go with 3 young children. It would make a difference if you knew that he would take drugs or get drunk at home and the prospect of leaving your children alone with him for 6 hours a week scared you.

To understand why women don’t leave means to understand that violence is a strategic cycle of entrapment, designed to make leaving the perpetrator extremely hard. That is the whole point of the violence, to break down and control the victim and ensure that they cannot abandon the abuser. Why are we surprised when the violence itself is designed to reach that very outcome?

For years victims are threatened that they will lose custody of their children. They are threatened that they will go to prison for “lying” and that if they dare report to the police, they will be the ones carried away to a mental ward for being crazy.

When a victim tells her family that she is thinking of leaving, they remind her that he’s always come home after work, that he is a hard worker and takes care of all the family’s needs. They tell her that his work is stressful and maybe they should try marriage counselling. They tell her that nothing is worse than a family torn apart, uprooting the children and bringing so much upheaval into their lives. They ask her if perhaps she has been thinking of having an affair or if a friend has been putting ideas into her head. They tell her everyone has ups and downs in their marriages, and to stop expecting fairytales. And so, the violence is normalized. Excused.

Some will say that you’d need to have been in it to understand it. Perhaps that is true for understanding what it feels like to be entrapped. How can a free wild bird know what it is like to be entrapped in a cage, where you can’t move, the cat sits beside the cage door and your strength and will to thrive waste away?  For every survivor I have ever had the honour of being trusted with their most private discolures, leaving their abuser had been the most scary thing they had ever done.

He has told her that if she leaves him, he will kill her. If he sees her with anyone else, he’ll kill her. If she takes another man near his children, he’ll kill her. And every time a woman is murdered in Malta by her estranged partner, she is reminded of the guillotine that hangs over her neck. Leaving an abusive partner, that finality, is the most risky phase of the entire relationship. So before we encourage a victim to leave, lets first appreciate the difficulty, and then understand this risk.

Recognising risk can save lives and safety planning will always be an important part of the plan to leave. To help a friend in this situation, always refer to specialist crisis support, like Agenzija Appogg Domestic Violence Unit or call the national helpine 179 for advice.

This article was written by Elaine Compagno.

In Part 4 we will look at some serious red flags and risk factors.

If you or a loved one are in a toxic relationship and need help, please reach out to the national crisis support service, the Domestic Violence Unit at Appogg by calling 179.

You may also use the following services: Violet Chat vso.org.mt, WRF Legal Advice Freephone 8006 2149