One of the questions we’re most often asked is why women don’t just leave. It’s not meant to sound bad, but as well as taking the responsibility for the abuse away from the perpetrator, it implies leaving somehow easy. It isn’t. Not only is it often really, really hard, but it’s also the most dangerous time for women.
This is a blog written by a Call Handler on Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline. It’s a scenario based on collection of stories from helpline calls and we hope it makes readers stop and think before asking the question.
When Mum told me my sister was being abused by her husband, I didn’t understand what she meant. From the outside it looks like she has the perfect family, a great marriage. And then Mum told me what was going on behind closed doors.
Horrified I asked, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?
Well, where would she go? She’s got no money, me and dad can’t afford a hotel or a new place for her, I wish we could. If she comes here, he’ll know and he’ll follow her, and if she leaves the kids with me and runs away…well, she just wouldn’t. And it’s his name on their lease, he made sure of that, I remember.
She told me not to, but I phoned the Council about housing and they said they could get her and the kids a B&B or something in the short-term but it could be anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. And anything longer would depend on so many things, like where’s best for the kids, what’s available and where, and how she’d pay for it all. But she’d have to call them or go in to see them, and she absolutely will not.
And it would be so hard to move the kids out of school and away from their friends. They’re doing so well, and I’m nearby which is handy for childcare and emergencies. She thinks she and the kids are safer where they are, because he said he’d never touch them, but if she leaves, she thinks he’ll follow her and hurt her, and he’ll get the kids whatever happens.
And he’s got so much control, it’s like she is scared to do anything. She’s not even allowed to buy anything at the shops unless he’s given permission. Even then he still has a go. And she won’t admit it, not properly. She told me stuff that he’s done and said, but when I try to talk to her about leaving or even speaking to someone about it, she makes a joke of it, or gets angry and just shuts down. I can’t force her. She’s had enough of being forced into things.
It’s hard enough just getting through each day. The idea of planning some great escape is way too much for her. He’s made her believe she’s useless and disgusting so she’s actually grateful that he claims to love her so much. But that’s not how you treat someone you love.
And because she’s still working and allowed – allowed! – to see me, she doesn’t see that she’s being controlled, or doesn’t want to see, even though she broke down yesterday and was pleading with me to help her. She hates herself, blames herself for not ‘being stronger’. She’s working so hard to keep the kids safe but it’s like she’s always walking on eggshells, she doesn’t know what will set him off. But this is her life and she has to live with it, that’s what she said.
And I can’t call the police because he’s a devious so-and-so. He’s had us fooled long enough and he’s well known in the town, she doesn’t think anyone will believe her. I mentioned the police and she freaked out. She wants him to stop, for things to go back to how they used to be, but she doesn’t want to call the police. She is scared it will ruin his life. She just wants it to stop.
‘Just leave?’ There’s no just about it.
At Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline we understand leaving isn’t an easy option. We know you might not want to, and we know it is not always safe to. We won’t judge you, or tell you what to do, we’re just here to listen.
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is open 24/7 on 0800 027 1234 for anyone affected by domestic abuse. Find out more at www.sdafmh.org.uk.
Image © Laura Dodsworth