“But he loves me, he wouldn’t marry me if he did not. He loves me, I know he does, and well it’s my fault this time. If only I had kept my mouth shut, now I’ve brought out the animal in him.”
My heart bleeds each time I hear these words. I am conflicted between hugging her pain away and giving her a huge slap across the face.
“Wake up! It’s not you fault, he is the one to blame! “
Domestic violence is a real thing. It is when an intimate partner within a relationship abuses the other, either emotionally, physically, mentally or sexually. Sometimes, it’s a combination of these abuses.
What really breaks my heart is that some abused women will die first before they leave their abuser. I do not blame them at all. Outsiders think walking away is as easy as they insist.
An abuser will isolate their victim and start dictating whom they can and cannot talk to. A commonly used argument is that people have no business in their relationship thus there is no need for friends and relatives to get involved. As a result, survivors are isolated from potential helpers, and will have no one to depend on but the abuser.
It’s never easy to walk away from such a routine. Some women begin to think that violence is a sign that a man still acknowledges she is important. There is that notion that one is only angered by people they love. This is the broken record that keeps playing in the head. Violence becomes the validation of love. “He loves me, he loves me, he loves me.” If ever he stops abusing her, she feels unloved or replaced and actually self sabotages herself back to being abused.
This is the Stockholm Syndrome. It is a psychological phenomenon first described in 1973 in which victims express empathy and sympathy， and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. In this case, the captor is the abuser. The more he abuses her, the more she falls in love with the abuser.
As someone who has experienced violence, I understand that there are many other reasons why domestic violence survivors stay with their abusers, other than just the Stockholm Syndrome.
Cycle of Abuse Theory
The Cycle of Abuse Theory is a social cycle theory developed in 1979 by Lerone E. Walker to explain the patterns of behaviour in an abusive relationship.
The abused feels a sense of helplessness when tension builds because they become fearful, there is no communication and they seem to do nothing right to please the abuser. At this point the incident takes place and the abuse takes place, with victim blaming, self worth distraction, intimidation and threats to leave. The abused knows that after the incident there is reconciliation, it comes with big gifts, flowers and an apology. The abuser feels bad for what he did and buys back affection. After reconciliation comes the calming period, which is a honeymoon stage, the abuse is actually forgotten.
Leaving is a process and not an event. If we understand this we will be less judgmental with victims of abuse. No one ever leaves at the first sign of abuse, they keep hoping it will go away or their partner will change. There are many things at play. In my context patriarchy had its claws out to defend the abuser and make sure I do not leave.
The Claws of Patriarchy in Abuse
Patriarchy is a system that enables and protects men as the primary source of power. What is the most disheartening is that, women are also gatekeepers of patriarchy. When I wanted to leave my situation, my aunts were the ones who talked me into endurance. There were statements like; ”you are not the first nor will you be the last, that’s what marriage is all about.” My aunt would ask me if I could stand the name-calling, the derogative names that came with being divorced. They made it sound like it was way better to die, than to be finger-pointed at as a divorcee.
Financial independence, a child of patriarchy, is another reason why one would opt to stay in an abusive relationship. Women raised in patriarchal societies are taught to depend on men as their providers. All men are portrayed as the natural providers. This has resulted in very limited economic opportunities for women. The only transition that women then go through is that of being depended on their fathers then their husband. Raised under such conditions, it becomes difficult for someone to learn to survive on their own as an adult. Some women endure abuse because they cannot stomach to live without their luxuries. It then becomes a case of keeping up appearances as well as survival. When one solely depends on their partner for survival, cutting that umbilical cord is not an option. It’s even harder when ‘reconciliation’ comes with a brand new car.
The old cliché: “I am staying it for my children”
A number of women also seem to stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of the children. The thought of another woman raising their kids is traumatic; they start projecting horror stories of abuse. In some cases, they are even threatened. “If you leave me, I will kill you and the kids,” so again she stays for the safety of her children. But truth be told, there is nothing healthy about an abusive relationships. Research reflects that children who grow up in domestic violence environment experience emotional and physical traumas, and some grow up to become perpetrators among other things.
Also, sometimes, it’s never about the children; it’s about the need to belong, to be qualified by marriage. Most women have been socialised to believe that marriage is an achievement, and once you are no longer married you have failed. Therefore they stay, and children are used as an excuse to stay.
There are women who also stay because they cannot handle change of any kind. They actually fear change, drastic change of ending a marriage. The words that pierce self-esteem and destroy their very being are much easier to deal with compared to changing their home address and seeing their husband happy with someone else. Their only hope is that one day he will change.
The Saviour Mentality
The survivor often possesses the saviour mentality. This is the belief that she is the only one who understands him and can help him with all his problems. Over and above that, the rest of his family loves her so much and speaks highly of her. Those will seem like little victories worth keeping. One can also have a hard time separating from the abuser because the in-laws keep encouraging them to hold till he changes. In the same breath the woman’s family sees him as an angel and thinks she is the problem. It becomes almost impossible to convince anyone of his violent nature, especially if he is this amazing person to everyone else but a total beast to the woman he calls his wife.
Religion is strong in its rules of how people should live and make decisions. The bible, for example, describes love as “patient, kind, always hopes, long suffering and keeps no record of wrong.” Violence is seen as the long-suffering bit. Religion also tends to throw blame on the woman saying that if anything doesn’t go right, she did not pray enough. Women are also constantly reminded of how God hates divorce, and when a woman holds a senior position within the church, she is mostly likely carrying her cross silently.
The law, its protection or lack thereof
Fear and lack of courage to live is coupled by a lack of information. Most women do not know the provisions within the Zimbabwean law that protects them around abuse and custody of the children. So they stay with the abuser, thinking that because they are unemployed, custody will be given to the father.
The law stipulates women will have the custody of the children under 18years, unless there is proof of insanity or otherwise endangerment of the children.
Justice also hasn’t been forthcoming. Women have lost faith in the law enforcement agencies. There are stories that have been told of women reporting abuse but their cases have died a natural death due to corruption. Some abusers manage to bribe the justice system and get away scot-free. Other stories report lengthy processes in getting a divorce.
Usually when one decides to leave, there are many things to consider. Most importantly, it is protection from further abuse, which is often missing. Victims of violence go through a series of psychological traumas that hinder or delay breaking away from the abuser. With limited understanding of these hindrances from the outsiders, most women will continue to have a limited chance of standing up to violent partners and walking away.
Survivors should know that there are never alone. Abuse of any kind is a human rights violation and there are always people out there willing and ready to help and support survivors out of abuse.
Article by Tendai Garwe aka Sokostina, a published author, an unapologetic African feminist who will not tire to fight for women’s body politics. She is 2015 Motivational Speaker of the year for Zimbabwe International Women’s Awards, and 2016 Zimbabwe Radio Awards nominee for Most popular urban female presenter and an actress.