I saw a T-shirt that other day that said, "Domestic violence only ends when you leave."
If only that were true.
It's easy to think that the woman is free to leave at any time, and therefore she is choosing to be abused by staying. The reality is quite different. Ending an abusive relationship is only the first round of a boxing match with a blind referee against a heavyweight whose appetite for inflicting pain is never satisfied.
The woman risks everything, even her life and the custody of her children, when she leaves. She'll never stop looking over her shoulder. She alone knows what he is capable of because she's seen the ruthless violence that he saves for when they are behind closed doors. In public, he is very charming and no one will believe he is capable of doing what she says he's done. She'll look crazy.
The abuser will make the woman pay a steep price for her freedom. When she leaves, he will escalate the violence and abuse. He will call her night and day. He will tell lies to her family and friends. He will destroy her possessions. He will talk to her about all the ways he can take revenge, how no one will believe her, and how he always wins.
What she does after she leaves will not be based solely on protecting her rights or doing what is right for her. Rather, every single decision she makes will be agonizingly weighed against what the retribution will be from him. If I file for divorce, will he kill me? If I file for custody because he's abusing the children, will he try to get sole custody or falsely accuse me of child abuse? If I file for a protection from abuse order, will it only enrage him more?
He'll use the courts to continue his abuse. Instead of fearing being beaten when she gets home, she'll be afraid of being hit with more court motions. Our judicial system will allow him to make the divorce or custody process a living nightmare. He will delay the process, or bring frivolous motions. He won't answer her lawyer's letters, and he'll send dozens of his own. He will force her to use up what little money she may have fighting him in court over the simplest matters while the referee stands idly by doing nothing.
Or, worst of all, he will take her children away despite overwhelming evidence of his abuse toward them.
Is it any wonder she is having a difficult time leaving?
Now imagine a society that holds him accountable for his abuse. The referee doesn't just cry foul, but prevents the boxing match from even taking place. The abuser is arrested and prosecuted every time he violates a protection from abuse order or doesn't uphold his end of a custody agreement. Custody evaluators and judges believe disclosures of abuse from children, and she isn't afraid of losing custody for protecting her children. She doesn't lose everything she owns to break free; marital assets are split fairly. He is ordered to an abuser program for at least one year, and preferably longer.
It's time to stop blaming women for staying, because we as a society are the ones who let the domestic violence continue long after she's walked out the door. Instead, we need to start truly protecting women and their children after the relationship is over.