Domestic Violence – Why She Won’t Just Leave


When raising the ugly subject of domestic abuse, responses are varied. I have stood in supermarkets fundraising for domestic abuse charities, participated in awareness campaigns, and attended school fairs, support worker forums, conferences and meetings.

While there are always individuals who react with sympathy and horror to the plight of those controlled, battered, intimidated and broken down by an intimate partner or family member, you can count on receiving responses that combine disbelief, incredulity, and a large dose of victim-blaming.

“If it’s really that bad, why doesn’t she just leave?”. “I’d never let anyone treat ME like that.”. “What are a couple of girls like you doing talking about domestic abuse?”. “Men get falsely accused and abused themselves, you know.”. “Why do women always pick bad partners?”. “They chose to marry/date him, and they chose to stay.”

These comments, delivered in tones that range from offence, to condescension, to something that approaches a jealousy that somehow you are pulling the focus away from me and my problems onto somebody else, somebody I would rather look down on, forcing me to face a problem I would rather explain away. And then, of course, there are the awkward jokes cracked mostly by older men nudging their wives, of how they are going to “go home and beat her up a bit”.

It is difficult, in the moment and in a highly public setting where you have merely seconds to formulate an appropriate response, to reply in a manner that maintains professional courtesy and yet challenges the myths being perpetuated.

It is tempting to snap back with personal accounts of the horrors perpetrated on women and children you have worked with, to reel off statistics, to react with frustration that someone, anyone, can turn a blind eye when two women per week are killed by a former partner in England and Wales alone. (source:

However, when you step back and look at the overall picture, individual disregard of issues like domestic abuse doesn’t come from nowhere. It is the result of collective thinking and attitudes formed and shaped over time, influenced by personal experience, by societal status, by the sources and stories we consume. And what is the primary source of information for most of us?

Is it hours spent working with victims? In-depth study of reports and statistics? Reading of carefully curated resources and books?

For most of us, our primary input is fast-access media. Social media, radio, television, and news stories clicked and swiped on the screens of our smartphones and tablets every day. So if the media is shaping our collective consciousness, what are they telling us?

Domestic abuse charities are shining a spotlight on the issues surrounding the reporting of violence against women and girls, particularly on the language used to present perpetrators as opposed to their victims.

A recent BBC headline drew criticism for it’s presentation of the story of a woman murdered by her partner that drew attention, not to the violence and terror of her death – strangled in a car park – or the two motherless young children she leaves behind, but rather to the motive that somehow makes us blame her, not the killer, for her death; “Woman strangled by PC lover plotted his downfall.” (Claire Parry – source: aljazeera)

 This follows in the wake of the BBC being forced by public opinion to withdraw a trailer for it’s upcoming documentary on the life and murder trial of Oscar Pistorius, a man with a glittering story of Olympic fame brought about by admirable determination in the face of physical disability…and a man who, as the documentary neatly phrases it “suddenly found himself at the centre of a murder investigation”. (source:

And how, we might ask, was he found embroiled in this unfortunate affair? Pistorious murdered his girlfriend…Reeva Steenkamp, a woman whose name, and whose story, is entirely unmentioned.

In the light of reporting like this (and these are only two of many, many examples), reporting that manages to glorify or curry sympathy for the perpetrators of domestic violence whilst somehow blaming the victims, is it any wonder that the general public reacts with more incredulity than empathy to the plight of those fleeing domestic violence?

It is our collective responsibility to seek to understand the complexity and the difficulty of domestic abuse, and the very real but often unperceived barriers facing survivors who attempt to leave an abusive relationship.  In situations where the perpetrator has taken control of everything over time – finances, children, education, community, access to family, friends, transport, work, and every feeling of independence and confidence that their victim once possessed, we need to understand that while our gut reaction is that victims need to simply leave abusive partners, it is never that straightforward.

A woman fleeing a violent relationship stands to lose everything. The perpetrator has often systematically isolated her and held access to all finances. So she faces the prospect of leaving her only home without any financial stability, having to fight to keep her children, being scrutinized and judged by everyone she knows when she gathers the courage to tell her story – and having nowhere to go, no support network, and no vision of a future. Whilst leaving is the bravest and most amazing thing, the outcome we all want for survivors, they face barriers that those looking on can barely comprehend.

Imagine having to share your most painful, personal secrets with strangers – with domestic violence charities, with police, and have them scrutinise and judge you. Imagine leaving your home and having to flee – perhaps to sofa-surf with friends, or drag your children into a refuge run by strangers and shared by multiple other families, to live off meagre government funding while struggling to find childcare and work in a town new and unfamiliar to you (depending on the risk, some victims are relocated well across country from their perpetrators).

So how does this tie in to the message of anti-racism that we at AriSEE are seeking to share? Because of this – once you start to comprehend all the barriers and challenges facing victims, and then turn to women in the BAME community…there are a whole set of additional barriers in place.

BAME women experience higher levels of discrimination and disbelief from police and social services. Some research indicates (and many mothers fear) that BAME children are more likely to be removed from their mothers and taken into care following admission to domestic abuse shelters (see more information at the end of this blog).

Another consideration for many black women, ready to be free from the control and abuse of their perpetrator but still holding some understanding and sympathy for a man they once loved – is that they are terrified that he will be battered or killed by white police. Ngozi Fulani, founder of a domestic violence charity for African-Caribbean women in the UK, has given a compelling interview on this topic here.

One Asian woman, a victim of domestic abuse, mirrored the discouragement and despair of many when she said: “Nothing will be done, he will kill me and blame it on coronavirus. The government and the police do not care about immigrants like me.” (source: Independent) The same article states that; “More than half the UK’s police forces now have a policy of arresting migrant victims of domestic violence and/or revealing their whereabouts to the Home Office.

Figures quoted on the .gov website reveal that “people of Mixed ethnicity (12.9%) were more likely to have experienced domestic abuse than White (5.6%) or Asian people (3.8%).

Migrant and minority ethnic women and children will feel even more isolated and marginalised in the raw and difficult surroundings of a refuge. Many minority ethnic communities, faced with social isolation, form deep and vital support networks within their own community that are then lost completely if survivors are forced to uproot and relocate.

Many refugee migrant women may face language barriers and be unsure of British law and policy surrounding domestic abuse or have uncertain legal status – facts that their perpetrators will gladly exploit to capitalise on a fear of reporting the abuse to authorities or seeking help.

Safelives’ (2020) dataset with 42000 clients showed that, “BME clients suffered abuse for 1.5 times longer before seeking help compared to those from a white British or Irish background’. Research shows that ‘a woman facing domestic violence has to make 11 contacts with agencies before getting the help she needs, however, this rises to 17 if she is BME’ (Brittain et al, 2005).” (source:

A single blog post cannot even begin to unravel the complexities of these issues, let alone to lay out the groundwork for our response to them. We can only seek to spark a train of thought, and cultivate an awareness that will lead to research, to empathy, and to increased understanding.

There is amazing work being done by frontline organisations to bridge the gaps and to support all victims of domestic abuse, and especially to provide tailored assistance to those facing the additional barriers caused by racial, cultural, or social standing.

For more information, please see the work of agencies such as BAWSO, Imkaan, or the Henna Foundation, as well as the tailored support services offered by larger agencies such as Women’s Aid, Rise, and other charities.

If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, or have questions about domestic abuse, please call or text the Live Fear Free Helpline at 0808 801 0800 for professional and confidential advice, or see more information at

Further reading – BAWSO has published an in-depth study regarding children from BAME families being taken into care following their mothers accessing a domestic abuse refuge in Wales. This can be accessed here.

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