Pressure leads some abuse victims to stay; others to leave

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

  
Editors note: This is the final part of a three part series on domestic violence. Part One ran on Sunday, Dec. 15 and Part Two ran on Tuesday Dec. 17.
  
For many people living in an abusive relationship, leaving is the only way to make the abuse stop, despite the victim's hope that their partner will change.
   A darker aspect of a victim's story all too often occurs after they have left the relationship. According to Carey Andrick, program manager for Safe Passage domestic violence shelter in Johnson City, research shows that 80 percent of domestic violence victims who leave their abusive partner end up going back.
   Victims often have many reasons for returning to the abusive partner. Information made available by Safe Passage lists reasons such as fear, shame, hope, and money. Also, fear of serious injury or even death pervades the minds of some victims, as well as the fear that they cannot make it on their own.
   Sometimes shame is felt by victims who blame themselves for having a failed marriage or who give in to the social stigma that divorce shouldn't happen in families such as theirs.
   Often when the abuser is not being abusive, they are extremely kind and often apologetic for their actions, even showering the victim with gifts. This gives the victim a hope that maybe things will change.
   Many abusers make their victims financially dependent by not allowing them to work outside the home or by keeping all bank accounts or credit cards in the abusers name.
   Victims may also feel religious pressure to stay because they were taught that divorce is morally wrong. The victim's family may also not be supportive of their desire to leave.
   Love and children are also listed by victims as reasons they stay. Victims sometimes continue to love the abuser despite his or her actions. They also want their children to grow up in a home with two parents.
   Dr. Kristina Coop Gordon, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been working for more than two years on a study to determine why victims stay in abusive relationships and return once they have left. "We believe that it is essential that we understand more fully what keeps women trapped in violent relationships in order to create better interventions to aid them in making decisions to leave," Gordon said. "It is hoped that by understanding more fully what factors keep women returning to abusive relationships, shelters can develop interventions that are better targeted to aid women in making their decision to stay or go."
   Gordon's study interviewed 120 women from nine domestic violence shelters in Eastern Tennessee, some in rural areas and others in urban areas.
   Gordon examined several factors, such as the correlation between forgiveness and the victim's intent to return to their partner. "We're taught that forgiveness is a good thing we should have," she said. "I was curious if there was a dark side to forgiveness."
   During the study, Gordon saw trends that linked a victim's attachment to their partner with their forgiveness of the partner and intent to return to the relationship.
   "Women who are more forgiving are more likely to return to their partners," Gordon said. "It suggests that maybe there is a dark side to forgiveness; that if you are too forgiving, you may end up in a dangerous situation."
   Another aspect observed by Gordon and seven students from UTK was how much a woman feels she has "invested" in an abusive relationship. Gordon defined investments as things such as children, time in the relationship, money, or a home.
   "If they have a lot invested in the relationship they are more likely to stay in it," she said.
   Sometimes, however, despite the odds and statistics being against them, some victims leave for good.
   Such is the case for a woman identified as "Leann" in order to protect her from being recognized by her abuser. Leann stated that she left her husband several times before finally leaving him for good. "I went back because I missed him. I was scared," she said. "I had to take care of my two kids and I had nowhere else to go."
   Leann is confident that she will not go back to her abuser this time. "I don't want to go back," she said. "Whatever the world dishes out I'll just have to take because I'm not going back."
   Leann stated her abuser would not allow her to have friends or to work outside of their home for a long time. He claimed to be a "very strong Christian man" and would often justify his abuse by citing scripture.
   "His theory was that I'm not a person, that I'm a belonging. That God made woman for man and not as a person," she said.
   Leann was often verbally abused by her husband and made to feel worthless. She said that is what helped her make up her mind to leave.
   "I don't want to live like a possession. I want to be treated like a person," she said. "My children don't need to be treated like objects, like a couch or a car. They need to feel loved and so do I."