The Trouble With Asking Women In Abusive Relationships Why They Don't Leave
“Why doesn’t she leave?”
Most recently, it’s seeming the go-to response to allegations that rapper Fabolous assaulted Emily B, his girlfriend and mother of his children. But this incessant and insensitive and ignorant question has been asked plenty of times before.
Far too many people fail to realize that asking, “why didn’t she leave?” isn’t a valid question, it’s placing the onus of domestic violence on the abused, not the abuser. It would make more sense to ask of the abuser, “why don’t you stop swinging and slapping?” since, you know, that’s the person committing criminal acts. An even better question would be to ask of the abused, “how can I help?”
More from ESSENCE
Many people also seem not to know that getting out of an abusive and/or dysfunctional relationship— the most volatile time– doesn’t mean that’s the end of the abuse. For those folks who continuously ask, “why doesn’t she leave?”, I’d also like to present another, more personal reason that a woman might stay, and oddly enough, it’s a story about a woman who left.
A friend of mine split from her husband earlier this year. To be clear, she’s never indicated that he was physically abusive. He had a very public meltdown on social media. There was much more going on behind the scenes. She did not feel safe and she departed abruptly.
Since then, her husband and his family have spent three months off-and-online, harassing her, her family and her friends. Repeatedly, he’s publicly disparaged his wife. She chooses to “go high” and not respond. Privately, he threatens his wife that if she does not meet various demands, he will attack her friends on social media and “hurt their pockets”.
He calls us, the friends, alternately bashing his wife and accusing us of interfering in and ruining his marriage. My perceived offense? I’d once sent a text to his wife asking if she needed help when I believed her Instagram page had been hacked. (It had not.) Seriously. That’s it. Twice, he’s called me, demanding a public apology for this somehow egregious error. He also demands that his wife’s friends side with him publicly about the horrible accusations he makes about his wife. When he demanded that of me, obviously, I refused. He hung up on me.
Last week and earlier today, I became the latest cyber-bullying target of my friend’s husband. She’d given me a head’s up on Easter Sunday that he was threatening to go after me unless she publicly apologized for leaving him. I told her to “let him”.
Two days later, I was in the hot seat. He posted about me three different times, on two different Instagram pages to a total of 300 thousand followers. He publicly accused me of ruining his marriage, made false claims about my personal life and disparaged my appearance. And then, his brother, who I have never met, did a series of Instagram Live posts doing the same. Another brother was in the Instagram comments raging against anyone who attempted to defend me. This morning, my friend’s husband started up again, with another Instagram post and another live feed attacking my character and flat out lying.
Just to reiterate, I am the Target of the Day. I am one of many he has done this to. There was a different person the day before me, a different person the week before, and even a new target by the end of that first day. Unfortunately, there will be more in the days and weeks to come. And none of this is about us, his wife’s friends. We are pawns he’s using to harass his wife.
By publicly embarrassing us, he’s hoping his wife will give in to his demands or that we will alienate her. Some friends have begged her to do what he says so that they won’t be attacked or they’ve backed away because they don’t want to be her husband’s next target. This is a blatant attempt to cut off his wife’s support system, to isolate her and force her to return to him. This is sick and twisted, and manipulative. It is psychological warfare. It is emotional abuse. It is another form of domestic violence.
So when you ask of a woman in a bad situation, “why doesn’t she leave?” here is an answer for you: Sometimes women stay to protect others. Sometimes they stay to keep their support systems. Sometimes they want to avoid the public embarrassment. Sometimes they stay to manage their partner’s rage or keep it from spreading. Sometimes leaving feels just as bad as staying. And all the time, you should just stop asking that question.
Demetria L. Lucas is a DC-based award-winning author, journalist and media personality with an all-consuming obsession with modern relationships and a penchant for cultural commentary.