By Esther Nantana
WINDHOEK, Namibia, Jun 30 2023 (IPS)
In almost every conversation I’ve had about gender-based violence (GBV), the question “why don’t they leave?” inevitably comes up.
After many years of working in this space, I have learned that the answer is not as simple as we think. The nature of GBV is quite complex. Numerous layers and factors affect individuals both internally and externally.
These can include the nature of the relationship, the sense of responsibility, the sporadic nature of violence, fears and uncertainty.
A significant part of the complexity of GBV lies in the fact that it is committed by someone with whom the victim is in a relationship and thus someone they deeply love and care about.
Trying to reconcile how someone you love can hurt you in that way is usually only the initial shock. But it keeps victims trying to figure out what went wrong in the relationship.
Victims have been known to take on a sense of responsibility for the violence they face. Some tend to believe they provoked or caused the problem.
This is usually a result of blame-shifting by the abuser. Society also contributes to this when they subject victims to questions like “what did you do to aggravate him?”
This engenders a sense of guilt and an accompanying sense of responsibility to prevent further violence.
This is wrongfully placed on victims when the abusers are at fault. Also, no level of “instigation” warrants physical aggression or abuse. Physical violence is unacceptable even when it only occurs once in a relationship.
And in most cases, when it happens once, it is often likely to reoccur. It may not even happen frequently, but it will.
And those moments when it’s not happening pull the victim back into the relationship – thinking the last time it happened was the last time it would happen.
When we try and picture an abusive relationship, we tend to assume it’s violent all the time. This is not always the case.
Abusive relationships are usually filled with other moments. Even happy moments. The abuser who gets upset and violent is the same person making grand gestures and declaring their love daily.
Abusers beg and cry, showing remorse and regret, just to try prove they are still “good people”. They tend to play on the emotions of the victims because of the close nature of intimate relationships. This eventually makes it easy for the abuse to reoccur in cycles.
It takes the victim quite a few times before they can confidently say they want to break out of the cycle. Regrettably, even after deciding to leave, issues of safety are paramount.
Statistics show the most dangerous time is when victims attempt to leave the relationship. In some cases, it can end fatally.
As abusive partners try to maintain power and control, they can become more violent, threatening to end the lives of their partners and even threatening the lives of other loved ones involved.
Victims wanting to leave abusive relationships face enormous challenges. Where do they get adequate support? Do they know where to go? How do they survive economically? Where will they live?
Then there are fears of not being believed or supported. Or having their reports and accounts invalidated. They are also pressured by family and friends to remain in relationships for the sake of the children and to maintain the facade of a good family image.
These are only some of the issues involved with trying to leave. It’s difficult, and it is challenging, and it cannot happen overnight.
So next time you hear about a person who stayed in an abusive relationship, treat them and the situation with grace and understanding. It takes a lot of courage to report abuse the first time and even more courage to keep reporting it and trying to get out.
Our loved ones in these situations need empathy, support, and love. This gives them the strength to leave eventually.
Esther Nantana is currently a project coordinator for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Namibia. Previously, Esther co-led the Women and Youth Development/Capacity Building cluster at the African Union. She graduated from the Indrani Fellowship in May 2023. She is also a public health and gender advocate and a blogger; website esthernantana.com
Source: The Namibian
IPS UN Bureau