Why Doesn’t She Leave? 

Dealing with the epidemic of domestic violence.

October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Memphis is experiencing an eight-percent spike in domestic violence this year. In addition, Tennessee now ranks fourth in the nation for the number of men killing women. Memphis' homicide rate is on the rise.

The Memphis Police Department cites the two biggest reasons for local homicides as gang violence and domestic violence. Nearly 50 percent of all calls made to the police department are related to domestic violence. With all of these alarming statistics, many continue to ask victims of abuse the infamous question: Why don't you leave?

click to enlarge Joyce Kyles
  • Joyce Kyles

My years of personal and professional experience — and asking victims/survivors this question — have led me to three answers: Fear. Faith. Funding.

Fear: How often have we directly or indirectly judged family members or friends for their decision to stay in an abusive relationship? Guilt, shame, embarrassment, and a sense of failure are all real and legitimate emotions for someone dealing with abuse. There may be a fear of retaliation from the abuser. It is a documented fact that the risk of harm is increased once a victim leaves her abuser. He/she may have threatened to hurt or kill the victim, a family member, a pet, or even a child. Abuse is about power and control. It starts with controlling the abused person's mind. Once the mind has been manipulated, controlling one's surroundings becomes significantly easier.

Faith: When I say faith, I'm not necessarily talking about religion, but it's definitely a subject worth mentioning, because we still have too many churches that refuse to discuss or address the problem of domestic violence. There's also the issue of culture. Based on one's culture or religious beliefs, abuse may be viewed differently and therefore addressed differently.

The faith I speak of has more to do with people of influence. How many times have we seen reports of domestic violence where the accused abuser is a politician, sports figure, or in law enforcement? Over the years, I have spoken to many individuals who have lost faith in the judicial system because they don't feel they will be supported or believed.

In my former life in another state, I was told by law enforcement there was nothing they could do until my abuser had actually assaulted me. It didn't matter that I was literally running away from him, thinking when I made it to the steps of the police station, I would be safe. In that moment, I lost faith in the system. Funding: Housing continues to be a huge barrier for those who desire to leave an abusive relationship. It is limited, and priority is given to those who meet the criteria of imminent danger — meaning you have to be in immediate, serious risk of danger.

Approximately 94 to 98 percent of all individuals affected by domestic violence are also affected by some form of financial abuse. Many victims of abuse simply cannot afford to leave their abuser because they don't have the resources to do so. As much as we'd like to think leaving is as simple as walking out of a door, finances dictate much of what an individual can do and when.

As a community, there are ways to positively address each of these three components. It starts with acknowledging domestic violence is more than just physical and understanding the not-so-obvious signs. Keep in mind there are men who are victims of abuse, and their voices matter as well. Be intentional about offering support to those who are going through abuse and encourage them to seek help. There are resources available.

Encourage them to trust the judicial system. While it may have flaws, it is still a viable process. Safety planning, establishing and maintaining a positive support system, participating in job readiness programs, or exploring entrepreneurial options are additional options.

As a community, we need to explore many different ways to strategically help those who are being traumatized by domestic violence and remove the consistent barriers keeping them from living holistically happier and healthier lives. Joyce Kyles is executive director of Walking Into A New Life, Inc., and a speaker, author, and survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault.


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