One of the most frequently heard complaints of care providers and shelter workers is that, despite their efforts, so many battered women elect to return to their abuser. Yet it is essential to note here that most battered women eventually DO leave their abusive partners for good. In one study, 67% eventually separated from or divorced an abusive partner and did not return.
Studies of the efficacy of treatment and intervention programs for battered women are few. The goals of treatment for women usually do not focus on stopping the violence but rather on the degree to which the woman is empowered, has increased her self-esteem, has reduced her depression, and has heightened her sense of autonomy. Overall results indicate that those women who receive treatment improve more than those who receive no treatment.
Studies of the correlates of violence and women's success at leaving the abuser show that both objective and subjective aspects of the woman's life are important to consider. Objectively, battered women cite fear, lack of money, unemployment, and other economic factors as reasons for returning to the abuser. Subjectively, the loss of friends, loss of intimacy with the batterer, loneliness, facing the anger of other relatives, or a misplaced sense of responsibility for the dysfunction in their relationships are the interpersonal reasons given by battered women for not leaving the abuser. However, we know that many battered women are at highest risk for injury or even death when the batterer becomes convinced that the relationship is over. Thus, treatment programs that address these concerns are most likely to lead to success.
How abuse is treated shows that, for many women, community resources are absent. Without help, many battered women cannot leave the abuser. For example, few men who abuse their wives are arrested and convicted of this crime. In most communities, if the batterer had assaulted someone outside the home, the chances that he would be arrested are much greater than if he elected to assault his partner. Many battered women do not have an extended family who will support them, they do not have police who will come to the home and arrest the perpetrator of violence, they do not have shelters with room for them, they do not have judges who will issue and then enforce restraining orders, and they do not have access to affordable housing, and to treatment for themselves or their children. Programs should evaluate and then address the woman's help-seeking history as part of the treatment she receives.
Just as there are different typologies of battering men, battered women's experiences vary as well. Researchers have shown that the varieties of abuse experienced by the woman are related to her ability to leave the abuser. One-third of the battered women most likely to leave and to stay out have partners who are unstable, explosive, and severely abusive. About one-fifth are rarely physically abused, but experience severe emotional abuse. These women are most likely to have a stable relationship with the abuser and are most likely to stay. Another one-fifth have extensive and chronic abuse but may leave and return several
Domestic Violence Intervention times before being able to successfully live apart from the abuser. Approximately 10% leave only when the abuser starts to abuse the children as well. Those who are least likely to leave, who repeatedly go back to the perpetrator despite severe physical violence, are most likely to have a family history of violence, to have been abused themselves as children, and to think that violence is inescapable and expected. Programs to help battered women could take these typologies into account and tailor their services to the needs of the individual woman. In the future, outcome studies may include the entire community as the sample, to see whether education efforts have had an impact on attitude change, whether there have been fewer repeat offenders, whether arrest rates have increased, and whether the number of women who are abused by a partner each year has decreased.
Was this article helpful?