I wrote this on Thursday afternoon, right before my Toastmasters meeting. I was scheduled to give my second speech from the Competent Communicators Book. I was going to speak about goals, but under the inspiration of the book 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen I changed it to “Why does she stay?”
This is the speech I prepared. It was supposed to be 5-7 minutes, and in the first time of delivering a prepared speech – I came inside the time allotted!! (That only ever seems to happen with unprepared, impromptu ones until now)
Now there were some parts that I cannibalized from other sources, and I’ve linked to the source of those words where that occurs.
Madame Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmasters, Honoured Guests (We start all our speeches like that. It’s tradition…)
Next month is Family Violence Prevention Month – and in honor of that – I want to focus on that question that everyone asks about the women who live in abuse.
And everyone asks it – if not out loud then to themselves.
We asked it last month when we saw (or at least heard about) Ray Rice punching his girlfriend unconscious in the video that went viral.
We’ve all asked it more than once.
Because everyone knows someone who has been a victim or is currently a victim of domestic violence.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation says that 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. I don’t know what rock the other 33% are living under – but they ask the question too.
On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.
And we read the headlines and ask the question…
Why did she stay?
Because you know that last time was not the first time. We know that abuse doesn’t escalate to murder overnight.
And so even those of us who have been there, done that – ask the question
Why did she stay?
Because she is a frog.
But, if you put a frog in a pot that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat it up until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late.
People are like that too.
And abusers don’t turn up the heat until they have you in their clutches. They know from the minute they start that they are going to get away with it. They prepare their victim with ever increasing tests to see just how much they can get away with.
They don’t come out swinging on the first date. It’s a slow descent into the abyss. It starts with words and sometimes never gets physical. Sometimes the threat of violence is all that he needs to keep her in her place. Or he attacks her once or twice in the beginning of the relationship and she spends the rest of it walking on eggshells, never sure if he’ll erupt again.
Okay, you might be thinking, that explains why how she got there, but why does she stay?
There is no one answer. There are hundreds of them – different ones for every single victim, but it’s always a culmination of factors – never just one.
One thing is easy to overcome, dozens become overwhelming, paralyzing and – sometimes deadly.
It would seem logical that once she realizes she is in boiling water that she get out, but there’s nothing logical about abusive love.
And she does love him. Or believes that she does. The number one reason she stays is a psychological condition called “traumatic bonding” – something you’re probably more familiar with in its extreme form “Stockholm Syndrome” – emotional abuse intermixed with small acts of kindness can bond victims to their abusers even more than consistent good treatment can.
She believes him – Abusers aren’t all bad, all the time. If they were, perhaps it would be easier to leave. But abusers change day to day and sometimes minute to minute. At times he’s aggressive and intimidating, insults spewing from his mouth and then – like flicking a switch – he’s wounded and lost, hungering for love and someone to care for him.
And so she believes in the goodness. She believes in the honeymoon, in the promises, she believes in the lies.
She believes him – she believes that it’s all her fault anyway – that if only she was better in bed, or better at cleaning or better at cooking or better at whatever excuse he uses.
And she believes that no one can love her like he does.
And even if she doesn’t love him anymore and she doesn’t believe in him anymore, even when she knows it’s over – she still doesn’t leave.
Because when the love is gone, the fear remains.
Fear that she’ll have nowhere to go – every night in Canada 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.
Fear that he will kill her if she does leave – better to be beaten and berated than dead – it’s not a random or stupid thought – the two most deadly times in an abused woman’s life are when she’s pregnant and when she tries to leave.
Fear that she will live in poverty – and statistically speaking she will be – poverty rates among single mothers are higher than any other family type or group.
Why does she stay? Because she loves him, because she believes him, because she fears him – and because she fears life after him –
That’s why she stays.
But if we truly want to prevent family violence, the question I just answered is the wrong one entirely.
It should not be “Why does she stay?” but instead we should wonder “Why does he do that?”
I can’t answer that tonight. But this book might.
I encourage you to read it, so that we might all start asking and answering the right questions to end this epidemic.
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