Pull Up A Chair with Eva Charles!
Eva Charles is the author of the multi-titled Meadows Shore Series chronicling the lives and loves of the Clayton-Harrington family. She invites you to visit their beloved Meadows Shore nestled in the charming seaside town of Fair Harbor, where you’ll enjoy love, laughter, loyalty, and an abundance of mouth-watering food, Portuguese style.
After being a confirmed city-girl for more than thirty-five years, Eva moved to beautiful western Massachusetts in 2014. There, she found herself living in the woods with no job, no friends (unless you count the turkeys, deer, and coyotes roaming the backyard), and no children underfoot, wondering what on earth she’d been thinking. But as it turned out, it was the perfect setting to take all those yarns spinning in her head and weave them into a romantic tale.
When she’s not writing, trying to squeeze information out of her tight-lipped sons, or playing with the two cutest dogs you’ve ever seen, Eva’s creating chapters in her own love story.
Why Do They Stay?
The author acknowledges that not all victims of domestic violence are women, and not all perpetrators are men, but for the sake of clarity, in this post, survivors are referred to with feminine pronouns, and perpetrators with masculine. The words abuser and perpetrator, as well as survivor and victim, are used interchangeably.
Before I began writing novels last year, I spent decades as an advocate, counselor and attorney, working on behalf of women and children, some of it in the field of domestic violence. Given the prevalence of domestic violence in our society, it’s shocking that so few have any understanding of the scourge. When someone learns what I do for work, the first question they ask is, “Why do they stay?” Sometimes it’s asked in a light and breezy manner, as though there is a simple answer, and other times, it’s heavily laden with innuendo and victim-blaming. What’s interesting is that no one ever asks, “Why do they abuse?”
There are many reasons women stay in abusive relationships, children, family pressure, isolation, money and shame are some of the most common reasons survivors give for staying. But after working in the field for many years, I believe survivors stay because they have been battered, literally and figuratively beaten, until they can see no viable alternative, no other option.
To even begin to understand why a survivor stays, one must first understand what domestic violence is: the systematic pattern of taking power and control over another human being. A survivor’s right to make her own decisions, and her self-esteem, along with her family, friends, and every support system she has in place, are stripped away by the abuser.
Often it happens slowly, one small jab at a time. It’s uncommon for a perpetrator to start with physical abuse; usually, he lays the groundwork over time, before he ever raises his fists. He’s more likely to begin with some small, seemingly innocuous comment, “Those red pants make you look fat, wear your black ones instead,” or, “Don’t cut your hair, I like it long.” Maybe he monitors her cell phone and computer use. Before long, the jabs come fast and furious and they sting, “You can’t ever do anything right! You’re a terrible cook, housekeeper, mother, wife, human being”—you get the drift.
Some abusers save their entire wrath for private moments, while others humiliate their victims in public. Sometimes they strike-out in front of her children, which shames her, and terrifies them. Slowly, the kids begin to believe their mother is weak and powerless, and if she can’t keep herself safe, how will she ever keep them safe? This makes her feel particularly awful.
The abuser isolates her from everyone who cares about her, from anyone who boosts her self-worth, anyone who can offer her protection and solace. “Your family never liked me, now they’re trying to break-up our marriage. I don’t want them around here.” Or, “Your friends are sluts, I better never catch you with them.”
Soon, she’s not sure what to wear until he tells her, she has no money because he doles it out in small increments, as needed, and demands receipts. She no longer has friends, and if she has any contact with her family at all, it’s for short, sporadic, closely-supervised visits. Her children have no faith in her, and she begins to believe she’s a worthless human being, nothing without him, because he drums it into her every single day.
He sexually assaults her any time he’s in the mood. He forces her to have sex with him, or others, when she doesn’t want to, and makes her do things that are painful, or that leave her feeling ashamed. When she resists, he accuses her of sleeping around, when she gives-in to his demands, he calls her a whore. It’s crazy-making, and like everything else, it’s degrading and keeps her off-balance, terrified, until she’s walking on eggshells all the time.
He regularly threatens her and everyone she cares about, her children, family, friends and pets. Sometimes he promises to buy a gun, and if he already owns one, he takes to cleaning it in front of her, waving it at her while he accuses and berates. On occasion, he holds it to her head, or shoves it into her mouth.
Often it’s the victims who are in the most danger, who are the least concerned with their safety. It’s as though some part of the brain moves into survival mode, shuts-down, because otherwise, it would be impossible to function under that kind of constant duress. Many victims suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The most dangerous time for a survivor is right after she leaves, when the abuser sees his power and control over her slipping away. Years ago, as a wide-eyed twenty-three-year-old advocate, I accompanied a survivor to court for a restraining order and then to her apartment to pack a bag. The abuser was served with the order sooner than expected, and he showed up at the apartment when we were leaving with her things. He grabbed me, and held me against the wall in a small stairwell, threatening to show me “who’s boss.” When he took his hand off my throat to unbutton his pants, I flung myself down the stairs and crawled out of the building before he could really hurt me. My client wasn’t so lucky.
It is with good reason trained police officers, armed with guns, hate responding to domestic violence complaints. They never know what they are going to find behind the locked front door, making these dangerous, sometimes deadly, situations. Some perpetrators have no respect for, or fear of, authority. This is why restraining orders, while a necessary and important tool, can make the situation worse for some survivors.
Perpetrators and victims come from every walk of life, from every neighborhood. Wives, girlfriends, and partners of politicians, police officers, businessmen, lawyers, athletes, doctors, clergy, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, fishermen, and so many others, have sat in my office and shared their heart-wrenching stories. Some which sent such icy chills through me, that I wondered if I would ever get warm again.
Experience has taught me that the most dangerous perpetrators are those with everything to lose, and those with nothing to lose. These men will go to great lengths to protect themselves and their power over the victim, and some have resources and connections to assist them.
Born with more grit than brains, I’m a highly privileged woman, who doesn’t scare easily. But on several occasions, after meeting with a client, I hurried to my car in the well-lit parking lot, heart pounding, cell phone in hand ready to send a 911 call. I locked the car door, and glanced in my review-mirror all the way home, never letting my guard down until I arrived and the garage door closed behind me. Imagine now, how it feels to be a woman with no resources, no money, no family, no friends, one who believes she’s worthless, and who is certain that no one, no matter how well intentioned, can ever keep her, or her children, safe.
That’s why they stay.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline