Violence against women: why do you stay in abusive relationships?

Violence against women, in all its types, is a devastating and widespread phenomenon that can be described as a pandemic. On most occasions, this systemic violence occurs within affective heterosexual relationships. Given this, a question arises in the collective ideology: why are there women who remain in this type of abusive relationships? Studies show that there are reasons of all kinds that make it difficult to get out of these violent relationships.

Traditionally, intimate partner violence against women has been treated as a private phenomenon, unique heritage of the family sphere. It was not until the 1970s in the US when the second wave feminist movement began to expose the systemic violence with which women lived in family settings, especially within the heterosexual couple.

Thus, the private character socially attributed to violence against women is questioned in order to start treating it as a social and structural problem whose eradication must have institutional intervention and political will for change.

In 1979, the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women establishes the development of mechanisms to achieve gender equality as an obligation for the signatory states.

In 1993, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defined it as “any act of violence based on belonging to the female sex that has or may result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women , (…) threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether they occur in public life or in private life”.

In Europe, the Istanbul Convention gives us the same definition of violence against women. In Spain, for its part, Organic Law 1/2004 on Comprehensive Protection Measures against Gender Violence describes it as violence of any kind carried out against a woman by her male sentimental partner, whether or not they live together.

The data

In Spain, the social incidence of violence against women is established in the Macro-surveys on violence against women of the Government Delegation against gender violence. The latest (2019) shows that 14.2% of women residing in Spain have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a partner. Physical violence occurred more than once in 75% of the cases, sexual violence in 86.2%, and psychological violence in 84.3%. Of the women who have suffered intimate partner violence, 49.6% did not seek help or break the relationship, while of the group of women who came to report or seek help abroad, 81.9% broke the relationship .

The motives

Gender violence has specific characteristics compared to other types of violence, and that is that between the aggressor and the victim there is a romantic affective relationship. This is directly related to one of the reasons why a violent relationship can be maintained: the influence on the construction of love of the myth of romantic love. According to this, love can do everything and the couple is the only possible source of happiness. This contributes to the preservation of the couple at all costs, keeping the victim’s hopes for change.

On the other hand, in violent relationships, a series of psychological mechanisms are deployed to achieve the isolation of the victim, as well as an emotional dependence on the aggressor. These tools are similar to those known as coercive persuasion techniques, deployed by sects in their recruiting processes. Thus, the loss of autonomy and dependency of the victim is pursued by distancing herself from her social environment.

The partner becomes the only “support” for the woman and she loses the possibility of receiving help from abroad. In addition, social ties help prevent violence. Therefore, the lack of social and family support favors the chronification of violence. Isolation is a factor of continuity in the relationship, since no other alternative is perceived.

It is also important to mention here the feminization of poverty. The gap in access to education and the labor market for women implies a higher percentage of poverty for them than for men. This structural precariousness generates economic dependency that, like the emotional one, makes it difficult to leave the violent relationship.

The cycle of violence

In 1979, the American psychologist Leonore Walker gave a name to what violent women experience in their couples: the cycle of violence.

This consists of three phases that begin after a period of calm:

  1. Accumulation of tension. There begins to be conflicts and the degrees of aggressiveness and hostility of man are increasing.

  2. Burst. It refers to the moment of the aggression, of any intensity. The woman feels confusion, fear, and even guilt.

  3. Honeymoon. The aggressor “regrets” what happened, promises that it will not happen again, and manipulates the victim into not leaving the relationship. Here there are exacerbated displays of affection that emotionally bind the woman to her aggressor.

After this phase the accumulation of tension begins, and with it the beginning of the cycle. With each turn, the time period between phases is reduced until the moment the honeymoon phase disappears. Thus, the couple’s dynamics will be focused on tension and a subsequent violent outburst.

As we can imagine, this has serious physical, psychological and moral consequences for women, and can even lead to murder.

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