The question “Why doesn’t she just leave” continues to be asked of and about women who live or have lived with domestic violence.
Aside from practical considerations such as ever-decreasing government funding to frontline refuge and legal aid services that make it difficult for a woman to find somewhere to go and access the trained assistance she needs. Apart from the acknowledged fact that attempting to leave is the most dangerous time for women and children, as her desperate assertion of independence can incite a perpetrator to even greater brutality as he attempts to maintain control of her.
Aside from those considerations, there are the well-documented complexities of human reactions frequently demonstrated in situations when violence is inflicted by those upon whom we are in some way dependent. Even a rudimentary understanding of these complexities will expose the question “Why doesn’t she just leave” as the statement of monumental ignorance and cruel disdain it actually is. A question that reveals far more about the questioner than it ever can about the questioned.
What it reveals about the questioner is that they are ill-informed, simplistic in their thinking, lazy,and lacking the ability to imaginatively transpose themselves into the shoes of another. They are also likely living comparatively safe lives, and haven’t been unduly challenged. They are disturbed by domestic violence and wish it would just go away, or that the victims would just leave and then it would all go away and most importantly, cease disturbing them. It’s a question always asked with an undertone of exasperation and an overtone of blame: why can’t you take responsibility for yourself? What’s wrong with you?
It is an accusatory question that blames the victim.
In short, the question is utterly disrespectful.
It’s likely difficult or impossible to prove this theory, but I’ve been thinking for some time now that lack of concern for violence against women by governments (amply demonstrated in reduced funding, lack of refugees, denied access to legal assistance and the rest, in spite of many grand words about “respect”) is underpinned by the question “Why doesn’t she just leave?” In other words, violence against women continues with little and indeed lessening government alarm, because women are judged as not having the sense or the willpower to leave situations that are patently bad for themselves and their children, so why, if they won’t help themselves, should governments and taxpayers bother?
Do governments also secretly ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
People who ask this question have the emotional intelligence of a turnip. I’d like to know, though I probably never will, just how deeply this attitude is entrenched in politicians who make decisions about combating intimate violence against women. Do they secretly believe all a woman needs is to have the guts to walk away, to somewhere, into the sunset perhaps? And does this explain the lack of interest in assisting her?
There is no sensible explanation for the general lack of political will to do far more about intimate violence than has yet been done. The options for women attempting to leave violent partners are decreasing. Police have fewer refuges to which they can take victims. Specialist domestic violence services have been subsumed under the umbrella of homelessness. And the numbers of dead and injured women and children keep rising.
When someone asks “Why doesn’t she just leave” maybe it would be interesting to respond “Why are you asking that question?”
Women enduring domestic violence and its aftermath ought not to be subjected to such questioning, overt or covert and I suspect the question, and the attitude that makes it possible for such a question to even be asked, is somewhere close to the heart of an explanation of why governments will not act in ways commensurate with a crisis that, like it or not, affects everyone, even the complacent, in some detrimental way.