Judging Victims of Domestic Violence is Never Okay

“The question isn’t ‘Why does she stay?’

But ‘How can she flee?’ 
Unless you’ve been the victim 
Of power and control 
You may not ever sympathize 
With the ones who will not go.” 

-Anna Fisher, Stop the Silence-Break the Violence

I have refrained from talking about the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident. Considering I work at a domestic violence center, I deal with the realities of abuse on a daily basis. I hear the stories from women who come in and have been being battered and abused for years and years. I see the heartache that it causes these women. The physical scars, they heal; those emotional and psychological scars sometimes never do. But now that it seems that Rihanna and Chris Brown have reconciled, people that have no experience with the realities of DV are judging her for her decision. But the thing is, the average woman will leave her batterer 7 times before she leaves for good. And a woman is more at risk when she leaves than when she stays. Lethality is highest when a woman leaves.

There is a cycle of violence that occurs in most abusive relationships.
After an incident of abuse, there is a honeymoon period in which the abuser will say anything to get the victim back and to calm her down. He buys her presents, is very sweet, and tells her what she wants to hear. “If I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t get so angry.” “It’s just that I care about you so much that it makes me crazy sometimes.” “I’ll never do it again, I promise.” But the honeymoon period gets shorter and shorter each time, and the violence tends to escalate over time.
Also, the batterers have established a great deal of power and control over their victim. One of the best tools that shows the ways in which an abuser establishes that power and control is this wheel (I highly recommend clicking on it and reading the things listed. It’s really eye opening to see all of the ways in which batterers can establish their power and control).
These are all the ways in which power and control is established in an abusive relationship. And through this power and control, the abuser manipulates the victim and instills fear in her. We cannot judge the women that return to their batterers. They are not weak, they are victims. They will not leave until they are ready to. When people ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” what they are not understanding is this power and control aspect. “Leaving” is just not that simple. And until you have been in an abusive relationship, you can never really understand the control that the batterer has over that victim. You don’t understand the fear that the victim feels when she thinks about the consequences of leaving her abuser. He has probably told her that he will kill her if she leaves, and chances are, she believes him. Rihanna will hopefully learn from this relationship and move on eventually, but she can’t be pushed to do so until she is truly ready and no one should judge her for the decisions that she makes. The best the people around her can do is to love and support her, and be there for her when she is ready to make that break.
One of the most unfortunate things about this incident is that Rihanna has been thrust into the spotlight as some sort of representative for battered women without her consent. It is sad that this has to happen to her in the public spotlight. If, one day, she chooses to speak out against DV, that will have to be her decision. But what we CAN learn from this incident is that no one is immune. DV occurs everywhere. It happens to poor people, rich people, black people, white people, women, men. Your doctor could be an abuser; your child’s teacher could be a victim. You just never know.
But what I do know is that the judgement needs to stop.
“He hit me and it felt like a kiss

He hit me and I knew he loved me
Cause if he didn’t care for me
I could have never made him mad
He hit me and I was glad
Baby won’t you stay…”

-Carole King, He Hit Me (And it Felt Like A Kiss)
This entry was posted in Caterwauling About The Patriarchy, Culture Goes Pop, Griping and Kvetching and Bitching, It Felt Like A Kiss, Psychobabble, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Meg
    Posted March 1, 2009 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Bravo! Beautifully written and oh, so true.

  2. blueeyedtawni
    Posted March 1, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    oh wow i was reading the wheel thing.. on so many levels i can connect with it that my ex has done to me . and i stayed with that bastard for 16 years for a few reasons but the biggest was he threatened to take my kids from me if i ever left.
    granted i was 17 when we married but still he had a lot of control over me and the guilt he enjoyed cutting me down so much. towards the end when i started fighting back was when he started trying to get violent. that when i started telling him go ahead do it and he wouldnt..
    it is hard to leave when you dont have means to support yourself and your kids. and have someone to support you..
    it goes back to that rule a lot of times sadly. keep your business in your family.

    thanks for posting this!!!!!!!!

  3. alana
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    This is one of those issues where it’s really easy to judge a person. A lot of people don’t even seem to notice that they’re doing it in the first place.

    My mom stayed in an abusive relationship with my father for over ten years. When I was old enough to know better, I asked what made her finally leave. She said she couldn’t let us girls grow up thinking that’s what love is. It’s one of those little things that have stayed with me.

    The saddest part of it all is it taught her to respond to anger with violence and she went on to attack other men she dated. They would respond by becoming physical as well. It’s a heartbreaking and vicious circle. There’s no way for people to truly grasp the magnitude of the situation if they haven’t had to live with it.

  4. April
    Posted March 3, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I was in an abusive marriage too. It's the reason why I left, actually. Having been in that situation I believe that it takes a mentally strong woman to be able to leave. It's hard. VERY hard. Because even though you've had to lie to your friends and family about your black eye, you absolutely LOVE that man. But it's not love. The truth is that the woman is so scared of leaving because of the change, the fear, the unknown, the uncertainty, who knows? So she grasps on to the feelings she felt for the man in the beginning….when he *wasn't* beating the shit out of her, calling her a fat whore, and just breaking her down to the point where she just doesn't even know who she is anymore. Where did the man she fell in love with go? She knows he's in there and she's going to desperately try to make him be the way he was, before he started abusing her. Truth is, he was ALWAYS that way. And it takes a long time to figure that out. It takes the woman finally saying, "Who the fuck am I? Where did the woman I once was go? Why the fuck am I dealing with this bullshit? I am better than that and I'm getting the fuck out!"

    I remember so clearly the day I left my ex-husband. It felt SO FUCKING GOOD! There were no tears, just a feeling of a weight being lifted off my entire body. Like I was free.

    Anyway, it is easy to see why people judge in situations like this because it makes no sense what so ever why women go back to the men who abuse them. Even I, having gone through that, shook my head when I read that Rhianna went back to him. Not so much in disapproval, but more because she's famous. She's got plenty of money to be able to not live with him, she's beautiful and can have any man she wants. So while I understand why she stays, it still just doesn't make any sense. I just hope that she realizes soon that she doesn't deserve to be treated that way and will move on to someone better.

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