Why doesn’t she leave?
When a woman discloses she is in a relationship with someone who abuses her, the first thing she often hears is, ‘Why don’t you leave?’. On average it takes a woman seven attempts to leave, and because of the complexities of our emotions, our practical needs, and concerns about our children, there can be some going back and forth between leaving and staying. One huge factor is the lack of confidence in our ability to cope, we’ve had the confidence knocked out of us, and we’ve absorbed the lies we’ve been told by our partner about how weak and incompetent we are. Leaving is not a straightforward task.
For those with no personal experience of Domestic Abuse, remember that leaving is the point at which women are most likely to be murdered.
Sarah, from my book WITNESS recalled her attempts to leave her husband Jamie in several chapters of the book. Perhaps the most difficult, but ultimately crucial, time was when her son David, her youngest child, was about 14 months old. It had been a very trying year, due to Jamie’s behaviour; his affair, his violence, and his focus on himself, not his children and wife. Jamie had a car accident not long after David’s first birthday, which was also a few days after Sarah had been in hospital for some minor surgery. Sarah was still in pain, exhausted, and constantly on alert. Another woman had entered Jamie’s life by then; he said they were just friends.
‘…Sarah decided to call his bluff. If they were simply friends, then she was sure Sheila would want to visit him after his accident. She sent a pleasant card to Sheila inviting her to visit and then told Jamie. He was furious.
His right elbow and collarbone were immobilised, but using his left arm he picked up David and led Erin out of the living room and put them on the bottom step of the stairs. He closed the living room door and began beating Sarah with his left hand. He told her to sort it out and chased her out of the house. Sarah managed to grab the car keys and drove straight to the local police station. She told the duty sergeant she had been assaulted, and she wanted her children out of the house. Two sergeants came out to the house with her.
Jamie met them at the door, opening it a crack. He said, ‘Nothing has happened here. She’s off her head!’
Sarah could see Erin peering out behind Jamie.
The sergeants told her there was nothing they could do. It was her word against his. They advised her to go and stay with a friend. They left Jamie, who needed assistance to dress and bathe himself, with the care of Sarah’s three-year-old daughter and David, who could not walk!
Sarah had no choice. If she went back into the house, she thought she’d be killed. She spent the next ten days with her friend Kay. That night, she arranged to see her GP, who took note of the injuries to her face and back. The following day, she began divorce proceedings.’
(WITNESS by Kitty Nolan, p75)
Sarah met with Jamie several days after this, by now he had the letter from her lawyer. Jamie wanted to find a way for them to stay together. He was reasonable to start off with, and after he thought he had won her round, he began to challenge her about what she had done, involving the police, his colleagues, and talking to a lawyer. He wanted her to apologise. The conversation did not go well after that, and Jamie decided he was going to leave. He packed his rucksack and went away, Sarah did not know where to.
That night, Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.
The following day, she left the children with Kay while she went to her hospital check-up. Kay was to bring them back in the evening so Sarah could get a rest in the afternoon. When she got home, though, the front door was open. Jamie had forced his way into the house, leaving a hole in the wall at the front door. When she went into the living room, she found a note attached to the tape recorder. ‘Please listen to this,’ the note read. ‘It will be of interest to you.’
She listened while he pleaded that he could not live without his family. He wanted them to stay together and would do anything. Sarah could take no more. When Jamie came in and asked what she wanted to do, she couldn’t answer him. She began to cry until the sobs made her whole body shake. She could not speak or open her eyes and soon could not hold her own body up. She cried for three days.
Jamie panicked and sent for Mhairi. Jamie’s sister spent hours with Sarah, just sitting beside her and stroking her head. Once Sarah was asleep, Mhairi went downstairs to talk to Jamie. She told him he had to give up Sheila and start taking his responsibilities as a husband and father seriously. He didn’t like this.
Over the next week, he took great care of Sarah and the children. To begin with, he stopped asking about what would happen to their marriage. He seemed genuinely concerned about Sarah. Then bit by bit, he began to wear her down with his plea to hold their family together. Sarah felt paralyzed by her need for freedom on the one hand and, on the other, her fear that she could not look after her children on her own. Jamie had made her believe she could not cope alone. She also believed that, if her marriage ended, she would be alone for the rest of her life.
Kay came to visit because she was worried, so much so that she had phoned Sarah’s doctor. Sarah’s GPS knew about her situation but couldn’t do anything unless Sarah made direct contact with them.
Sarah saw Dr Cullen the next day. She said she felt she had to give the marriage one last chance. Dr Cullen advised that, if she was going to do this, she should put boundaries in place.
On her way home Sarah gave Dr Cullen’s advice a great deal of thought. When she got to the house, she sat down with Jamie and told him she was prepared to have one last go, but if he hit her again, their marriage was over, and if he had another affair, their marriage was over. Jamie didn’t like these terms, but he accepted them.
Sarah halted divorce proceedings.
(WITNESS by Kitty Nolan pp 76 – 77)
Sarah hadn’t yet reached the point where she felt fully justified in leaving Jamie. He had never begged her to stay before, and she felt she had to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps more than anything, she needed to justify breaking the Church rule that marriage was for ever. However, fourteen months later their marriage came to an end. Although Jamie did not lift his hands to her again, he was often verbally aggressive, holding his clenched fists by his side, and still would not brook Sarah holding her ground on an issue. The final straw came when Sarah discovered evidence of another affair, and for Sarah this made it clear-cut, she had endured violence and unfaithfulness; aggression and name calling; girlfriends phoning the house, and giving her disease. Their marriage was over.
Jamie left their family home, and moved in with his current girlfriend.
Mother, sit with me in my rage. I needed protection from the police and got none. Why? I was terrified he would kill me, and my children’s lives would be a living hell. He wore me down. He said I couldn’t cope alone. They needed two parents. I felt isolated. He made sure I felt alone.
Mother, breathing in, I place my feet on your earth, my home. My roots sink into Your earth anchoring me, holding me steady. You feed me through these roots. As these memories arise, help me be present with them. Help me feel my feelings, my rage, where it is in my body. Breathing out, I let go into my roots, into the earth, my home.
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