n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Factors compelling women to remain in abusive marriages

Volume 15, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Many people who have not experienced abuse in a relationship would probably ask: Why do battered women remain in abusive relationships? The question is based on the assumption that leaving will end the violence (Browne 1987:109; Walker 1979:246). Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend why the abused woman, instead of leaving an abusive partner, may decide to remain in the relationship and sharpen her coping skills. Perhaps it is fair to state that an abused woman often feels that whichever decision she makes, she may end up on the losing end. Others see the solution to the abuse differently, reflecting on who should leave. Hence, Browne (1987:110) suggests that we should rather ask the following question: Why should the woman leave when the man is the one who broke the law? Similarly, Jones (cited by Dobash & Dobash 1992:9) thinks that we should rather ask: Why don't men let them go? Questions are also asked about why women may decide to return to abusive relationships which they once left. Martin (1979:43) suggests that our sexist society not only facilitates woman battering but also forces her to return to an abusive relationship. This view is summed up in the following question: What is it about marriage in this society that keeps a woman captive in a violent marriage? One can assume that the question was asked because of available evidence that approximately 60 to 70 percent of women who seek help in shelters and even those who initiate separation through the courts, eventually return to their abusive home situations (Norman & Mancuso 1980:120). Walker (1979:64) bemoans the preference by battered women to resort to coping mechanisms over other solutions. She proposes that the following two questions should be answered: What are the strengths within this woman that have permitted her to survive living in this kind of hell? and How is it that she is not killed? There are a myriad of reasons that account for the fact that women choose to stay in violent relationships. In the following section, a discussion of these reasons is offered by grouping them into internal and external factors.

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