Jess McCabe

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Women’s eNews story: Why Doesn’t She Leave? Here’s What They Say

By Jess McCabe

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It took her nine years to finally leave. Confusion was a big part of the delay since this, after all, wasn’t an obviously aggressive bully. This was a man who seemed at first to worship her. The first of three brief interviews with survivors.

White-ribbon-in-hand
A woman holds a white ribbon as a symbol of violence against women.
Credit: Amy Dianna on Flickr, under Creative Commons

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LIVERPOOL, England (WOMENSENEWS)– A common question asked of domestic violence victims is: “Why didn’t you just leave?” The answer can be complicated. In these three interviews, survivors talk about why they didn’t leave the moment the abuse started and what made them realize the time had come.

Over a cup of tea in the busy Liverpool One shopping center in her native city in northern England, 39-year-old Stephanie Wright, a mother of three and small business consultant, exudes pragmatism and confidence. It has been four years since she left her abusive ex-husband.

“The number of people who’ve said to me, you’re not the sort of girl who’d take that rubbish. People and society assume it happens to a certain sort of women,” she says.

“No one as a little girl ever thinks ‘When I grow up, I want to get married and get beaten up or abused or bullied or made to feel worthless,'” adds Wright. “You started this relationship with someone who seemed to worship the ground you walk on.”

But then, Wright traces how all that changed.

“For me it began with, ‘that dress looks nice.’ Then after a couple of months it would be, ‘you know, I don’t like that dress on you as much as I like the other one.’ A couple of weeks later it will be, ‘I don’t want to upset you here love, but you look a bit slutty in that one, and you’re a clever girl, I don’t want people to think you’re a slut’.”

“‘The dress looks a bit slutty,’ suddenly becomes, ‘you look like a whore, you’re not going out in that. I’m not having people I know see you like that,'” she says. “If you go to school and someone bullied you from day one, you know where you stand. Because they’ve [the abuser] created a situation where you’re very safe, very loved, very cared for, by the time you get to the part where you’re this useless worthless bitch who can’t be trusted, the honest answer is you’re not entirely yourself sure if you’re right or they are.”

First Incident

The first violent incident occurred around 10 months after they married, a year and a half since they started seeing each other. “He smacked me across the cheek and then ranted and raved about how I’d made him do it, then left the house. I remember being rooted to the spot.”

She holds her hand up to her cheek, remembering. “I was feeling, ‘has he just hit me? It does feel hot.’ That was the first time. I didn’t tell anyone because I just didn’t know what on God’s earth I was supposed to do. I knew it wasn’t right and I knew I didn’t like it.”

It was another nine years before Wright left her husband for good. She had tried and failed before.

It wasn’t a dramatic moment. “I just couldn’t stay any longer; I’d wasted enough of my life. I went to my mum’s house. I was unemployed. I’d never had to claim benefits before. [But] I had more money on benefits than I ever did when I was married.”

It wasn’t a smooth process. During the separation, Wright’s former husband tried to report her to social services for abusing him. “He’d been cautioned, he’d been charged and he’s still going to the social services, to the police,” she says. But now Wright has been able to move on and makes a living in assisting startups and running business networking events for the shy.

This story was reported and produced by Jess McCabe for the series “Why Didn’t She Just Leave?” This special project was crowd funded on the Catapult funding platform. Join the conversation on domestic violence on Twitter via #WhyIStayed.

Former editor of The F-Word, Jess McCabe is a British journalist, reporting on women, feminism and housing
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