“She should have left him”

You never know what’s going on behind closed doors.

I was reminded of this recently during a family gathering. We were discussing a recent news story that involved domestic violence, when a distant relative made some shocking comments.

“Well, if we’re honest, both parties are to blame,” she said. “The man is obviously at fault for abusing his wife and kids. But she’s also to blame for not leaving.”


She went on to ignorantly say that the wife was partially responsible for her kids’ traumatic upbringing, because she didn’t take steps to remove them from the abusive home. “She should have left him,” she said simply – as if these types of situations are ever simple.

I was gobsmacked. Not just because she was grossly misinformed and uneducated, but because a couple of other relatives were nodding their heads in agreement.

Which is why I couldn’t help but correct them with a few truths.

For instance: did you know that the number one reason a woman doesn’t leave an abusive partner, is because she’s afraid she will die?

One person every week is murdered at the hands of their partner or ex partner, often when the victim tries to leave, or has recently left.

Women are the most vulnerable and in the most danger of all, when they try to leave an abusive relationship. That’s why it often feels impossible to leave, even when you desperately want to – especially if you have children, and you fear for their safety.

And let’s not forget that leaving is not such a simple thing to do.

What’s a woman to do if she has no job, income or money? What if her abusive husband has isolated her from friends and family? What if he controls the money? What about the logistics of coordinating a move and changing your kids’ schools, all done in secret so your husband doesn’t find out?

Many years ago when I worked at Pacific Fair, a lovely elderly couple would pop in every week or two. One day she came in without her husband, and when I asked where he was, her answer completely floored me.

He was in the hospital, she explained. He was sick, and she hoped he would never get better. Because he was a monster: abusive, violent, cold and angry in private, but as sweet and loving as could be when they were in public.

“He’s made my life hell. My children hate him,” she said. “I’m waiting for him to die so I can have my kids back in my life.”

I have no idea why she confessed in me, and as a teenager with little experience in worldly things, I had no idea how to respond at the time. I think I smiled and said something sympathetic, then she walked out, and I never saw either of them again.

But their story has always stayed with me.

It’s a reminder that you never, ever know what’s going on behind closed doors.

And that there are so many reasons why simply “leaving” is not the simple answer.