Abused women – especially victims of psychological and emotional torment – are often so paralysed by what they see as the stigma and shame associated with their situation that they are unable to seek help.
Agencies working with them need to better understand how the profound shame the victims feel not only deters them from seeking help, but can be reinforced by educational and promotional messages aimed at trying to help them.
“My research was focused in one direction – finding the explanation of how it was that some women were able to remove themselves from the experience of abuse and maintain lives free from violence, whereas others appeared unable to do so, remaining with abusive partners for extended periods of time or eventually leaving, only to find themselves once more involved in violent relationships,” she says.
“It is most clearly illustrated in the use of language around choice and freedom in advice to abused women – ‘you don’t have to live like this’, ‘you can leave’, ‘there is help available’. All of these – while probably selected as terms offering empowerment to victims – can also operate to engender a sense of weakness on the part of victims…thus creating a sense of shame and self-blame.
“We need to shift the focus for dealing with abuse and violence off the victim. It should not be seen as her responsibility to decide she wants it to stop – nor should not doing so be seen as the victim’s shameful failure.”