Why They Stay

If a woman can accuse her husband of battering her--and a third to a half of all women find themselves in such a position at some time--then why doesn't she leave?

This question has perplexed observers for a long time. A psychologist in Italy offers an unusual explanation: biggest source of suffering is not the battering, contends Piera Serra, Ph.D., of Bologna. It's the psychological distress.

By having been put in the punished position by her partner, the victim acquires a "moral designation of guilt," Serra concluded after following a group of 68 battered women.

"What she needs is to be recognized as the innocent victim of a man who assaulted her," Serra explains in Family Process (Vol. 32, No. 1). This can't be accomplished by leaving her partner--only by transforming their relationship.

So she stays, seeking rehabilitation by way of a change in her partner. "It is dreadful that the person who responds to the victim's need for rehabilitation is her batterer, when, after the violence, he is calm and sometimes contrite. But such a change in behavior frees her from her role as accused."

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Of course, she insists that she intends to leave. But, Serra points out, "the more the woman declares her intention to separate, the more the man demonstrates his dependence" by asking her forgiveness.

"In this case, the victim not only feels rehabilitated but finds herself in a reversed relationship with her partner. It is this psychological and moral relief--going from a humiliating and guilt-ridden experience to one that is guilt-free--that gratifies her and makes her stay."

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