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Why does she stay? That's the wrong question

By Christi Paul
updated 12:55 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christi Paul: When abused woman is in resigned despair, you might ask: Why stay?
  • Paul says the reasons vary: often because of a sense of feeling helpless or fear for her children
  • Why do men hit? A need for control; behavior he's seen others do. It's not victim's fault, she says
  • Paul: Unless you've walked in her shoes, don't judge her; help her end the abuse

Editor's note: Christi Paul is an anchor for CNN "New Day Weekend," HLN and an author of "Love Isn't Supposed to Hurt." You can follow here on Facebook at Christi Paul HLN, on Twitter at Christi_Paul or on Instagram at christipaultv.

(CNN) -- You know why she stays? Sometimes it's because she looks in the mirror and sees a stranger staring back at her. Eyes devoid of spirit. No remnants of a smile anywhere on her face. A blank, colorless mask covering the strong, independent person she used to be. She has no idea who she is anymore. Everything she thought she knew about herself has been stripped. She knows only the screams of condemnation. "You're no good. You're stupid. You're selfish. Who else could ever love you?"

Sometimes she stays because she can't afford to go. She's given up her life to be at home. To be a mom. To be a robot for someone who hurls insults and threats as soon as she attempts to do anything for herself. She couldn't possibly support herself, could she? Not financially. Not even emotionally.

Christi Paul
Christi Paul

What would her parents think? Her friends say? Her family do? No. She doesn't want them to see the pathetic mess she's become. At least that's what she thinks of herself.

She may stay because it's just easier, or so it seems, to stick with the familiar hell she knows rather than chance it in an unseen hell she's come to believe is out there. She doesn't deserve happiness anyway. Somewhere, at some time in her life, she surely must have done something hideous to deserve the abuse she's getting now. If people knew who she really was ... who he says she is ... everyone would most certainly abandon her.

Sometimes she stays because she'd rather take it than have it heaped onto her children. If she does what she's told, if she absorbs the blows, be them physical or emotional, at least she can do so being the shield for her children. She'll do anything to protect them.

Every woman (or man) who lives in a home where they know violence, betrayal and abuse has their own reasons for staying. And those words you just read are some of the conversations they have with themselves.

But why does he hit her? He may tell you it's because she provoked him. She spent too much money at the grocery store. She dared try to go meet a girlfriend for coffee. She didn't get the house cleaned, the kids to school on time or the dinner on the table before he came home. And he was hungry after all.

Maybe he hit her because he had a stressful day. Maybe because he lost a lot of money and rather than recognize what he can control and what he can't, he figures he might as well show his dominance by giving her a lesson: "Don't cross me. Don't raise your voice to me. Don't make excuses. You don't have the right."

He may not have control of everything. But he'll damn well have control of her.

Do men get mad? Of course. Do they have good reason to? Sometimes yes. Just like women have good reason at times as well. But no one, man or woman, has license to hurl a fist at someone -- let alone someone they're supposed to love. It's not just about morals or ethics. It's the law.

Vice President Joe Biden said to me, "If a guy goes out and gets drunk, walks out of a bar and then gets mugged, who do we arrest? Do we arrest HIM for being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong condition? No. We arrest the robber." If a woman is attacked by someone she knows, someone she's married to or someone she trusts, why do we blame HER for what she's wearing, what she said or for her supposed lack of self-respect?

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Why do we sit back in judgment of her? Why do we ever say to ourselves, "Maybe she deserved it. Maybe she provoked him." Why do we give an abuser a pass and a victim incrimination?

Well let me ask you this: What if it was your life? What if it was your face, your stomach, your heart taking the beatings day after day after day?

What if it was your daughter? Your sister? Your friend?

Unless you've walked in her shoes, don't judge her. You have no idea what she's been made to go through. Unless you've lived with the shame and guilt of secrecy, don't judge her. You have no idea what she's up against. Unless you've felt the fist to your flesh, the piercing to your heart or the sting of the damning words, don't judge her. You have no idea how she got here, how trapped she feels or how desperately she wants out.

Don't judge her. Help her. Offer her a smile. Give her encouragement. Listen in silence. Let her know you're there when she's ready.

She doesn't need your judgment. She needs your support. She doesn't need your pity. She needs your prayers. She doesn't need your ignorance. She just needs a safe place to fall.

Did you know that? Did you also know the latest statistics tell us that on average, three women are murdered every day by their husbands or boyfriends? Did you know that studies show the most dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship is when she tries to leave?

Stop asking why she stays. Would it even make sense to you if you knew?

Start asking the real question: Why does he get to hit her? And why does nobody do anything to stop him?

Please hear this loud and clear; how someone treats you is most often a reflection of them, not you. Maybe he was abused. Maybe he's doing the only thing he knows. Maybe he needs help, too.

But judging her isn't going to help either of them. Nor is it going to give you any explanation. Stop asking the question that doesn't change anything and start asking the questions that just might.

Hold him accountable. Get him help if he'll take it. But don't let him off the hook. Don't make excuses for him because you question her. It doesn't change the fact that he hurts her.

If it was your child, your sister, your best friend, what would you ask? What will you do?

Like her, you have the power, too, to say "this isn't how the story is going to end."

Ask the questions that matter. Then don't be afraid to stand up and find some answers.

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