‘‘‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ is probably one of the most frequently asked questions for those who witness a woman suffering domestic violence. Implicit in this question is frustration and mystification that women are failing to ‘look after themselves’, and often their children, by remaining caught in a web of violence and abuse. This individualizing discourse places the responsibility on the woman for leaving herself open to continued violence and abuse. It further implies that there is a clear line separating her life in the abusive relationship and the safety and security which awaits her once she separates.
Post-separation violence is a fear and frequently a reality for women and children who attempt to escape from abusive and violent relationships. However, it is often overlooked as a danger and remains an area where the failure of effective intervention leaves women and children vulnerable and unprotected. The effect of this failure is not neutral, but compounds the abuser’s control and the woman’s sense of entrapment.
Post-separation violence is an issue for a significant group of domestic violence survivors (and their children) leaving abusive relationships. […] More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of the 161 separated women in the study initially suffered further abuse and harassment from their former partners. Much of the violence ceased after the first 6–12 months, often due to the woman moving. However, more than one-third (36 per cent) of the women suffered continued post-separation violence. […] For a group of women, violence escalated over time. These women and their children were seriously at risk of harm. Poor law enforcement, the ineffectiveness of civil protection orders and inadequate prosecution and sanctions left these women (and their children) vulnerable to further assaults and harassment. Child contact was a point of vulnerability for ongoing post-separation violence and abuse.’’
Excerpts from Humphreys, Cathy and Ravi K. Thiara. 2003. “Neither justice nor protection: women’s experiences of post-separation violence.” Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 25(3): 195-214. DOI: 10.1080/0964906032000145948. Quote in original. Emphasis added.