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October 6, 2012

Special report: The cycle of domestic violence

Sandi Martin-Frizzell stood at the top of the porch steps, suitcase in hand. She turned around and looked at the house she would leave forever.

She wanted — and needed — to leave the abuse she had endured for decades. Yet, walking down those stairs were the toughest steps that Martin-Frizzell ever took.

“Going into a sea of unknown is so hard,” she said. “People who knew about the abuse would always say, ‘I don’t get it. Why do you stay? Why do you put up with it?’ That was 28 years of my life.”

Her story isn’t unique. The phenomenon of abuse victims wrestling with the idea of leaving their batterer is seen in nearly every domestic violence situation.

There were several reasons Martin-Frizzell stayed in her marriage for 28 years, leaving her husband several times, only to return over and over again. One of the biggest reasons was fear. Her now ex-husband told her that he’d kill her children, parents and sisters if she left him.

Why they stay

It is clear that women are not always the victims and that men aren’t solely the abusers. Still, that scenario is the most common in violent relationships. Certain perceptions, too, are common in domestic violence cases.

Peggy Stockdale, chair of the psychology department at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, said it is typical for victims to receive blame from friends and family who don’t understand why they don’t simply leave.

“Blaming the victim doesn’t get us anywhere,” she said. “There are complex reasons why people stay in an abusive relationship but it doesn’t mean they deserve the abuse they are getting.”


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