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Why Does She Stay?


This is a loaded question.

When people ask this question, there is the inference that ‘if only she left’, then no more problem.

But focusing on the behaviour of the victim, and holding her responsible for ‘staying’, amounts to victim-blaming.

In a previous life, I was the Executive Office of the Domestic Violence Council of Western Australia.

In that role, I chaired a working party that liaised with the Hon. Justice David Malcolm, Chief Justice of Western Australia, to develop strategies for the education of the judiciary on gender awareness and domestic violence issues.

A major outcome was the design and publication of a quarterly broadsheet for members of the judiciary on issues of gender and the law. In the first volume of Agenda, myself and the other editor, Vicki Corpus, addressed the question ‘Why Does She Stay?’

Vicki wrote the introductory article and I wrote a poem.

Given the chilling news of the escalation of domestic violence and abuse during the current pandemic, I thought it might be helpful to provide an understanding of the complexities of the situation from the perspective of the victim, the focus of my poem.

The tragedy is that I wrote this poem in 1998 and it’s hard to see how the situation for women in domestic violence relationships has improved to any degree.

In May 2020, eight women have been allegedly killed by domestic violence in Australia. One woman is murdered by a current or former partner each week in Australia. And the latest deaths of women killed by violence brings the total so far in 2020 to 23 (Miriam Fisher, The West Australian Sun, 31 May 2020).

Here is the poem …

Why Does She Stay?

Why does she stay?

Well it’s hard to say

Because it just isn’t simple

In a linear, rational sort of way


You see there is pain

And there is confusion

Refusal to accept

The loss of illusion


‘Why me? Why here?

Why now? Why us?’

Emptiness where before

There was love and trust’


‘How can I bear the loss of a life

As perfect mother, or lover, or friend or wife?’

‘How can I possibly bear to see

My children’s pain, fear, misery?’


‘And if I acknowledge

The terror of anticipation

When he raises his fist

Or demands and explanation’


‘And if I let him know

I fear my heart might burst

So I precipitate his rage

To get over the worst’


‘Then I will feel

So out of control

And where, oh where then

Will I go?’


Why doesn’t she leave?

Why does she stay?

For some it’s the finances

That keep her that way

For some it’s the children

Or lack of family approbation

Or else it’s the shame and humiliation


And when he catches the fear in her eye

And suspects for a moment that she may fly

He may whisper…

‘Don’t you even bloody try’


‘You are my partner

You belong to me

You can walk out the door

But you’ll never be free’


‘You may think it’s so simple

You may think it’s so clear –

Quick, get a Restraining Order

That’ll fix it up dear …’


‘But for me that’s the beginning

Of a new way of life

Which may include more violence

With stalking, gun or knife’


‘Over and over

It goes in my head

What if I leave

And wake up dead?’


‘What’s best for the children?

What’s best for me?

If only he’d change

And just love and let be’


‘The police get impatient

Some Magistrates have frowns

But where are they

When the midnight chime sounds?’


‘For it’s a solitary journey

Through the dead of night

And few are the signposts

To help get it right’


‘It’s just not that easy

I want you to know

To make that decision

To stay or to go’

Kisane Slaney PhD


Kisane xxx

P.S. Pregnant women and mothers of young infants are of significant risk in domestic violence situations. My post on Postpartum Anxiety and Depression may be helpful for those who have read this post and know someone in a d.v. relationship who has had a baby in the past six to eight months. These mothers are at great risk of suffering postpartum anxiety and depression for obvious reasons and need every support they can get. 

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