Sara was terrified as Jason chased her around the kitchen island. She was terrified as he pushed her into the hallway wall and threatened to kill her. In the middle of her terror, Sara fought to survive, making it to the phone in the living room and calling 911. When the police arrived at her house, Sara immediately felt a new kind of fear. She was scared of how angry her husband was and how he would react when he bonded out. She was scared of what the consequences of calling the police would be.
Almost the moment Maria’s boyfriend was driven away in the police car, after being arrested for physical assault and strangling her, Humberto’s mother began calling her. Humberto’s mother begged Maria to not let Humberto go to jail. Humberto’s mother reminded Maria about Humberto’s job, the child his income provided for and how stressful Humberto’s work had been recently. Later, his sister called. She reminded Maria about Maria’s lack of legal status in this country, about her lack of support outside Humberto’s family and about her lack of employment. Then Humberto started calling from jail, pleading with Maria to talk to the courts and tell them nothing happened, explaining how much he just wanted to be home with her and their daughter. Maria felt guilty, responsible for her family and scared of what the consequences of calling the police would be.
Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving was accused of physically restraining, hitting and strangling the mother of his child. She reported to police that he had hit her multiple times in the legs, held her down and cut her hair. Police officers noted in their report that the victim had visible bruises on her legs and over half her hair had been cut. The next day, she stated that she was “just emotional” and that David Irving never put his hands on her.
It’s fairly common for victims of domestic violence to later recant, or deny, their initial outcry of abuse. We know that there are many different and valid reasons why a woman might later deny the abuse she once told the court, the police and her family occurred. These reasons include:
Fear of retaliation.
Research has shown that domestic violence often escalates during the time when a victim is trying to separate from her abusive partner. In fact, she is more likely to be killed by her abusive partner when attempting to leave. Often, a victim recants due to fear of how he may retaliate against her. Would he physically hurt her or kill her? Will he hurt her children? These fears are a real and an important danger to be aware of when women report abuse.
She loves him.
The Cycle of Violence teaches us that directly following an incident of abuse, an abusive partner will engage in a time of manipulation called the “honeymoon phase.” This is a time of promises, apologies and an abuser feeding the victim hope that things might be better in the future. Oftentimes after a woman has reported abuse, an abuser will appear remorseful and motivated to change. Because we know that no one is all bad all the time, she feels hopeful and is reminded of the times that he was kind and loving, or even thinks of how he might be if he were to change. A victim may recant out of belief that this time he will change.
He minimizes or justifies the abuse.
One of the tactics used by abusive partners is minimization and justification of the abuse. He may say that it “wasn’t that bad” and she is just “overreacting.” He may point to character flaws of hers and say that she is the reason that he “just lost control.” This can be very confusing, and his manipulation may leave her feeling guilty, as if she caused the abuse. Due to this, many victims of domestic violence recant out of a misbelief that she deserved it, caused it or is guilty also. We know that there is no justification of abuse. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes; however, that never means that someone deserved to experience abuse.
Lack of resources.
Near 99% of victims of domestic violence report experiencing some form of financial abuse. This may include not being allowed to work, not having access to family financial information or funds, or not having access to resources such as transportation or childcare due to their abusive partner’s exertion of control. For victims who report incidents of domestic violence, financial issues can become a real and serious concern. If their partner is arrested, they may fear he will lose his job and then be unable to financially support the family. The abusive partner may threaten to cut of financial support if she participates in the legal proceedings. Having to choose between utilizing legal resources and the financial needs of herself and her children is a serious conundrum that many victims of domestic violence face.
Stress of being involved in the legal system.
After reporting the crime of domestic violence to the police, it is typically months and months, if not years, before an abusive partner will be prosecuted in court. This waiting period is frustrating, draining and scary, especially if her abusive partner has been released on bond while awaiting trial. Trials are also particularly stressful: victims are asked to testify and relay details of one of the worst moments of their lives to a room full of strangers. Defense attorneys often use the strategy of trying to discredit the victim by pointing out past mistakes, character flaws or blaming her for the incident. This is a very stressful and hurtful process for anyone, but for a someone who has experienced abuse, this can be an excruciating experience. As a self-protective response, many victims want to avoid going through this, so recantation may be due to a victim trying to cope and move forward with her life and therefore avoid testifying in court.
We understand that recanting an outcry of abuse is a protective response. It is never a victim’s fault for the abuse she has experienced, and any future abuse after recantation is not her fault. Abuse is solely a choice made by the abuser. However, more often than not, we see victims being blamed for the abuse they experienced with a “well she deserves it” narrative if she ever dropped charges or recanted a previous outcry. At Genesis, we know that the support a victim of domestic violence receives is an imperative part of not only increasing her safety, but increasing the amount of abusers who are prosecuted and held accountable for their actions. Genesis actively supports women who have experienced domestic violence through education regarding the legal process, counseling and support, court accompaniment so she is not alone the in courtroom, and even legal representation. It is imperative that our society actively look at how we are supporting victims of domestic violence. How is the story being reported/talked about? Are we ensuring that the focus of conversations regarding domestic violence are focusing on what the abuser chose to do, not blaming the victim for how she believed she had to protect herself?
Written by Jordyn Lawson, Assistant Director of Clinical and Professional Services