My last full time job before becoming a SAHM was working for a local domestic violence agency (one of the things I did was start a blog for them ;-)). I must admit that before I started working there, while I was certainly anti-domestic violence, I was one of the many people who misunderstand DV.
Most of my confusion centered on the topic of why women (or much less often, men) stay in abusive relationships. I had pathologized and belittled these women in my head without even realizing it. What I had not understood was that staying in an abusive relationship is often a marker of a strong person who has developed keen survival instincts and strategies.
Because of my privileged background, it had not occurred to me that economic concerns affect these decisions especially when children are involved. One of the things I learned in my tenure there was that domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness among women and children. Since I've always had someone to call on for help, it never entered my mind that many of these women wouldn't have family they could stay with or enough income to live on their own.
Another thing I was unaware of, and I place the blame squarely on the mainstream media's shoulders for my ignorance, was that a full two-thirds of domestic violence related fatalities occur after the woman has left the relationship. These women aren't staying because they are stupid or weak. Many of them are staying because of a well-founded fear that either they, their children, or other people they care about will be killed if they leave.
This article by Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame) is extremely poignant to me, because he discusses domestic violence from the point of view of a child who lived through it without being physically abused himself. A recurrent theme I noticed from abusers who had not physically harmed their children was a sort of bragging refrain that they had never hit their kids, as though that is an achievement and as though that means that the abuse occurring in the household hadn't affected their children. Well, I've got news for them, it does. It profoundly affects their children, but the secret is that most of them don't really care, because most of them are only using their children as pawns to manipulate their victim. Once you look inside domestic violence, it's easy to see that these are not instances of men "snapping" as our culture seems to portray it. Abusers are calculating and strategic and obsessive and honestly really hard to escape. It is one of my greatest wishes that we stop shaming women in these relationships and start offering more judgment free venues to talk about these sorts of incidences. And if for some reason you can't find it in your heart to feel compassion for the women, please do read the article and understand how it impacts the children, even or maybe especially the ones who never end up in a shelter.
DV FAQs: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence