The Complexities Behind Domestic Violence

Download Audio
In this Sept. 2017 file photo, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a news conference in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)
In this Sept. 2017 file photo, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a news conference in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

With Ray Suarez

Why do women go back to men who hit them? One woman tells her story in the week New York’s Attorney General is forced to resign.


Jane Mayer, staff writer for The New Yorker. She and Ronan Farrow broke the story of the domestic abuse allegations against former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman. (@JaneMayerNYer)

Megan McArdle, opinion columnist for the Washington Post. Her recent column is headlined: “I went back to a man who hit me. I’m still thinking about why.” (@asymmetricinfo)

Julie Owens, domestic violence survivor, counselor and expert consultant on domestic violence for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (@julieowensdvc)


On the women who came forward about Schneiderman:

Mayer: "These women were deeply ashamed. They didn't want to report it. They also were very frightened of him. And it was very hard to get them to go on the record. But two of them finally did. They did because they were afraid this would happen to other women.  And they really wanted to stop him from doing this to anyone else. And they wished someone had warned them."

On writing about her own abuse: 

McArdle: "I had this real reluctance to do it. And I thought, the fact that I am so reluctant — why am I so reluctant to do this? Why am I so ashamed of it? Why do I feel that somehow if I tell people about this, it will spoil my image? I thought: that's absurd. I don't have anything to be ashamed of. It wasn't the best decision I've ever made, I made a lot of bad decisions at that age... I've written about many of them, so why am I so ashamed to write about this one? And that was the point in which I said: 'I think I have to.'"

"It's very easy when you're hearing these stories to say: 'Why would you go back?' As I said in the column: You're picturing an archetype. You're picturing an abuser. I'm picturing the man who was in many ways wonderful. And who was funny, and brilliant, and often made me very happy. That is the reckoning we have trouble with."

From The Reading List:

The New Yorker: "Four Women Accuse New York’s Attorney General of Physical Abuse" — "Last month, when the Times and this magazine were awarded a joint Pulitzer Prize for coverage of sexual harassment, Schneiderman issued a congratulatory tweet, praising 'the brave women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men.' Without these women, he noted, 'there would not be the critical national reckoning under way.'

Now Schneiderman is facing a reckoning of his own. As his prominence as a voice against sexual misconduct has risen, so, too, has the distress of four women with whom he has had romantic relationships or encounters. They accuse Schneiderman of having subjected them to nonconsensual physical violence. All have been reluctant to speak out, fearing reprisal. But two of the women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, have talked to The New Yorker on the record, because they feel that doing so could protect other women."

The Washington Post (Opinion): "I went back to a man who hit me. I’m still thinking about why." — "Assuming their stories are true, why didn’t they speak at the time? We understand why rape victims don’t come forward — the difficulty of proving that the sex wasn’t consensual, the shame that still attaches to sexually active women in our culture. But if a man hits a woman, he will not get far arguing that he thought she wanted him to. And not even the most purse-lipped Puritan would suggest that getting slapped and choked was some sort of personal moral failing.

And yet, there is shame. As witness the fact that I debated with myself about whether to write this column. In fact, I decided to write this precisely because of my discomfort, to prove that it is absurd.

And yet. Telling your story in public is remembering how frightened you were and how weak you felt, and sharing those memories with strangers. It is linking your professional identity to the word 'victim.' And, sometimes, if we are honest, it is admitting our own ambivalence, our own poor decisions — it is confessing that we didn’t just get hit but we also went back in the hopes that he wouldn’t do it again."

As you’ve read about, heard about, stories of abuse in couples…you may have identified with the abused, or you may have wondered, “why go back to someone who mistreats you?” Like a lot that happens inside relationships, it’s complicated. The stories of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and now, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman included women who agreed to see these men in various ways after physical violations.

This hour, On Point: Why return to an abuser? It’s complicated.

- Ray Suarez

This program aired on May 11, 2018.


More from On Point

Listen Live