Formerly battered women: When and why they leave

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Deborah Pellow


battered, women survivors

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Evidence indicates that violence against wives is the most prevalent type of violence within families cross-culturally. American women confront greater violence in their own homes than they do on the streets.

With the exception of battered women's shelters, all social institutions have exacerbated the problems of women who try to extricate themselves from violence. In order to promote change that increases the safety of women and children, we must know more about the battered women who permanently leave their abusers.

Most research on battered women's decision to leave has been conducted in battered women's shelters in large urban areas. These women constitute a special population; typically, they are the poorest and most severely beaten of all battered women. In addition, it is impossible to know which among them have left their abusers for the last time. Many leave and return multiple times before they leave permanently.

This research involved intensive, semi-structured interviews with 24 formerly battered women, all of whom reside in rural New England and have been out of the abusive relationship for at least four years. They left their abusers out of fear for their lives, because they had lost all hope for change, and in order to protect their children. Other people often played seminal roles in women's decision to leave. While most participants were not poor in their abusive marriages, few were able to easily support their themselves and their families upon leaving.

In order to promote the safety of women, our culture must change both its ideology and its policies. Women must be valued, believed, and not blamed for their own victimization. Battering is a social problem and remedies lie in social, not individual, solutions. Women need adequate income supports, decent wages, affordable housing, and a helping system composed of professionals trained in issues of domestic violence. Community education campaigns addressed to the general public must be maintained and expanded to help strengthen support systems for women in their efforts to lead lives free from abuse. Some of this education should be conducted in the public schools.


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