When Leaving is Not Enough

By Molly Dragiewicz, co-author of Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women

This guest post is published in advance of the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Montreal, Quebec from November 10 – 13 and in advance of American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans from November 16 – 19. #NWSA2016 #ASC2016 #Election2016 

Recent developments in the U.S. election have turned up the volume on public discussions of violence against women. We have observed the ugly backlash that attends women’s efforts to participate in public life, the coded language used to attack women who dare advocate for social justice, and the reversion to violence and threats when constant harassment and abuse fail to silence women. These public discussions mirror private violence. 

DeKeseredy-AbusiveEndingsDisparate cultural and political histories have shaped the contemporary re-emergence of movements to end violence against women across the globe, but there has been an undeniable shift in the visibility of violence against women. However, awareness is only the first step in ending violence and abuse. Research on gender and violence has developed at a remarkable pace since the 1970s. While the most egregious examples of victim blaming have receded in scholarly circles, and most people you stopped on the street would probably say they oppose domestic violence, many misunderstandings about its nature and dynamics persist.

One of the most pernicious misconceptions about woman abuse is that it ends when the couple breaks up. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, such as reported breaches of domestic violence orders by former partners, murders of women and children in the context of child custody exchange and visitation, and high profile stalking cases, far too many scholars, practitioners, and regular folks assume that separation and divorce can cure violence against women. Implicit in this belief are the stereotypes we thought we’d buried: it takes two to tango; she was asking for it; she made me do it. Structural failures to effectively respond to domestic violence post-separation stem in large part from the widespread failure to address the ugly truths of domestic violence: that is not an accident or miscommunication or one-off, but a pattern of intentional behavior designed to compel submission to domination. Violence often escalates at separation for just this reason: a partner who leaves is refusing to submit, and a new level of violence is required to bring her back under control. Kids often become just another weapon in this battle, and systems such as the family courts can make the situation more dangerous when they fail to account for histories of violence.

These are just some of the reasons Walter S. DeKeseredy, Martin D. Schwartz and I wrote Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women. We present the significant international research on what happens when women try to leave abusive relationships. We know quite a lot. We hope this book will help move popular and professional discourse to take the next step on from awareness, recognizing the complexity of woman abuse as well as how it changes across the span of relationships.


Molly DragiewiczDragiewicz.Molly-photo is Associate Professor in Crime and Justice Research Centre in the School of Justice, Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. She is the author of Equality With a Vengeance and editor of Global Human Trafficking: Critical Issues and Contexts. You can find her blog at https://mdragiew.wordpress.com/.