In addressing the prevalent situation of dating and domestic abuse, a lot of effort has been made to change the popular question “Why don’t they leave?” to “What is preventing them from leaving?” This shifts the responsibility for the situation from the victim/survivor to the abuser. It also shifts focus toward societal contributions to the situation as well. Another consequence of the shift in questions is how it no longer excuses the witness from inaction. Instead we are asked to engage in constructive problem-solving by considering the situation at hand. We can then begin seeking solutions for how best to remove the obstacles in the victim/survivor’s way. A lack of access to real resources is one obstacle with which we can intervene. Modeling an attitude of compassion and trustworthiness is another.
The benefits of minding our language is how “What is preventing them from leaving?” allows us to not only participate in constructive problem-solving for others, but very likely for ourselves as well. “1 in 4 women will be in an abusive relationship in her lifetime” (Center for Health and Gender Equity). Men often find themselves in abusive relationships as well. This could be a “friendship,” on the job, a dating relationship, spousal, or other familial relationship. What kind of message do you send to your daughter/son, niece/nephew, sister/brother, or friend; what kind of message do you receive when someone with whom you are supposed to be able to confide reflects the attitude of the first question: “Why didn’t they leave?” versus the latter. We could be creating major inroads toward the removal of a debilitating obstacle of self-blame or shame (and distrust?) for ourselves and those for whom we care the most.
“What is preventing them from leaving?” is a question being applied to victim/survivors of human trafficking. This allows us to look at how we define “consent” and examine the means in which culture, industry, and abusers (globally and domestically) contribute to the across-the-board degradation of a human being. Toward the effort of educating people on the issue of human trafficking, the question alerts us to the fact that many victim/survivor’s are prevented in some way (usually multiple ways) from either openly seeking help, or even admitting to the situation at hand. Victim/survivors may fear arrest or the harm/death of a loved one or themselves; shame, self-blame, distrust, isolation, lack of resources; there are studies into the trauma-bonds formed, which are enlightening–and terrifying.
One of the hardest consequences of asking “What prevents them from leaving?” is how the answer might implicate our complicity. At the same time, the question can be empowering. We can choose to inquire, educate, and act.