It has been estimated that women will spend an average of seven years in abusive relationships and will have taken at least 35 severe beatings before they ask for help with their situation.
The 5 stage model, which has been developed from observations made by Warwickshire Domestic Violence Support Services over 10 years of working with survivors of DV, provides a useful framework upon which to base interventions which can help to reduce the length of time women stay in such situations. The longer they stay in the situation the more control the perpetrator has over them.
It can also help people working with women to understand why they can behave in such ways, which seem frustrating to the outsider.
This model is not rigid and victims/survivors will not necessarily go through all the stages in sequence. For example they may go from Stage 3 to Stage 4 (Flight), but if Flight fails for any reason or he is extra persuasive then she may go all the way back to Stage 2 and without the proper support this may be repeated. In other cases they may appear to be flip-flopping between stages until they eventually move on from one stage to another.
The Five Stages
In brief the 5 Stage Model, which describes relationships in which perpetrators use abuse to maintain power and control over their partners/family members, consists of:
This is very early on in the relationship when the perpetrator is at his most manipulative. His violence may be relatively infrequent but he will have started to blame her for causing it. Afterwards he will be very sorry, promise not to do it again and will be extra nice. He will also blame it on a bad childhood or stress at work.
The survivor will not realise or want to admit that she is going through DV and will generally not ask for help although she may go to family and friends or even her Church.
If she does talk about it she will convince herself that ‘He does not mean it’. She will believe that if she shows him that she loves him enough she can change him. She is still very much in love with him at this stage.
The survivor now realises that she is being abused but believes that if she continues to work hard enough she will be able to stop it happening. She now firmly believes his constant assertions that she is to blame, she could not manage without him and that she is useless. The longer this stage goes on the greater his control over her.
At this stage she will typically appear in casualty with injuries or at her doctor’s surgery where she will ask for medication because ‘she is not coping’. She will not ask for help directly but may be open to help if approached carefully. She is unlikely to even consider leaving at this stage as she feels that she: should be able to fix things; does not want to fail; could not cope on her own. She may also still love him – especially as he will be very careful to show her his ‘wonderful’ side every so often.
At this stage the survivor realises that nothing she can do will make any difference to the behaviour and she will probably start to call the police. All she wants the police to do is to make him stop – she does not want him arrested or prosecuted! He is still the father of her children and she may still have feelings for him. Fortunately or unfortunately for the victim, the police have a statutory duty to investigate any crime (such as assault) that has been reported to them and have a few choices about the actions they take. Survivors may find that control has now passed to the police.
Even if they give statements they may retract them and do so repeatedly. They may still not be ready to leave but may start to consider taking action.
This is the point at which survivors decide that they must get away. This can often prove very difficult for a number of practical reasons such as finding somewhere to live, dealing with the changes for the children and going to solicitors or participating in criminal or civic proceedings.
Also having run away they can no longer see what the perpetrator is up to and naturally this can make them uneasy. For this and other reasons,such as finding it hard to cope alone, the perpetrator manages to win them over once again or cultural pressures, they may return one or more times before they finally leave. If they do return they may go back one or more stages as they can feel that taking action is hopeless.
The popular misconception is that once women have left then it is all over. This is far from the truth. There may be emotional damage which can affect their future and they may still need to leave him emotionally.
It is important to remember that this man may have been their perpetrator but he will also have been other things to them such as their lover, provider, protector and . He will also have promised them a ‘wonderful’ relationship at the beginning and they will grieve for the fact that it never materialised.
They can find it very hard to shake off his influence on their feelings about themselves, their reactions to situations and their emotions. This can affect what they expect from any new relationship they may form and they can find it dis-orientating when a new partner treats them with respect and consideration. Some have even said they were waiting for the violence to start and that they had provoked arguments almost to try and test the relationship.
It may be necessary for them to re-establish relationships with family and friends or they may need to leave old support networks behind and develop new ones.
The perpetrator may not leave them alone and some might still be vulnerable to having him back if they are not supported.