「A Psychological Trap Disguised as Love」TED Talk Sharing: Why Domestic Violence Victims Don't Leave

Why don’t you (domestic violence victim) leave?

Author: Roxi

Translator: Joey、Amy吴雯堃

This is an inspiring TED talk presented by an American writer, Leslie Morgan Steiner. She bravely told the story of her personal experience as a victim of domestic violence. This is a story of ” Crazy Love”, which is also known as a psychological trap disguised as love. 

Most people have a misconception about the victims of domestic violence, and they often question the victims as if it’s their fault to be abused. For example, people might ask: “Why does she choose to stay?” “Why would anyone stay with a man who bet her? ”

I. What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence refers to the physical and emotional abuse between family members by beating, tying up, restricting personal freedom, as well as regular verbal abuse and intimidation.

The first impression of domestic violence might be the obvious bruises, but domestic violence is beyond physical abuse and injuries (Choices, n.d). Besides physical violence, domestic violence is often accompanied by other forms of violence, such as: 

1.      Threatening and Coercion

·         Destroying/damaging the victim's property and/or hurting their pets

·         Brandishing a weapon of a dangerous nature on the victim

·         Threatening to kill the victim or someone they know well

·         Threatening to commit suicide

·         Threatening to destroy the victim's reputation in the public


2.      Emotional abuse

·         Denigrating the victim in various ways

·         Making the victim believe that they are mentally ill

·         Making the victim feel guilty for the violence (e.g., “I deserve to be treated badly.”)

3.      Isolation

·         Limiting or prohibiting the victim's contact with the outside world

·         Surveilling the victim's daily life to justify the foregoing behaviours as being "jealous"

4.      Responsibility/ blame-shifting

·         Denying the existence of the violence or not taking the act of domestic violence seriously

·         Shifting the responsibility of the violence to the victim and keeps making excuses for domestic violence

5.      Using the children

·         Using the child to make the victim feel guilty

·         Threatening the victim that they will take the child away

·         Using the child to send messages to the victim

·         Using parenting time with the child to harass the victim

6.      *Patriarchy (in fact, women can also be the perpetrators of violence)

·         Treating the victim like a private object, a servant or a slave

·         Asking the victim to obey their instructions unconditionally; the victim has no say in family decisions

7.      Economic control

·         Restricting/prohibiting the victim from working or unilaterally subsidizing the family with own wages for a long time

·         Victims have to plead for a certain amount of money

·         Using the victim's property arbitrarily

·         The victim is not allowed to know the actual financial status of the family


The domestic violence support websites in the U.S. usually have a prominent “Escape” button, and this page will automatically redirect to a “Not Found” page with just a single click. The setting of this button indicates the stressful state and circumstances of the victim's life.


After understanding what domestic violence is, let’s develop some insight into this issue by following Leslie's Ted Talk.


II. Domestic violence is everywhere: it happens for people of different races, ages, and education levels.

It is a common belief that domestic violence only occurs in poor and uneducated families. It seems distant from our daily life.  Whenever we watched the news or TV episodes related to domestic violence, we might only be outraged for a moment. Then it becomes a brief after-dinner conversation because we think it won’t happen in our own surroundings. In fact, there must be someone around you who has experienced/is experiencing domestic violence or even is the perpetrator of domestic violence. 


Leslie pursued an MBA degree from the Houghton School of Business after graduating from Harvard University with a degree in English. After graduation, she quickly got a job in Wall Street, and she has spent most of her career working for the Fortune 500 companies, including Johnson & Johnson and The Washington Post. Though being a financially independent and outstanding woman, she is a victim of suffering from chronic domestic violence.


According to a new statistical report released by the United Nations Drug and Crime Agency (UNODC), an average of 137 women across the world are killed by their partner or family member every day. This makes "the home the most likely place for women to be killed," the report says.

·         According to WHO, ⅓ of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, with less than 10%  of them filing a police report in 2017.

·         Data from the All-China Women's Federation shows that for every 7.4 seconds, a woman in China faced domestic violence in 2018. The average number of times she suffered was 35 before she reported it to the police.


Women are not the only victims of domestic violence

In the U.S., women ages 16-24 are three times more likely to experience domestic abuse than other age counterparts; at least 500 women and children die due to abuse every year. And 85 percent of the perpetrators are men.

While the United Nations Drug and Crime Agency (UNODC) report shows that men die in homicide crimes four times as often as women, the proportion of women who die in domestic or couple homicides is particularly striking, with eight out of ten victims being female. The report says that "domestic violence disproportionately affects women."

Similarly, not only women but also men can be victims of domestic violence. It is often assumed that men are so strong and powerful that women were the weaker one during their encounters with male. In fact, approximately 835,000 men are victims of physical domestic violence in the United States each year. Most men feel ashamed and embarrassed when they encounter this type of situation, and when they seek help, they often receive unfair treatment. As a result, they rarely admit to struggling with domestic violence and are much less likely to seek help.

III. The signals of domestic violence

Step 1: Seduce and Charm the Victim


The perpetrator of domestic violence does not start as violent; instead, they often appear to be friendly and communicative in the first place.


Leslie's ex-husband, who also graduated from an Ivy League school and worked at a prestigious Wall Street bank, was an example of a perpetrator who put effort into creating a charming first impression. Initially, he pretended to appreciate Leslie's good education and excellent workability, making Leslie feel like she was the dominant one in the relationship and creating a peculiar relationship of mutual trust.

For example, he will tell Leslie that his childhood has been full of domestic abuse by his stepfather, expressing his desire for parental love and wanting to build a happy and fulfilling family with Leslie.

At this time, I believe that no one can ever think that this man, who behaves so lovingly to his wife, will later inflict violence on his partner.


Step 2: Isolate the Victim


Keeping the victim away from family, friends, or any familiar places gives the abuser a sense of security. In this situation, the victim will become unconsciously dependent on the abuser and gradually find it difficult to talk to others about their situation. Of course, there are various ways to get victims to leave their familiar places voluntarily.


For example, Leslie's ex-husband told Leslie one day after work that he had quit his dream job for Leslie because he had found his happiness and no longer needed to prove his career success to others. He wanted Leslie to move to a small town with him to start a new life and form a happy family.


Although Leslie loved New York and her job, she resolutely chose to quit her job for the sake of love and her hard-to-find soul mate, not knowing that she would fall into the trap deliberately prepared by her ex-partner to control her mentally, physically and financially.


Why do victims choose to stay with their abusers rather than leaving?

First, the victims often do not initially realize they are being abused because they believe the abuser is always in love with them.  They believe the abuser may be under great stress and emotional distress, and the victims believe that they are the only ones in the world who can help and save the abuser.


After the first domestic violence incident, the victim will show uncontrollable anger and sadness, they may want to choose to break up or leave the abuser. At this time, the abuser will keep apologizing and showing endless remorse in order to get them back, and may even choose to kneel down and attempt suicide in order to gain the victim's forgiveness. They will also attempt to reassure the victim that it was just a random incident and that there were some valid reasons for the violence to occur.


Hopefully, every victim of abuse could remember that there are only either 0 or countless times of domestic violence.  After experiencing domestic abuse several times, why doesn't the victim choose to escape?


Leslie speaks out about a problem that bystanders never realize or appreciate, and that is, "It is incredibly dangerous to leave the abusers.


Step 3: Kill the Victim


According to statistics, over 70% of domestic violence murders occur after the victim has expressed a desire to end the relationship. The abuser may become angry at the betrayal, leading to unconventional situations including prolonged stalking, denial of financial support, threats and intimidation.


Researchers have collected information on approximately 340,000 female clients through more than 70 domestic violence agencies in Illinois and found that only about 10 percent of the clients approached domestic violence agencies on their own. Forty percent of these clients were referred by police officers (Lundy & Grossman, 2009).

How to get out of domestic violence?

The key to saving victims of domestic violence is to "break the silence." This depends on the victims themselves as well as the help of others.


As Leslie said at the end of her speech, "Tell someone what you heard today. Abuse Thrives Only in Silence. You have the power to stop domestic violence; you just need to light the fire, we victims need everyone's help, and more people need to understand the secret of domestic violence. Discuss this topic with your children, with your colleagues, with your family and friends, and bring the abuse to light. Help the victim to find a better and loving self again and to look forward to a new future. Recognize the violent pattern, intervene at your best, reduce the likelihood of recurring violence, and provide the victim with a safe way out."


So, if you are a victim of domestic violence or someone close to you is suffering, please be brave and speak up, break the silence, save yourself, and save others.


Choices(n.d) Choices, for victims of domestic violence. Retrieved from http://choicescolumbus.org

Lundy, M., & Grossman, S. (2009). Domestic violence service users: a comparison of older and younger women victims. Journal Of Family Violence, 24(5), 297-309. doi:10.1007/s10896-009-9230-y

泓兮. (2015). 家暴的受害者为什么不选择离开所在家庭?知乎. Retrieved fromhttps://www.zhihu.com/question/23507158/answer/54826143

宋宇晟. (2019). 中国每7.4秒就有1位女性被家暴,我们对家暴无能为力吗?中国新闻网. Retrieved from http://www.xinhuanet.com/legal/2019-11/28/c_1125282677.htm