The following excerpts from The Domestic Violence Sourcebook by Dawn Bradley Berry, J. D.1 explain why a victim of domestic violence does not speak up when apparently given the opportunity, and may even cover up or deny the abuse.
Dynamics of the Abusive Relationship
The relationship between a man and a woman caught in an abusive relationship is very complex. The single most important factor, present in all such relationships, is one partner's need to feel he or she absolutely controls the other....The structure of the marriage seems to be significant. Families in households where decision making is shared are less likely to be violent than those in which one partner makes all the decisions.
Abuse usually starts with degrading behavior, insults, putdowns. The man begins to convince the woman she is causing unhappiness in the relationship and that she needs to change. Isolation often comes next, along with jealousy. He insists on knowing her every move, under the guise that he loves her so much he can't stand to be apart from her. The jealousy often includes not only other men, but family, work, and friends as well--anyone who takes her attention away from him, even momentarily.
The verbal abuse usually escalates over time. An abuser often projects his own failures and faults onto the victim. A typical example is screaming at her in public for embarrassing him. He may keep her continually occupied with catering to his needs so she is constantly exhausted. Some batterers encourage their partners to abuse alcohol or drugs, so they will become dependent in yet another way.
Often, he will make her financially dependent by insisting on controlling all the family finances. She is required to turn over her paycheck, quit her job, sell her car. Transportation is often a big issue. Even very wealthy women have been kept penniless, denied money for such necessities as medical bills, made virtual prisoners....
Abusers often refuse to allow their victims money for new clothes, haircuts, and personal maintenance, and in turn criticize their appearance. They may convince their partners to commit illegal acts or run up huge bills in their own names to make them more insecure and dependent.
An abuser wages an insidious campaign to convince a woman she is stupid, worthless, and the cause of everything that's gone wrong. Often all these steps progress before physical abuse begins. By this time, the woman is so demoralized that she is, quite literally, a hostage. Her self-image and self-confidence have been shattered. Her spirit is broken. Her sense of reality has become so warped that she does not have the emotional equipment to leave....
Hard to believe? For those of us who have never been mistreated in this way, it is almost beyond comprehension that such things go on between people who have pledged to love and care for one another.
What about mutually abusive relationships? Do they exist? Of course there are relationships in which both partners exhibit violent behavior, but according to those who have studied all types of domestic violence, they are rare. In a relationship based on power and control, only one partner can dominate. It appears that when two abusive [controlling] people get together, the relationship usually ends quickly.
Some couples occasionally brawl, but the dynamics of their relationship do not match those of what experts traditionally call domestic violence, in which one partner clearly dominates. As psychologist and author Lenore Walker, Ed. D., has explained, battering is not a "fight" that involves two people. Often, violence will be triggered by something utterly insignificant, such as knocking a paper cup to the floor, forgetting to turn off a light, or nothing at all. Often, the abuser will wake a sleeping woman up to beat her.
In some abusive relationships, the woman will try to defend herself by fighting back. However, this is not a form of mutual combat, but rather a fear-induced reaction to being attacked....Fighting back usually proves either ineffective or deadly, because most abusers become more enraged if the victim tries to fight back. Also, the man generally has an edge in size and strength, so a victim who tries to use physical force against an aggressor is frequently beaten more brutally, or killed....
Fear in the Abusive Relationship
Of course, most batterers have no formal awareness of the techniques they are using, yet they know how to use isolation, torture, and violence to destroy the will and spirit of another human being. As Dr. Richard Gelles stated in a 1994 Newsweek article, "There's no better way to make people compliant than beating them on an intermittent basis."
Victims of this kind of relentless torment understandably live in a constant state of terror....They do not believe that any action they take will be effective in stopping the violence, and their fear becomes so all-encompassing it often crowds out other reactions, such as anger, that would be natural under the circumstances. The fear is not irrational; it is based on repeated brutality, and a very real fear for their very lives....They are afraid to do anything to stop their attackers for fear of reprisal.
At the same time, their partners are terrified of abandonment and willing to do anything to trap their women. It is common for battered women to believe that their abusers are capable of coming after them and finding them no matter where they go.
1 The Domestic Violence Sourcebook, Dawn Bradley Berry, J. D., 2000, NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, pp. 32-34, 38, 68.