- Fleeing the House of Horrors: Women Who Have Left Abusive Partners
Since the 1970s, scores of social scientists have produced rich data on the extent, distribution, correlates, and outcomes of a broad range of male-to-female psychological, physical, and sexual assaults in a variety of relationships and social settings. Since that time, many competing theories have also been constructed and tested. However, a review of the extant scientific literature on woman abuse reveals that the experiences of women who managed to leave the men who harmed them have thus far received relatively little scholarly attention, especially in Canada. Thus, it was a pleasure to read Aysan Sev'er's Fleeing the House of Horrors because it constitutes an important step toward filling a major research gap.
Written by one of Canada's leading experts in the field, much of the information provided in this path-breaking book is derived from in-depth interviews with thirty-nine women who lived in various parts of Ontario and who left abusive men for at least six months. Also included in Fleeing the [End Page 131] House of Horrors are some of the results of Sev'er's five-year study (1995-99) of violence against women articles published in the Toronto Star. In addition to describing her respondents' experiences of various forms of abuse, the strategies they used to protect themselves and their children, and the positive and negative types of social support they received, Sev'er provides a comprehensive review of North American scholars' contributions to defining, measuring, and theorizing woman abuse and powerfully relates her findings to previous research. Moreover, in Chapter 9, she examines the major controversies surrounding women's use of violence and presents examples of her respondents' own violence.
As Sev'er correctly points out, "Much can be learned from the intriguing and sometimes triumphant, other times frustrating and disheartening lives of the survivors of abuse" (188). This is one of the main reasons why this book is much more than a scholarly enterprise. Indeed, it is also an excellent resource for criminal justice officials and other social support providers who deal with woman abuse. In fact, Fleeing the House of Horrors should be required reading for them because it might influence some who are insensitive and/or sexist to rethink their injurious responses to survivors seeking their assistance. Described in Chapter 10, I am especially impressed by Sev'er's new model for post-violence adjustment and contend that this offering will have a major impact on survivors, social services, and policy makers.
Many scholars do not make explicit how their personal backgrounds and their own role as researchers influence their portrayal of social problems. This cannot be said about Sev'er, who throughout her book describes the feelings she experienced while conducting her research. Further, as she openly admits on page 11, Sev'er lets her "feminist activism take over" in her descriptions of her respondents' experiences. Like many other feminist and pro-feminist sociologists, I strongly agree with her assertion that there is "little place for a rigidly constrained intellectual interest on violence against women, despite the teachings of 'objectivity' and/or 'depersonalization' that the fathers of sociology have called for" (10).
Most mainstream or traditional violence against women researchers focus only on physical abuse, sexual abuse, or both. They are opposed to broad definitions of violence that include psychological or verbal abuse because they believe that there is a qualitative difference between physical and non-physical forms of victimization. However, following in the footsteps of other feminist scholars who contend that psychological abuse is just as, if not more, injurious than beatings, rapes, etc., Sev'er reminds us that woman abuse is multidimensional in nature and that narrow definitions trivialize many abused women's subjective experiences. Still, her findings show that regardless of the type of abuse inflicted on her respondents, they are "survivors rather than mere victims" (p. 31). [End Page 132]
Much more can and will be said about Fleeing the House of Horrors...