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121 In the previous chapters, drawing on interviews with activists, the insights of women of color and women involved the criminal justice system, I argued that violence against women is not and should not be treated as a monolithic phenomenon: different women face different forms of violence. The violence is not necessarily domestic violence. Violence is often backed up, implicitly or explicitly, by structural violence and the state. Indeed, sometimes the state is the primary instrument of abuse. Some communities have a history of being subject to subordination or abuse by the larger society, and this abuse often includes, or takes the form of, the abuse of women. But these different experiences of violence are cloaked under a discourse of sameness. In this chapter, I will flesh out these claims by thinking through the many spaces women face violence. Why Doesn’t She Just Leave? . . . looms large over many women’s lives. It is the question asked of any and all women who are in the grips of violence. “Why doesn’t she just leave?” is asked without end, without history, without any view to social context. It presupposes that women are battered in a place (the home) and that they can leave. It presumes that women are safe once they leave.1 Why Doesn’t She Just Leave? The question is sly. It blames the victim. Voiced in a certain way, it is a way of already taking sides, rendering a judgment. In an interview I conducted with an African American woman from New York City, she commented on the use of this “question”: “The other day, some of the men were saying, ‘Why do women stay with men who abuse them?’ By saying that, they are condoning what the “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” CHAPTER SIX 122 s tructur al viole nce man is doing. Men need to learn not to participate in the disrespect of women.” The question they were posing was not innocent. The men, according to this woman, were not even “asking” at all. Consequently, the operative verb, that they are “saying,” is not infelicitous. She takes it that posing the question “Why do women stay with the men who abuse them?” is already to take sides, to render an opinion, to condone violence.2 She sees men who ask this as participating in disrespect of women in the very act of saying. So, Why doesn’t she just leave? might not always be a question. Although of course it can be. Depending on how it is asked, of whom, and who is doing the asking. Why doesn’t she just leave? is often posed abstractly, about any and all women who face violence. In the course of doing research and writing on violence against women, I am asked over and over why women don’t just leave. In the present chapter I will visit and revisit its possible senses, the layers of meaning added to it, in considering specific women and their specific accounts of violence. This “question” will be taken up with attention to the violence particular women face, in order to show how the question is inattentive to the spaces women are in. Through this encounter with many different ways of occupying, passing through, resisting, speaking about, and living within spaces of violence, I will reveal that the presumption that all women can “just leave” really assumes a very narrow view of what violence against women is, where it happens, and how it can be stopped. Women of color have testified to how structural violence (poverty, racism, the history of colonization) and institutional violence (sterilization campaigns in communities of color, skyrocketing incarceration rates) are vivid and central forms of violence in their lives. Facing these forms of violence, “leaving” does not apply. Given public or state support for or participation in violence, “leaving” does not always make sense even when the violence is rooted in the private. Claire Joyce Tempongko was twenty-eight. The police were summoned to her apartment for the first time on April 2, 1999. Her lover, Tari Ramirez, had shown up drunk and on cocaine. He had smashed the bedroom window with his fist, according to the police report, and when he had finally gained entrance to the apartment, grabbed Tempongko by the hair and dragged her down the hallway. He slammed her to the ground, then picked her up, kissed her, and left. The police found him later and arrested him. Tempongko “did things right.” She...


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