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Leaving Abusive Partners

Leaving Abusive Partners
From the Scars of Survival to the Wisdom for Change

August 1993 | 192 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
This moving book reshapes our understanding of the nature of woman abuse and makes a major contribution to a key issue for feminist campaigning and theory. The past 25 years of research on `battered' women has focused on the psychological, sociological and political conditions which contribute to violence, and on women's reasons for staying with violent and abusive partners. The author goes beyond the discourse of `victims' and `survivors' to offer new insights into the very specific and multifaceted nature of the abuses women experience - emotional as well as physical.

Drawing on firsthand accounts, Kirkwood sheds new light both on the dynamics of abuse which afford abusers control over women and the resources and knowledge women draw upon to re-empower themselves. Examining first the nature of abuse and then the issues confronted by a woman after she has left an abusive relationship, Kirkwood finds that women's experiences of society after leaving abusive partners are highly interrelated. She develops the concept of a `web' to explain how the different elements of abuse connect to make up the experiences of abused women.

The Face of a `Battered Woman'
Traditional Approaches to Understanding Woman Abuse

Towards a New Perspective
Women's Experiences of Emotional Abuse
Emotional Abuse and the Dynamics of Control
Obstacles to Securing Independence
The Impact of Abuse and the Context in which Formerly Abused Women Seek Healing
Victims and Survivors
Concepts and Issues Central to Women's Action for Change


`The whole book is informed by the author's desire to understand and communicate women's experience of partner abuse. Her analysis is supported throughout by detailed evidence and argument.... The material and emotional problems faced by women who leave abusive partners are dealt with in detail.... The book is an excellent example of feminist scholarship. Women who are or have been in abusive relationships could find reading the whole book or extracts from it empowering. In addition it is a valuable resource for undergraduate and postgraduate students of Women's Studies.' - Women's Studies Network (UK) Newsletter

`Kirkwood offers new insights into abuse.... This important book builds on previous feminist work by exploring women's long-term experiences after leaving their abusers.' - The Women's Advocate

`This is an important book because it treats abuse as a process rather than a problem, and because it shows that women can survive violence and leave abusive relationships. It begins with an excellent review of the literature on the subject.... The book is scholarly and very readable.... The book is particularly sensitive in its analysis of emotional abuse, a topic which is often alluded to in writing on domestic violence but which has rarely been explored as well as this.... For social workers and others who meet abused women in their work this book offers much useful information and many valuable insights. For example, many professionals are frustrated when the women return to their violent partners time again, after apparently leaving for good.... This is a book which should go straight onto student reading lists and into the libraries of universities, colleges and social services departments across the country.' - Community Care

'This book comes at the right time and theoretical hiatus in the literature on woman abuse to offer a major connecting theory for psychologists and sociologists... The key to Kirkwood's theory is the concept of the web... This fascinating theory is essentially heuristic; most useful in sensitizing researchers, the general public and battered women themselves to the general dynamics of moving in and out of a relationship that is abusive... Kirkwood's work has many strengths. First it deals with women in all abusive relationships, not just those who are beaten bloody. More and more we are recognizing that emotional and verbal abuse can be as bad or worse for some women. Second, she devotes much attention to getting out of a relationship as getting in. Finally, she carefully examines the institutional and social roadblocks on the path to recovery of self-esteem and self-worth... Kirkwood is sensitive to many different kinds of relationship... What I like best about Kirkwood's book is that it explains even more than she claims... Ultimately, Kirkwood's approach teaches us, "why do battered women stay" may require no different an answer than "why do most married women stay?" This doesn't trivialize the plight of the abused woman; rather it places them at the end of a continuum of unsafety' - Journal of Family Violence

`I love this book. Catherine Kirkwood has translated the voices of 30 formerly abused women into descriptive, conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and practical insights the likes of which I have not seen since the Dobashes' pioneering work.... Although Kirkwood's major focus is on the process through which women extricate themselves from abusive relationships and continue their survival beyond the escape, about one-third of the book deals brilliantly with the abuse experience itself, and another fifth is a general review of the `woman abuse' literature.' - Journal of Marriage and the Family

`Catherine Kirkwood has written a comprehensively researched, sober and interesting study of what may be the last phase in the cycle of domestic violence.... an intriguing descriptive study of a small group of women, heterosexual and gay, in the USA and the UK, who look back on their relationships after having left their partners 12 or more months previously. Kirkwood provides an excellent overview of the research of the 1970s and 1980s, linking the work done from psychoanalytic, sociological and feminist perspectives' - Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health

`This book focuses exclusively upon the experiences of women who have been physically and emotionally abused by their male partners and offers an exclusively feminist account of their struggle to disentangle themselves from the "web of suffering". The book's main strength for me was its attempt to describe the long-term impact upon women of such abuse and the difficult process of breaking free from the damaging relationship' - Clinical Psychology Forum

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