Reasons it is difficult to leave an abusive relationship

Why doesn’t she Leave… and the Better Question…

The question of why a victim does not leave is repeatedly asked, often with innocence and curiosity, and no awareness of victim blaming inherent in this question.  Society does not ask a mugging victim why they were walking on a street.  The appropriate focus should be on the offender and why they have chosen to harm another individual.  The questions should be

“Why does he choose to abuse?”

The only person who can choose to make someone a victim, or not, is the offender.  However, since people continue to ask, it may be helpful to consider some of the reasons a victim might not leave an abusive relationship…

  • DANGER/FEAR – it cannot be emphasized enough that the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim is when she tries to leave the relationship! Victims are at the greatest risk for serious injury or death at this time!
  • Children – the victim may fear losing their children, and have likely been told by the abuser that they will never see their children again if they try to leave.  The victim might worry about their inability to protect the children during visitation if they are no longer in the house. These are realistic and justified fears, especially if the offender has more access to finances than the victim. The victim may also feel guilty about breaking-up the family and taking children away from the other parent.
  • Hope – after a particularly violent incident, there are often many promises of change.  The victim desperately wants to believe these promises and hopes that the relationship can be saved.  They love the abuser and just want the abuse to stop.
  • Self-blame – abusers are talented at convincing victims that the abuse is their fault. The victim believes that if it is their fault, then they can stop the abuse by just doing better to please the offender.  This, of course, is a losing battle since the rules are always changing and the abuser cannot be pleased.
  • Dependence – part of the control of domestic violence is making the victim dependent on the abuser; financially, emotionally, socially, etc. The abuser controls access to all finances, often leaving victims with no job experience, not credit history, no access to or knowledge of bank accounts or funds, and limited understanding of finances.  The abuser convinces the victim that they are incapable of living on their own and need the abuser to survive in the world.
  • Isolation – over the course of the relationship, abusers work to isolate victims from friends and family.  This allows the abuser to have greater control over the victim and also results in few options of support if the victim tries to leave.  Having stopped contact with their support system, the victim is now afraid or ashamed to reach out for help.
  • Believe that the abuse is normal - A person may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, and they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
  • Religious and cultural beliefs – An individual may have been taught that divorce is unacceptable for any reason through their religion or culture. They may have been raised in a culture with strong traditional gender roles and believe that it would bring shame to themselves and/or their family if they leave or go against their husband.