By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
There are many opinions as to why people do not leave abusive relationships. However, nobody understands the dynamics of intimate partner violence more than an individual who has or is currently being abused.
So frequently, we hear questions like, “Why doesn’t she just leave her abuser?” The answer is complex and different for each victim. Leaving an abusive relationship can be scary, expensive, time consuming, and heartbreaking. Ultimately, nobody chooses to stay in an abusive relationship because they enjoy being physically, emotionally, or verbally abused. It’s important that before we judge someone’s choice to stay in a relationship we understand the situation they are truly facing.
Here are a few reasons that victims do not leave abusive relationships:
Fear: The most dangerous time for an individual who is being abused is when she/he attempts to leave a partner (US Department of Justice, National Crime Victim Survey). Being in an abusive relationship is scary--victims may find themselves constantly walking on eggshells until the next violent outburst from their partner. Many times victims do not leave abusive relationships because they fear the repercussions. Abusers may threaten to harm them, their children, their families or their pets. It is common for those who do leave to be stalked by a partner. In some cases, the abuser will actually find the victim and take them back. The important thing to remember is that nobody knows an abuser better than a victim; therefore, it’s important for others to understand that a victim will leave when she/he is ready and feels like leaving is the safest option.
Promises: Abusers can be fantastic manipulators. When an abuser fears that his partner is thinking about leaving, he or she may apologize and promise to change. Statements such as “We’ll go to counseling” or “I’ll get help” are common attempts to regain the partner’s trust. As in non-abusive relationships, many times people want to believe that their partners will truly change.
Children: Figuring out how and when to leave an abusive relationship is complex in and of itself, but when children are added to the equation it becomes that much more difficult. Victims with children need to consider things such as child custody, child care, access to housing, and financial stability. Many times, victims chose not to leave abusive relationships because they don’t want their children to only have one parent. Taking a child away from another parent is very difficult, especially if the children are not being abused directly. Custody becomes another huge factor in why victims chose not to leave their partners. Legal custody of children is never guaranteed; a victim may be fearful of losing her children to her partner. Victims who allow their children to remain in homes where abuse is occurring do not do this for selfish reasons, instead they simply attempt to do what they see best for their child.
Isolation: Abusers purposefully isolate their victims in order to gain power and control over them. They may regulate who and when their partner interacts with family and friends--sometimes making them end these relationships altogether. People may feel like they have nobody to turn to even if they decide to leave. Making this kind of life-changing decision alone becomes even more scary.
Embarrassment: People dealing with partner violence may be embarrassed to turn to others for help. They may assume that people will judge them and make assumptions about their lifestyle.
Money: It’s commonly stated that women only get paid 77% of what men make. Even women with well-paying jobs typically do not make as much as their partners. A financially-dependent victim may fear that, without her partner, she could no longer support herself. Victims of IPV face added financial difficulties, such as medical bills and trouble finding a steady form of employment (due to injuries from abuse). Some abusers will not allow their partners to work, and therefore victims become completely financially dependent on them. With a lack of employment and money, it may seem nearly impossible for people to leave their abusers. Ultimately, survivors who already face a lack of upward mobility can have trouble accessing resources necessary to survive after leaving their abusers.
Pets: Many domestic violence shelters do not allow animals on-site. Luckily, both an awareness of this issue and the number of shelters who allow this are increasing! Women who are abused may not be willing to leave their pets behind, fearing that their abuser may harm them. Many times, abusers use threats against pets in order to control their partners--such as saying things like “If you attempt to leave I’ll kill your dog,” knowing that this could scare the partner into staying.
Housing: While there are many transitional and emergency shelters for women dealing with IPV--as well as some resources for men--survivors may not have access or be aware of them. They may have trouble finding housing, especially when they have children or pets. Those who chose to live in apartments or houses may have trouble finding safe and affordable housing.
Love: It’s difficult for outsiders to understand, but many times survivors still love their abusers. Abuse typically occurs in a cycle which has periods of time where no abuse occurs. Remember that, at some point in their relationship, there were happier times, in which both partners truly felt that they cared for each other. As in any other relationship, leaving a partner is a difficult and emotional time.
Unless you have been abused by a partner, you may never fully understand why an individual would stay in an abusive relationships Therefore, before you make assumptions or judgments about a survivor’s decisions, try to understand the complexity of the situation. Instead of asking why doesn’t she leave, ask how you can support her!