Why Victims Stay
Many people feel confused and frustrated by a victim who leaves, then returns to an abusive relationship. If this vicious cycle of violence is so detrimental to the victim and their children, why don’t they just leave? (Scroll to the bottom of this page to watch a video about just this.) The most important thing to keep in mind is that extreme emotional abuse is always present in domestic violence situations. On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times.
It’s not as simple as it may seem for those of us on the outside of this reign of terror. In reality, victims stay in violent relationships for numerous and complex reasons. The domestic violence victim is not stupid, does not like to be beaten, is not uneducated or mentally ill.
Think about all a victim needs to do to escape a violent relationship:
- They need to find a place to live.
- They need to find a job to support themselves and their children.
- They may need to find child care or transfer the children to a different school.
- They may be required to file legal documents – custody, separation/divorce, restraining orders.
- They may lose all health and life insurance benefits, etc. etc.
The reasons victims return or stay in an abusive relationship vary from case to case. All of the above factors are not found in each case, but a combination of some of them are usually enough to keep the victim with the person abusing them.
These are other factors that come into play when a victim of domestic violence is trying to break free:
- Economic dependency.
- Fear of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave.
- Fear of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
- Survival. Fear that the perpetrator will follow them and kill them if they leave, often based on real threats by their partner.
- Fear of emotional damage to the children.
- Parenting (kids need a father).
- Religious or extended family pressures.
- Fear of losing custody of the children, often based on their partner’s remarks.
- Lack of alternative or affordable housing.
- Lack of job skills.
- Social isolation resulting in a lack of a support system or knowledge of their alternatives.
- Fear of involvement in the court process.
- Fear of the unknown. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
- Fear and ambivalence over making formidable life changes.
- “Acceptable violence”. The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
- Ties to the community. The children would have to leave their school, leave their friends and neighbors behind. For some victims it would be like being in the Witness Protection Program – they could never have any contact with their old life.
- Ties to their home and belongings.
- Family pressure – because Mom always said: “I told you it wouldn’t work out.” or “You made your bed, now you sleep in it.”
- Fear of the abuser doing something in retaliation (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.).
- Unable to use resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, homophobia, etc.).
- Time needed to plan and prepare to leave.
- Fear of being alone.
- Loyalty (the batterer is sick and needs my help to change).
- Pity for batterer.
- Fears the batterer will kill themselves.
- Denial (abuse is not that bad, “They only slapped me”).
- LOVE (the batterer is loving and lovable when they are not being abusive).
- Duty (It’s my responsibility to hold the family together).
- Guilt (batterer blames the victim for problems and they accept that the problems are their fault).
- Shame and humiliation.
- Frequency and severity (plays into the denial if abusive incidents are not frequent or severe).
- Isolation – often batterer isolates the victim and they have no one to turn to and may not know that services are available.
- Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change.
- Demolished self-esteem. “I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, etc.) to leave.”
- Simple exhaustion. They are just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.
- Religious and extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what.
- Duty. “I swore to stay married till death do us part.”
- Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
- Belief that violence is the way all partners relate.
- Religious and cultural beliefs.
If you suspect someone you know is a victim of domestic violence:
- Tell them you believe they have a right not to be abused.
- Tell them you know about the abuse and you are their friend – they are not alone.
- Help them find a safe place with you or somewhere else when they are ready to leave.
- Do not lose patience.
- Help them find legal, financial, medical, or counseling services. (Contact us for references )
- Help them see them self as a competent, lovable person.
- Even if they return to the abusive spouse/partner, this is not a rejection of you. They need your friendship and support now more than ever.
- Remember, domestic violence is a crime!
- Let your friend make their own decisions based on what’s best for them at the time.
- Be calm when discussing the issue with them.
- Be aware that domestic violence escalates in frequency and severity over time.
- Explain that jealousy and possessiveness are not love.
- Remember: You cannot make someone leave their abuser but you can provide support and information.
- Call the police if you fear for their safety.