Why Doesn't the Vicitim Leave
So why doesn't the victim just leave the relationship?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions about domestic violence. And there are as many answers as there are victims of abuse. Often the most caring professionals, service providers, law enforcement and others who come into contact with victims of domestic violence find themselves asking, and are sometimes frustrated by the question: "So why doesn't she just leave?"
The responses vary greatly for each individual but there are some common reasons. The following are SOME reasons victims may choose to stay in a violent relationship.
- The victim does not believe s/he is a victim of domestic violence or that what is going on in the relationship is abuse.
- The victim believes the abuser will change–after all, many batterers promise to do so frequently and who doesn't want to believe the promises made by a loved one?
- The victim has come to see the abuse as their fault.
- Victims of abuse are at the greatest risk for violence when they leave an abusive relationship. Past attempts to leave the relationship may have resulted in escalated violence. The victim may be fearful of trying to leave again. Statistics show that victims who leave are at a 75% greater risk of being killed by their partner than those who stay.
- The victim may feel safer staying in the relationship than leaving-when they are with the abusing partner they at least know what to expect.
- The victim may be fearful of police involvement. The abuser may threaten to kill the victim if s/he calls the police. If police are called and do not make an arrest or if the abuser is arrested and released the victim may be in further danger. If the victim or another member of the household has a warrant out for their arrest calling the police may not be seen as an option.
- The victim may feel trapped in the relationship and not see alternatives for supporting themselves, their children, the household, etc. The victim may be financially dependent on the abuser–he/she may be the sole breadwinner in the family. The victim may fear homelessness.
- The victim may have been told by the abuser that if they leave or go to the police he/she will take the children OR the victim may believe that if they seek help Children's Services will take the children.
- Fifty percent of all victims of domestic violence grow up witnessing some kind of abuse in the home, sometimes severe physical abuse. They may see it as "normal". Bear in mind that an individual who has spent a lifetime experiencing violence in the home may come to believe that this IS normal–as normal as not experiencing violence is to someone who has grown up without abuse.
- The abuser may assist with childcare or other parenting responsibilities. The victim may see the abuser as "good with the children" because he does not hurt or abuse the kids. Like ending any relationship the victim may be concerned about the impact it will have on the children.
- The batterer does not abuse the victim all the time and sometimes he/she may be quite charming–often in an attempt to keep the victim from wanting to leave. Following an abusive incident the batterer may seem genuine about wanting to change his/her behavior, and may want to do so in order to continue the relationship.
- The victim may see the abuse as embarrassing or damaging to their reputation in the community–or their abuser's reputation. They may not want the attention that leaving the relationship could bring.
- The victim may believe that family, friends, co-workers, fellow church members, etc. may not believe them when they leave or may not support their decision to do so.
- The victim may come to believe that s/he has no support in leaving the relationship or may feel cut off from friends and family.
- The victim may be isolated by geography or by the abuse.
- The victim may have turned to friends and family in the past and feel they have burned bridges.
- The victim may have a past criminal record, a history of substance abuse or a current addiction that may make finding a job difficult or could be used against them in a custody dispute.
- The victim may not feel emotionally strong enough to leave, having come to believe that they cannot make it without the abusing partner.
Whatever the reason for staying, it is important that each individual know there are people who care and are supportive in their lives. Leaving is a process and for many victims it is not a question but a matter of when–when does the individual feel strong enough, when do they have the support and the resources, when do they believe they can do it?
For those persons who are considering leaving an abusive relationship, we applaud your strength. Leaving will not be easy and can be as frightening as the abuse. Please see the section of this web site titled Safety Planning, and call our hotline for information (330) 374-1111.
For those providing help there is a different challenge, a two-pronged one:
What can we do to help this person overcome the barriers or doubts they may have about leaving?
And, why are we asking "Why doesn't s/he leave?" with its implied message that there is something wrong with the victim for staying, when we should be asking "Why does the perpetrator batter?"
The Battered Women's Shelter operates a 24-hour hotline: (330) 374-1111. If you or someone you know is in danger make the call. Trained crisis intervention staff are on hand 24 hours a day to assist with safety planning, provide support, and help callers connect with resources available. Again, make the call. For some it can turn the question of leaving into a reality–one filled with hope, options and possibilities.