Why is it so hard to leave?

Practical

  • Finances. A victim of relationship violence may depend on their abuser financially. They may not have a job, or they may have a low-paying job that doesn’t provide enough support for them to live alone. They may live with their abuser and not be able to find affordable housing to move into. They may have children whom they cannot support on their own. A victim who is married to their abuser may rely on the abuser for other financial support such as health insurance.
  • No Support System. Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family. A victim will need help to start a new life, but they may not have any friends or family to lean on. The prospect of starting over without any help may make staying in the relationship seem like the best decision.
  • Disability and Addiction. The victim may be disabled or struggling with addiction. These challenges make it even more difficult or impossible for a victim to leave a relationship without serious help from other people.
  • Safety. The most dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship is when they try to leave. Leaving a relationship doesn’t guarantee that the violence is over, since many abusers can continue to stalk their former partner. If the victim gets caught trying to leave, the violence may escalate, and the victim risks being killed by their partner. Most homicides that result from domestic violence occur while the victim is attempting to leave or shortly after they have left.
  • Kids. The victim may have children with the abuser. The victim may feel that the children need two parents, even if the other parent is abusive, or the abuser may have threatened to take the kids away from the victim. The kids may have special needs that make it incredibly difficult to be a single parent, especially if the victim lacks a support system.

Emotional

  • Love. An abused person may still love their abuser. Abusive relationships don’t start out with violence, and an emotional connection between the abuser and the victim forms before the violence starts.
  • Hope. Many victims hope that their abusers will change, or that this incident of violence is the last. Often abusers apologize and appear sorry for any violence that has occurred, keeping the victim in the relationship hoping that now things will get better.
  • Responsibility. Victims often feel responsible for the abuser’s emotional and physical well-being. Many victims feel like they are the only person who understands and cares about the abuser, or that they are the reason an abuser is able to manage addiction or mental illness. Victims can also feel responsible for making the relationship work or keeping the family together.
  • Fear. Threats are common in abusive relationships, and it can be difficult for a victim to determine if a threat will be carried out. If a victim expresses a desire to end the relationship, an abuser will often threaten to kill the victim; threaten to commit suicide; threaten to kidnap the children; or threaten to kill pets or destroy property. Often these threats are serious.
  • Self-Esteem. Most physical abuse starts after a long period of emotional and verbal abuse. Victims in abusive relationships will internalize the messages they hear from their abuser, and may believe that no one else will want to be with them, that they deserve the abuse or are causing it themselves.
  • Guilt and Shame. The victim may have already left the relationship and returned, only to find the abuse continues. The victim’s support system may not have approved of the relationship when it started, and now the victim feels that they should have listened. Sometimes the victim is a recognized and respected member of the community, and feels that they are not the “type” of person who is abused by their partner; they feel embarrassed that they “let” the abuse happen.

Institutional

  • Oppression. Many victims of abuse belong to other groups that have been oppressed, such as a racial minority or non-heterosexual orientation. These victims may think that if they try to leave the abuse, they will be victimized by other people because of their other identities, and often they’re right.
  • Disbelief. Many organizations that should help abuse victims, such as law enforcement, courts, religious institutions, and social services, may decide the abuse isn’t happening, or may blame the victim instead of the abuser. The victim may fear that seeking help from these organizations will make their situation worse.
  • Society. Music, films, and television often model relationship patterns that are abusive, but are not portrayed as abuse in fiction. Victims may take cues from society about how relationships work or what love is supposed to look like, and may not be able to identify a relationship as abusive.
  • Culture. A victim may belong to a culture that values family and community over individuals, even if there is violence in the home. Victims also may be afraid of being cut off from their cultural community if they leave the relationship. Resources for victims may not be in the victim’s primary language, or may not be able to accommodate cultural or religious needs that are paramount to the victim.

Past Abuse

  • A victim is often a survivor of past abuse, either in childhood or in previous relationships. They may think that violence is normal in relationships, or may not be able to recognize warning signs of abusive partners until they are trapped in a violent relationship.