Quick escape (ESC)

Why don’t victims just leave?

Leaving an abusive relationship can offer victims a new beginning, but can also put them at greater risk. Churches should always offer abuse victims support, not pressure.

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Content warning This page involves descriptions and discussion of the experiences and impacts of domestic and family violence. Some survivors might find its content troubling.

It can be hard to understand why someone would stay in a relationship if she is being treated so badly. Why doesn’t she just leave? 1 Is the abuse now partly her fault because she puts up with it?

There are many reasons victims will stay in an abusive relationship. They should never be blamed for staying.

Hope that the abuse will end

Many abusers become remorseful after inflicting violence. Their contrite behavior may include: promising never to hit again; seeking counselling if the victim will stay in the relationship; reminding the victim of how hard the abuser works; pointing out the stress under which the abuser is operating; acknowledging the wrongfulness of the violence to others and asking their help in stopping it; or demonstrating love in meaningful ways. In Christian contexts, the abuser might claim that they are repentant, that they have confessed to God and been forgiven by him. They might appeal to the victim’s own faith system, perhaps arguing that the victim is duty-bound by their faith to forgive and to reconcile.

Some victims of domestic violence mistakenly believe they can rescue their abuser from their violent behavior. When the abuser acknowledges the wrongdoing and concedes the need for dramatic change, hope sustains the relationship until the next violent episode.

It’s important to note that remorse can be faked. It is one part of the abuse cycle, but unless the remorse is genuine and supported by interventions the abuse will continue. 2

Victims have been isolated

Many victims of domestic violence lose their support systems during their relationship with the abuser. An abusive spouse may isolate their partners by: preventing them from using the telephone, preventing them from attending family or other social gatherings, insisting on driving the victim to work or not allowing the victim to work, censoring the mail, etc.

Many victims of domestic violence may also fear that no one will believe that their partner abuses them. Perpetrators can be very charming and popular people who keep their terrorising and controlling behaviours well hidden when outside the home. Victims of domestic violence who try to leave often become discouraged when potential helpers in the community trivialise the impact of the violence.

Leaving can be dangerous

Most women that are eventually killed by their partner are killed either when they are planning to end the relationship, or if they have recently left their partner. We know that violence also escalates when a woman becomes pregnant.

Victims are often afraid to leave because they do not want themselves or their children to be hurt or killed. They may also believe that leaving will not necessarily make their life or the lives of their children safer. Many perpetrators escalate the violence once their partner attempts to leave or try to coerce their victims into reconciliation or retaliate for their departure.

Escaping is complex

The reality of leaving an abusive partner can feel harder than staying in the unsafe situation. The victim may have no financial resources, or job skills. Many victims have not been allowed to work outside of the house or allowed to keep their paycheck. If there are children, it becomes even more difficult.

Escaping domestic violence is complex – more than likely victims who do leave will end up facing poverty, family law/custody issues, safety concerns, trouble finding safe crisis and long term housing, all the while having to deal with the trauma they’ve experienced. 3 They need a lot of support from a range of professionals. But services across the country are already stretched to capacity so often the support they need may not be available. 4 Faced with these barriers, and likely harassment from their partner after leaving them, women will often return to dangerous situations.

Leaving violence can lead to shame

There is also a strong sense of shame that many Christian women feel about being a separated or divorced person or parent. Many women feel like leaving is a failure on their part.

There are also ways in which separating feels impossible or unthinkable for women whose identities are strongly attached to being married and are enmeshed with their partner. In particular, women who have experienced prolonged emotional abuse in their relationships may not have the confidence to even contemplate leaving.

Violence does not always stop when the relationship ends

Research indicates that even after she leaves, men who maintain a desire to control their female partners continue to use other coercive forms of abuse such as making unreasonable and non-negotiable demands, stalking, using the family law system to their advantage by stretching out court cases for custody of children, or destroying her relationships with friends, family or co-workers. 5

Leaving is a process

Most victims of domestic violence leave and return several times before permanently separating from their abusers. The first time a victim of domestic violence leaves may be only a test to see whether or not the abuser will try to get some help to stop the violence. When the violence occurs again, the victim may leave to gain more information about the resources available to them to make a more permanent exit.

If a victim feels they have disappointed a support person by returning to an abusive relationship, they may cut off contact with them due to feelings of shame. If you are that support person, make it clear that you will be available to them no matter their choices.

  1. http://theconversation.com/why-doesnt-she-just-leave-the-realities-of-escaping-domestic-violence-29537
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycle_of_abuse
  3. https://littlebirdflies.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/why-does-she-put-up-with-it/
  4. http://theconversation.com/why-doesnt-she-just-leave-the-realities-of-escaping-domestic-violence-29537
  5. http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/15/12/1509.short and https://global.oup.com/academic/product/coercive-control-9780195384048?cc=au&lang=en&