Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

People who have not been abused by an intimate partner often say that if their partner ever abused them they certainly would leave. "It'd only take one time and I'd be outta there!" - Easier said than done.

Staying in or returning to an abusive relationship is a complex decision that may be a very rational survival mechanism. Domestic violence victims/survivors are not always passive – they are employing survival techniques every day to protect themselves & their children – everything short of leaving. Below are some of the reasons why victims/survivors may choose to stay or return to an abusive relationship.

Commitment to the Relationship.
Don't Overlook This: The abuser is the person the victim/survivor loves. This makes leaving the abuser especially difficult where violent episodes are followed by periods of affection and positive attention. The abuser may be the father/mother of the victim's/survivor's children. The victim/survivor may want to end the violence, but also preserve the family relationship. They may also be bound by religious implications of marriage and there are many other reasons related to preserving the relationship to consider.

Lack of Self-Esteem/Confidence.
Ending an intimate relationship is almost always difficult, but even more so when the victim's/survivor's self-confidence has been destroyed by abuse/r.

Believes the Myths about Domestic Violence
Victims/survivors of domestic violence may assume that violence in an unavoidable part of their life. Victims/survivors may also blame themselves for the violence as they are repeatedly told it is their fault by their abuser to the point that they become convinced of it and believes that it's their responsibility to "fix" it.

No Place to Go/Fear of Homelessness.
There are more animal shelters in the U.S. than shelters for battered women and children. Domestic violence is the cause of half of the homelessness in America's women and children.

Hope for Change.
Many abusers are remorseful after abusing the victim/survivor. This contrite behavior may include promising never to hit again, agreeing to seek counseling if the victim/survivor promises not to leave, reminding the victim/survivor of how hard the perpetrator works, pointing out the incredible stresses under which s/he is operating, acknowledging the wrongfulness of his/her violence to the children and asking their help in stopping it, and demonstrating his/her love for the victim/survivor in meaningful ways. Since victims/survivors have often built their lives around the relationship, they hope for change. When the abuser acknowledges the error of his/her ways, when s/he breaks down and cries and concedes the need for dramatic change, hope is often renewed for the victim/survivor.

Many victims/survivors of domestic violence do not have a support system. The abuser has systematically isolated them. For example, the abuser may prohibit the victim/survivor from using the phone, may humiliate him/her at family gatherings, may insist on transporting him/her to and from work, or may censor his/her mail, email, texting and cellphone records. Abusers are often highly possessive and excessively jealous. They believe that they own the victim/survivor and are entitled to his/her exclusive attention and absolute obedience. The abuser knows that if the truth is known about his/her conduct, people around the victim/survivor will encourage them to leave the abuser. Therefore, abusers isolate their victim in order to sustain the power of violence.

Societal Denial/Stigma.
Victims/survivors of domestic violence fear that no one will believe that their partners abuse them. Abusers are often charismatic, ingratiating and popular and keep their terrorizing and controlling behaviors within the family behind closed doors. The victim/survivor knows this and it compounds his/her fear that no one will believe them. Victim/survivors of domestic violence also discover that many people and agencies in the community trivialize the impact of domestic violence. For example, doctors may prescribe Valium for coping, ministers may recommend more accommodating behaviors of the victim and therapists may advise better communication with the abuser will resolve the issues. Victims/survivors conclude that if others do not understand the seriousness of the violence, they will condemn the disruption caused by leaving the relationship.

Abusers Threats.
Even when the victim/survivor decides to leave, the abuser may threaten to seek custody of their children, to withhold financial support, to interfere with the victim's/survivor's employment or housing, to kill them, their pets, the children and/or other family members, to commit retaliatory suicide, or to escalate the violence in an attempt to keep the victim/survivor in the relationship.

Danger of Leaving.
Many victims/survivors believe that leaving is not going to make his/her life and their children's lives any safer. Many victims/survivors of domestic violence are killed by their partners after they have left the abuser. Leaving, itself, can be a dangerous process. Many abusers escalate their violence in order to coerce the victim/survivor into reconciliation or to retaliate for the victim's/survivor's departure. Leaving requires strategic planning and legal intervention measures to safeguard victim/survivors and their children – this is where coordination with New Choices can help significantly.

Economic Dependence.
The most likely indicator of whether a victim/survivor of domestic violence will permanently separate from his/her abuser is whether s/he has the economic resources to survive without the abuser. Therefore, it is incredibly important that victims/survivors contact us so that they can learn about the other economic supports, job training and employment opportunities that exist to help them.

Leaving is a PROCESS.
Most victims/survivors of domestic violence leave and return several times before permanently separating from the abuser. The first time a victim/survivor leaves may be a test to see whether the abuser will obtain help or stop his/her abuse. The victim/survivor may leave temporarily in order to gain more information about the resources available to her before leaving the abuser permanently. Most victims/survivors of domestic violence do leave eventually. When victims/survivors stay, friends, family and those that surround them need to look to see what they are doing to hinder the process of leaving and make changes to facilitate leaving.

Why Does She Stay?

an excerpt from a piece by Pam Butler – read more at http://www.growing.com/nonviolent/victim/stories/pbutler/index.htm

I could be your sister, your daughter, your mother. I could be you. I am a victim of domestic violence.

Battered women are the products of the crime of domestic violence - not the cause. Until the only man I ever loved enough to marry beat me, I was a person, a woman. As a result of his crimes against me, I am now a battered woman. My behavior is simply reacting to what he did to me. My being a battered woman is about him, not me.

I fell in love with a man who charmed and impressed and romanced me. I loved him more than any man I had ever dated, and I married him. However, I did not know who he was. Batterers know that if they present their true selves no one would ever talk to them, so they don't. They act, they con, they deceive - we fall in love. Then, when we start seeing who they really are, we don't believe it. We want to believe anything but the truth. And the truth is that these men trick and woo us and then commit crimes of violence upon us.

We are confused and shocked by what we have seen and experienced. They tell us that they don't know what happened, they lost control, they were drunk, we made them do it. We want to believe anything other than that they meant to do this terrible thing to us. It is not in our capacity to understand that their acts of violence are deliberate, but they are. As long as we believe that we have the power to get the man with whom we fell in love back, as long as we believe that this is caused by something we can fix, as long as we believe anything but the truth, we will stay.

We know he does not have to be this way; he acted entirely differently when we met and fell in love. We know we can get him back. I remember pleading with my new husband: "You are not the man I married; you are his evil twin. What have you done with him?" And later in anger: "How dare you show me how wonderful you can be and then not be that way."

When we start to give up hope, the man we fell in love with comes back. We are constantly off balance because he keeps changing from the man we fell in love with to monster boy. When do we leave? When things are wonderful and the man we fell in love with is loving us? No, life is too wonderful, and everything is fixed and right with the world. When we are battered? No, we don't have the strength or desire to live, much less fight. So we give up. We give in. We disappear. Our only existence is keeping him happy so he won't hurt us. He begs us to cheer up, he makes promises, he woos us back.

Eventually many of us reach a point where we no longer have hope for the relationship or our fear of being injured or killed becomes too great, or we see our children being damaged. In some cases our children, sometimes very small children, save our lives by calling 911. Whatever it is that happens, something in us changes. We decide we can't or won't take the abuse, and we decide to leave. It can take seconds, or it can take years. And the most dangerous time for a battered woman is while she is leaving or after she has left, according to countless studies. This is when most of us are killed.

He begs us to stay; when it doesn't work he threatens to kill us and our children. My batterer threatened to kill my parents in front of me, then torture me until I prayed for death. He told me he could have someone else kill me and he could be 100 miles away having dinner with witnesses who would back him up. We are hostages; still, we are safer on the streets than in our own homes.

The first time that I called a crisis hotline, I found out that domestic violence happens to millions of women every year in this country. This means that millions of husbands and boyfriends beat up their wives and girlfriends every year. There isn't an entity called domestic violence that is doing the battering. It is men. Men who say that they love us and can't live without us. I learned that four to six women a day are killed in this country by their husbands and boyfriends. I learned that we have thousands of shelters for women and children to hide from their husbands, boyfriends and fathers. I was outraged. Not in this country, Not in America.

But yes, we live in this country, America, which tolerates domestic violence and blames the victims for it. Unlike any other crime of abuse, even child abuse, the perpetrator picks and woos his victims and cultivates romance in order to commit the crime. What could be more cruel and evil? Who could believe it could happen to them? Not me. I took pictures of my first black eye because I couldn't believe that my husband of six weeks had done this to me, his new bride.

Where is society's outrage at these men and what we have tolerated for so long?

Myths About Abusive Relationships

Society's lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence often is the greatest obstacle a domestic violence victim/survivor faces. Many people believe one, or several, of the following MYTHS:

"I would never let someone hit me, I'd leave!"

Easier said than done. By the time the abuse has escalated to physical violence, the abuser has used a number of other tactics to instill fear, lack of confidence and hopelessness in their abused partner.

At a training at our shelter put on by Action Ohio – the trainer asked a question of the audience, "How many of you think you could be the victim of relationship abuse?" Not a single hand was raised. I then shared with the group the singular truth amongst all the victims I had ever spoken to – each said, "I never thought it would happen to me!" Each had their own reason why they thought they were insulated – "too… smart… independent… tough… educated… wealthy… streetwise… etc… etc…" Each thought they were immune to violence – but the truth is NO ONE is more or less vulnerable to an abusive partner than any other. So when the victim becomes aware that they are, in fact, being abused, they are shocked, humiliated, ashamed, disbelieving – reeling to duck & cover – make believe it didn't happen. Until it happens again.

"I shouldn't get involved in a private family matter."

Domestic violence is not just a family problem. It is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend/loved one, their children and the entire community. We are no less accountable for the safety of our fellow community members when their house is on fire as when they are being abused. Both require our intervention and assistance.

At New Choices, in our educational outreach programs, we talk about community accountability, particularly with children. We ask questions like – "What do you do when you see a car accident or when you notice your neighbors house on fire?" Inevitably their answers include "Tell Someone", "Call 911", "Check & Make Sure Everyone is OK" and on. The point is – doing the right thing to help those in danger has no boundaries, including the walls that separate your home from your neighbors.

"The abuse/violence can't really be that serious."

It is rarely a one-time occurrence, and usually escalates in frequency and severity over time.

"If I was better, cleaner, more attentive, a better cook/mother/lover/housekeeper, it will stop."

It won't stop. There is nothing someone who gets abused/battered can do to make the abuse stop. The abuser is in control and as long as the abuse gets them what they want, they won't stop. It is NOT the victim's fault in any WAY, SHAPE or FORM!

"If it's so bad, why doesn't she just leave?"

For most of us, the decision to end a relationship is not an easy one. Put yourself in that position, of deciding to leave your relationship – even abuse aside – just up and leave your relationship and strike out on your own. How do you feel about it? Now fear for your life and the lives of your children and all you love on top of that – how do you feel about leaving under those circumstances?

"Doesn't she care about what's happening to her children?"

Your friend is probably doing her best to protect her children from the violence. She may feel that the abuse is only directed at her, and does not yet realize its effects on the children. Or she may fear that if she leaves, he will get custody of the kids and then how can she protect them?

"If they wanted my help, they would ask for it."

Your friend may not yet feel comfortable confiding in others, feeling that you will not understand her situation. Try talking to her about the problem of abuse in a general way – one way we recommend is simply, "Do you feel safe at home?" or "Do you feel safe going home?".

Domestic violence is just a momentary loss of temper or a lack of good anger management.

Domestic abuse is just the opposite of a "momentary loss of temper." The batterer makes a conscious decision to batter and stores up anger and frustration all day to specifically take it out on their target – it is anger very well managed. It is a repetitive and ongoing technique used by the abuser to enforce control over their partner/victim through the use of fear of future or continued violence.

Domestic violence only happens in poor families.

Domestic violence occurs throughout all levels of society. There is no evidence that suggests that any income level, occupation, social class, or culture is immune from domestic violence. Wealthy, educated, professionals are just as prone to violence as anyone.

Domestic violence is just an occasional slap or punch that isn't serious.

Victims are often seriously injured. Over 30% of the women seeking care in hospital emergency rooms are there because they have been injured by their domestic partners. Battered women are more likely to suffer miscarriages or to give birth prematurely.

Head of households have the right to control the people they support.

No partner in any domestic relationship has the right to control the other partner – EVER.

If the batterer is truly sorry and promises to reform, the abuse is going to stop.

Remorse and begging for forgiveness are part of the method used by batterers to control their victims. They also very often promise to go to counseling or church – they will get better. Why would they? What's in it for them to stop? What they do works for them, meaning it gets them what they want and won't be deterred from abusing. Batterers rarely stop battering.

If the violent episodes don't happen very often the situation is not that serious.

Even if the violence doesn't happen often, the threat of it remains as a terrorizing means of control. No matter how far apart the violent episodes are, each one is a reminder of the one that happened before and creates fear of the one that will happen in the future.

Victims have the types of personalities that seek out and encourage abuse.

A number of studies have determined that there is no set of personality traits that describe victims of domestic violence. It is the batterer who is responsible for the battering, not the victim.

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