In all the years I have been blessed to counsel victims of domestic violence, there is one question they unanimously tell me was the most painful to hear from well-meaning, but clearly misinformed, friends, family, or even strangers. What do you think that question is?
Why didn’t she (or he) just leave?
Notice the inclusion of the simplistic word “just.” This implies that, “If I were in your shoes, I would have left in a heartbeat!” My simple response to that assumption is “Really? Would you have?”
The belief that one can “just leave” an abuser is preposterous. Abusers are not left easily. As a matter of fact, research indicates that women are at the greatest risk of being killed by their abuser when attempting to leave. In fact, they are at a 75% higher risk than those who stay! (Source: Los Angeles Police Department)
In my own personal story, I was told more times than I can count that, if I even attempted to call the police, “someone would die.” Statements such as this are not easy for a victim to ignore, especially when your gut tells you that your partner has the propensity to carry out his threats. And even if a victim is not threatened with such a statement, there are many, many reasons she stays.
Below, I have listed a few of those reasons; however, each person’s story and circumstances are unique, so I am confident there are additional reasons a victim may choose to stay.
Please note that I have used the feminine pronoun in the list below because nearly 95% of victims of domestic violence are female (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence). It is important to mention that men can be victimized, too; and recognizing this truth — and the unique complexities men face when victimized — is imperative. A victim is a victim, regardless of if they are female or male, and both deserve genuine compassion and support.
Reasons a Victim May Stay in an Abusive Relationship
- She wants to protect her partner’s and family’s image.
- He is her support system, even though he is abusive. Psychologically, he has destroyed her outside relationships.
- This time will be the last; he will change.
- She does not realize that she has the right NOT to be abused.
- Her only desire for change is “not to be abused.”
- She fears living alone.
- She may have been raised in an abusive home and feels that abuse is normal.
- She thinks the abuse will stop if she would only do A, B, or C.
- Religious and cultural beliefs keep her in the marriage.
- She stays for the children; any father is better than none.
- Her confidence has deteriorated as a result of continuous put-downs, name-calling, or other forms of abusive behaviors.
- She has no place to go. Often, friends and family are not helpful.
- She has feelings of powerlessness and fear.
- She believes that all she has in life is her family, house, children, husband, and/or marriage. They are her responsibility, and she must fix whatever goes wrong.
- He is not always abusive. After violence, he is often contrite, asking forgiveness, promising change, and acting like the model father and husband … for a while.
- She feels trapped and does not know about help services.
- She believes that if she discloses the secret that no one will believe her … her husband is a “pillar in the community and/or church.”
- She believes that the law will not take her seriously and that her husband will not be punished.
- She may fear the complexities of the legal system; lawyers are expensive.
- She still loves him.
The conundrum is that she married Dr. Jekyll and did not know that Jekyll was actually hiding Mr. Hyde. She loves Jekyll. She fears Hyde. If she leaves, she leaves them both. This is a painful truth. And one not quickly or easily acknowledged.
So, if you ever have the opportunity to listen to someone whose life has been torn apart by domestic violence, please simply sit and offer a compassionate ear. If you have never been in such a miry pit, you have no idea what it’s like to climb out of one.
To help you come alongside victims of abuse (or if you are a victim, yourself), I encourage you to read my new book, Healing Well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship, available for preorder at http://drramona.com/book/. In it, I detail my own story of domestic abuse, and I offer helpful resources as well as insights into why victims stay and why they leave. I know it can encourage and support you as you strive to heal well or to help another live free from the trauma of abuse.
NOTE: I recognize and fully acknowledge that abuse takes place in all sorts of relationships. My heart breaks for all victims. However, because the majority of abusers are male and the majority of victims are female (of domestic violence victims, 85% are female and 15% are male [Source:Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence]), I have utilized the pronouns “she” to represent the victim, and “he” to represent an abuser throughout the pages on this website. I may also, at times, utilize “their.” This is not meant to disregard the pain experienced in other contexts, it is merely a way to communicate with clarity. To learn more about the truth of domestic violence or explore resources, click here.