10 Reasons Why Women Don’t Leave Their Abusers

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on August 25, 2013. Enjoy!

It’s a question often asked by people who’ve never experienced domestic violence: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Sometimes, we ask this question because we truly don’t understand what might be keeping someone in a terrible relationship. Other times, this question is used as a way to blame women for the abuse they receive.

The answer remains individual to each woman, and the reasons can be pretty complicated. The truth is, leaving can be difficult even when you know it’s the right thing to do. The average domestic violence victim may try to leave multiple times before actually being able to make a clean break.

Here are just 10 of the many reasons why women stay with partners who hurt them.

A quick note: yes, women can abuse men, and abuse also occurs in same-sex relationships. That said, studies show that 95 percent of domestic abuse is committed by men against their female partners, so that’s what I’ll be addressing in this article. However, these reasons could apply to any relationship.

1. A lack of social support

One of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship is an abuser gradually isolating the victim from her support network, including friends and family. Since it happens over time, often victims of domestic violence don’t even realize what’s happening until it’s too late. They may be scared of reaching out to their former support network, or they may feel there’s no one they can trust.

2. Limited financial resources

If the victim shares a joint bank account with her abuser, it’s hard to break free. Some abusers may even take a victim’s paycheck or create a very strict budget to try to ensure the victim is unable to leave without ending up on the streets. When combined with a diminishing support network, this can make it almost impossible to get out.

3. Minimal work experience

If the victim has been a stay-at-home mother or hasn’t been allowed to keep a steady job, this can make the idea of breaking free even more daunting. It can be difficult to find a job that pays enough to allow her to escape — especially if children are in the equation.

4. Child custody and support

It’s easy to be frustrated or even angry with women who don’t remove their children from an abusive environment. Unfortunately, sometimes the only alternative is that the victim might be unable to support her children at all — or that sole custody will be given to the abusive parent.

5. Pets

Many men actually keep their partners in line by threatening the victim’s pets. If a woman’s only option is to go to a shelter where her pet isn’t allowed, her fears for the animal’s safety keep her from leaving. She may not have any options for temporary care while she works on becoming more independent.

6. Fear of being alone

Obviously, it’s better to be alone than to be in a relationship that hurts you, but many victims of physical and emotional abuse have been convinced that no one else could possibly want them. When you truly believe that you may never find someone else, it’s possible to rationalize away some seriously twisted behavior.

7. Family or community pressure 

If the victim belongs to a religion that frowns upon divorce, or if family members have a strong relationships with the abuser, they may pressure the victim to try to work things out. This social pressure can make the victim feel guilty for wanting to leave and keep her from accessing the resources she would need to make a clean break.

8. Guilt for “causing” the abuse

A common tactic abusers like to use is listing all the reasons why the victim’s behavior provoked them. Believe it or not, hearing this over and over again can actually make the victim start to doubt her own sanity — making her question her version of events. Victims will often find themselves walking on eggshells and trying desperately to avoid behaviors they believe will cause the abuse.

9. A seemingly healthy relationship

Some abusers will go weeks or months between violent or manipulative episodes. They may seem genuinely remorseful about their bad behavior and claim they’re willing to change. A woman in this type of relationship may believe that the abuse really won’t happen again — or that it’s worth sticking through the bad parts because the rest of the relationship makes her happy.

10. Fear of provoking additional violence.

It’s a sad statistic, but a good 75 percent of women who are killed by their partners are murdered during or after an attempt to leave the relationship. If the choice is between a black eye or death, sometimes the smart choice is to stay put.

Obviously, if you know someone who’s in an abusive relationship, you should make every effort to help her leave. But if she’s reluctant or isn’t ready, you can’t force her. Instead, try to find out why she won’t leave — if you know the reason, you may be better able to help her find the resources she needs to make the transition easier.

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

525 comments

Peggy B
Peggy B5 days ago

TYFS

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JT Smith
JT S15 days ago

The biggest problem would be logistics. It's easy to say to just move, it's far more difficulty in terms of logistics to accomplish. In fact, the physical difficulties mentioned in the articles are all matters of logistics.

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Misss D
Miss D27 days ago

So many brave stories on this thread; makes me feel very humbled to read them. Thank you for sharing. We need to talk about these things and share stories and maybe other people who are going through this will feel a little less isolated and have some hope that things can change and they can make it out. Or at least just recognise what is happening to them. We need to talk about this issue more and be less judgemental and bring it out into the light. Not talking about it is what feeds it.

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Berny p
Berny pabout a month ago

ALWAYS KEEP AM EYE ON FRIENDS WHO SUDENLY SEE YOU LESS!

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

My little town has very good resources for counselling and for safe-houses where a woman can live with her children. Only the police know the address of the safe house.

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Karen H
Karen Habout a month ago

A woman I know packed up her things while her husband was out (probably with his new girlfriend), took his car & headed to the airport. She parked the car in long-term parking, turned the keys in to Lost & Found, and got on a plane to family in another state. She called her husband & told him where his car was. There wasn't anything he could do about her "stealing" his car because she was his wife and had permission to drive it, and she hadn't gone over state lines. He decided he wanted his girlfriend, so filed for divorce.

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Kelly B
Kelly Bechtoldabout a month ago

I provided this answer here previously, hope this helps out and I will get it more up-front again.

Thank you for sharing! I've learned that if you sense you are going into an abusive relationship or something isn't right, try to find things that are better than what you're experiencing and make sure he/she doesn't know about it. Unfortunately, there is someone who will not leave me alone and has convinced me to turn away from ALMOST everyone and everything I appreciate. the Trick is to realize what's happening and try what you can to get out and make it permanent. Unfortunately, with how things are going for me, I can only hope I'll live to get out. I've been successful a few times, but he came right back.

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Carl R
Carl Rabout a month ago

Thanks!!!

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Carl R
Carl Rabout a month ago

Thanks!!!

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Genevieve O
Genevieve Oabout a month ago

Its true when you state the answer remains individual to each woman. I believe that love could be one of the reasons too. If for instance at the onset of the relationship, the man showered her with love incomparable to none other she had experienced prior, the woman may be reluctant to leave in the hope that the man recovers his senses and rekindles their love. Twisted, I know but I think it is true.

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