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

534 comments

Peggy B
Peggy B21 days ago

Noted

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Diana T
Diana T1 months ago

Reasons #1,#2,#3,#5,#6#8, hit too close to home..

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

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Sue H
Sue H2 months ago

Thanks for re posting this article.

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Freya H
Freya H2 months ago

No woman should be forced to stay in an abusive relationship - and every woman should not only have an out, but know she has that out. Pressure from activists has encouraged some shelters to accept pets, or at least find safe places for them.

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Carole R
Carole R2 months ago

It's so sad, but true. It takes great strength and courage to leave.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 months ago

Number 8 is the most disturbing.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 months ago

So agree with this list :-(

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Peggy B
Peggy B3 months ago

TYFS

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