Why Doesn't She Just Leave?
The answer to ending domestic violence appears simple to many, "Why doesn't she just leave?" This question, in addition to blaming the victim rather than the abuser, ignores the effects of domestic violence on its victims. Abused women experience isolation, confusion, inability to make decisions, shame and humiliation. Most abused women will leave their partners six to eight times before they leave for good.
Why a woman may stay in an abusive relationship:
- She fears increased violence to herself or her children. She has heard "I will kill you if you ever try to leave me." When a woman ends the relationship, she effectively robs the abuser of the power and control he so desperately craves. Statistically, most domestic violence fatalities occur at this time. The danger of leaving is very real and it is imperative for a victim to have a safety plan in place.
- The violence she is experiencing may have escalated slowly over time. It is her daily reality and she is used to it; she may be unable to recognize the enormity of the danger threatening her.
- The isolation an abuser imposes on a victim serves to keep her cut off from concerned family, friends and other resources. She is afraid, exhausted and, quite possibly, embarrassed to reach out for help.
- Fear of the unknown can keep victims immobilized. Contributing to this indecisiveness are the years of emotional abuse which may have stripped her of confidence in her own decision-making skills. Where will she go? How will she support her children? Will she lose custody of her children? Will friends and family support her decision to leave?
- Abusers often exercise sole control over the couple's finances. Even if she has worked, she may have been forced to turn over her earnings. She may not have access to a car or public transportation.
- He has become very powerful in her eyes. As she loses self-esteem and confidence, she is more liable to believe what he says. She feels she has no power over her life.
- A mother may desire to maintain an intact family for her children or may experience pressure from her children to stay with their father. She may believe a bad father or partner is better than none at all. (See: Effects of Domestic Violence on Children.)
- An abuser is not emotionally or physically violent continually. There are periods where he may be calm, charming, nurturing and loving. And, he may be extremely repentant after violent episodes. (See: Cycle of Violence) These moments reinforce her hope that the person with whom she originally fell in love is resurfacing and the changed behavior he promises may, indeed, take place.
- Many women are conditioned to believe they are responsible for making their marriage or relationship work - that the abuse may be their fault. This reasoning is usually supported by the abuser who often claims some action of hers is the cause for his behavior.
Contacting professionals at domestic violence prevention organizations such as CODA can help women learn about the dynamics of domestic violence and their rights. They can develop safety plans, realize they are not alone and that there is help available if and when they choose to leave. If you suspect someone may be in danger, encourage her to explore options for a violence-free life.