“Why didn’t they just leave?” It’s a question we often hear about domestic abuse survivors, implying that they are at fault for continuing the abusive relationship. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the reality is there are a number of serious considerations a survivor may take into account when leaving:
- Fear: A person will likely be afraid of the consequences of leaving. This could be a fear of their partner’s actions or concern over their own ability to be independent.
- Normalized abuse: If someone grew up in an abusive environment, they may not recognize that their partner’s behaviors are unhealthy or abusive.
- Shame: It can be difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been or are being abused. They may feel that they’ve done something wrong, that they deserve the abuse, or that experiencing abuse is a sign of weakness.
- Intimidation: A survivor may be intimidated into staying by verbal or physical threats, or threats to spread information, including revenge porn or threatening to out an LGBTQ+ person.
- Low self-esteem: After experiencing verbal abuse or blame for physical abuse, it can be easy for survivors to believe those sentiments and believe that they’re at fault for their partner’s abusive behaviors.
- Lack of resources: Survivors may be financially dependent on their abusive partner or depend on them for housing or language assistance.
- Disability: If someone depends on other people for physical support, they may feel that their well-being is directly tied to their relationship.
- Immigration status: People who are undocumented may fear that reporting abuse will affect their immigration status.
- Cultural context: Traditional customs or beliefs may influence someone’s decision to stay in an abusive situation.
- Children: Survivors may feel pressure, guilt, or a desire to keep their family unit together. Abusers may also threaten to take the children if a survivor leaves.
- Love: A person experiencing abuse may still have genuine feelings of love and care for their partner.
What can you do?
It can be difficult to watch someone you care about stay in an abusive relationship. It’s important for you to be supportive without judgement, understand that leaving can be extremely complicated, and learn how you can help.