The difficulties in leaving an abusive relationship
For someone who has never been in an abusive relationship leaving seems easy. Many proudly proclaim they would leave after the first instance of abuse, be it physical, sexual or emotional. They would never let their partner degrade or humiliate them. They would be strong. They wouldn’t stand to be hit and would leave immediately.
I wish that was true. But this is an ignorant view on domestic abuse and it’s cycle of violence. The truth is people don’t leave abusive relationships straight away for multitudes of reasons, and often it takes 7 attempts to leave before they do. These people aren’t weak. Strength is continuing each day, in spite of hardship.
Whilst leaving may seem attractive there are other factors at work that hinder a person’s wish for escape, often set in place by the abuser to satisfy their need for control. These factors are not excuses that people have for staying, but reasons why they could not leave at that moment.
7 reasons intimate partner violence victims are staying
People are often judged for not leaving abusive relationships sooner. When people ask why someone stayed in an abusive relationship, it is effectively victim-blaming, that survivors are at fault. Instead, we should ask “How were they prevented from leaving?”.
1. Financial control:
Often the abusive partner has control of finances. If you have no access to money, you will not get very far. You can’t just get in a taxi and leave if you have no money. You can’t get to a safe place or a hotel if you don’t have access to money.
Abusers will isolate their partners to control them. They will disable them from contacting friends, family, and loved ones. They may stop them from working or having a social life outside of work. They will tell their partner that people don’t care about them, they are alone and only their abuser ‘loves’ them. By narrowing a social circle that means a lower chance of the victim being able to access help through other people or to reach out.
It is not uncommon for people to leave an abusive relationship for their children, to give them a better life. Whether the children are abused or not, although a partner starting to harm their children can be a trigger to leave. But it is easier for one person, an adult, to leave alone than to take dependents with them. Many people stay for the protection of their children, or until all are able to leave together, which can take much longer than if they were trying to leave alone.
4. Shame and self-esteem:
Being emotionally, physically, and sexually abused can be shameful. Whether it is a loss of faith in self or someone is being repeatedly told that they are worthless or no one would believe them. These increase feelings of shame and lowers their self-esteem, and they may feel that they will be judged if they tell people. Also, people may have expected them to leave sooner which increases this feeling. In some cultures leaving a relationship is also shameful, especially if divorce is not common or allowed.
Living in a relationship with physical abuse can be dangerous, but leaving is statistically more life-threatening. A partner may also have made threats of what they will do if someone tries to leave, which keeps victims in fear.
Unfortunately, many people still love their partner, especially after a cycle of violence where they are apologizing and promising it will never happen again, which manipulates people to stay. Some people even believe they can change their partner or are influenced by media portraying unhealthy relationship behaviors that they believe are normal.
7. Lack of perceived help:
Institutions are not seen as being able to help, so someone perceives they have no one to go to. Be it religious institutions that do not welcome divorce, a police force that a victim does not believe will take their case seriously, or a lack of emergency shelters for people escaping abusive relationships.
We need to stop victim-blaming survivors for not leaving their abusive relationships sooner. It is not as simple a decision as just packing up and walking out the door. Multiple factors need to be taken into account. Living in an abusive relationship is not easy, but neither is leaving, and we need to focus on reducing the barriers that keep people trapped.
Text by Emily Stamp
Visuals by Kristina Mancheva