Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Many people ask “Why doesn’t the victim leave? Why does the victim stay?” as if it is that simple. It is important to understand that there are many barriers to safety in an abusive relationship. Leaving is often dangerous and there are many factors an abused partner must consider in the analysis of how to respond to an abusive partner. The better question is “Why does the abuser do this and how can I help the survivor gain access to safety?” The reality is that the most dangerous time for a survivor/victim is when she leaves the abusive partner; 75% of domestic violence related homicides occur upon separation and there is a 75% increase of violence upon separation for at least two years. These concerns are very real and must be addressed with safety planning.
- Isolation: from friends, family, community support, resources, as abusers often attempt to cut off survivors from support networks as a control mechanism
- Children: desire to provide them with a two-parent home, custody concerns (such as the abuser gaining custody which still occurs in 50% of places) etc.
- Fear: of retaliation; of being killed; of the abuser hurting loved ones; of being stalked; of not being believed; of unsupervised visits with the abuser putting children at risk
- Threats: the abusive partner may threaten to commit suicide or hurt their partner/children, other loved ones and/or pets, threaten to call INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services), threaten to take the children, threaten to “out” their partner to family or coworkers…
- Economic necessity
- Lack of resources or information about available resources (e.g. lack of transportation to services or lack of access to the internet to find services)
- Shelters are full and there is nowhere to safely go
- Connection to and concern for partner’s well-being (fear that partner will be arrested, imprisoned, deported etc. which may have consequences for retaliation, finances, and children)
- Hope/belief that partner will change, often resulting from manipulative tactics by the abuser
- Failure of the criminal justice system: with a very low prosecution rate, survivors are not likely to pursue prosecution when they will have to be revictimized in court without any meaningful results. Perpetrators often threaten the partner if they don’t recant and even when victims do “press charges,” it often only leads to a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator.
- Culture/ religion/ family pressures to stay together
- Shame and guilt, largely because of societal victim blaming
- Belief that the abuse is their fault
- Immigration status: fear of deportation without partner’s support, fear of separation from children, law enforcement etc.