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What Makes It Difficult to Leave Abusive Situations

Written by: The Women’s Center’s Staff

When learning about domestic violence, people often ask “why don’t they just leave?” This is one of the most common myths about abuse, and there are many factors that make it difficult for victims of domestic violence to leave an abusive relationship. While it may seem relatively simple and straightforward to us on the outside, the reasons victims stay are usually complex and personal. 

Below are some of the most common reasons people may choose to remain in an unhealthy relationship, and one person’s situation could include a combination of influences. At its core, abuse is about power and control, which is the primary motivator in many of these examples.  

They are unable to leave safely

Sometimes the threat of leaving or calling the police will trigger more violence, and victims know their situation best. They know the signs of escalation and volatility in their abuser, and the best way to keep themselves and/or their children safe is by staying.  

Taking steps to leave an abuser may be the most dangerous time in that relationship, with victims 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship. 

Economic Dependence

Over 95% of domestic violence survivors have experienced financial abuse. Abused partners usually have very little, if any, money to call their own. To exert power, many abusers retain absolute control over all financial resources. Victims may not even be aware of what their true financial situation is. 

Another way to show power and control is by prohibiting the victim to work, resulting in limited job skills or professional experience because they were out of the workforce for many years. This may cause them to fear they are not capable of supporting themselves or their children on their own. 

Shelter/Housing

The victim may truly have nowhere to go. They may be reluctant to stay with family or friends for fear that the abuser might find them there and/or harm those trying to help. Or, there may not be room for their children or pets. 

Further, the economic dependency described above contributes to the difficulty of obtaining affordable and safe housing. 

Isolation 

Abusers may allow the victim few, if any, outside activities or social interaction, and they work to keep victims away from their family and friends. This can happen slowly, over time, so that there are few or no other contacts besides the abuser, which means that victim might not have anywhere else to stay because their support network is gone and they might not know of any resources to turn to for help.  

Pressure from society or clergy 

Often, people feel pressure from societal expectations or from religious communities that advocate for keeping a marriage together no matter what. This pressure can be intensified when there are children, for the partner being abused may not want their children to grow up without the other parent as a significant figure in the child’s life. 

 Victims can fear being alone in a society that is couple-orientated, and they may have been told that they are unlovable and no one else would ever care for them. 

How we help: 

No two situations are ever the same. On average, it can take up to 8 times before a victim can successfully leave their abuser, oftentimes finding themselves without money, a support network, or a place to go. They may be terrified from threats of extreme violence, even death, by their abuser.

We help survivors safety plan based on their unique circumstances, help them understand their rights, and let them know that they are never alone and always have a place to go. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please call our free, confidential 24-Hour Hotline at 262.542.3828. Learn more about what to expect when calling our 24-Hour Hotline here

A longer list of reasons and some additional background about why people stay in abusive relationships is available in these articles from our partners: