According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence one in three American women experiences physical abuse by an intimate partner at some point during her lifetime. For those of us who have had the good fortune of never being in an abusive relationship our initial reaction may be to ask: “Well, why doesn’t she just leave”? The harsh reality is that there are many reasons why it is simply not easy for a woman to immediately walk out of an abusive relationship. Here are some of the reasons why women may not feel that they can leave an abusive partner:
For many women throughout the world, fear is the primary reason why they do not leave the relationship. There are many different reasons why women are afraid to walk away. Some fear that if they leave their current partner, they will remain alone forever. Other women are afraid of becoming independent and constantly doubt if they can survive without the economic support from their abusive partner. Many women are afraid of the physical consequences of leaving an abusive partner, and unfortunately their fear is not without good reason. Statistics show that 70 percent of domestic violence murders occur after the woman leaves the relationship. Aside from the possibility of being murdered, women that leave an abusive relationship are subject to stalking by their abusive exes and this can even continue after this abusive ex-partner is remarried.
Sometimes people will blame the women in abusive relationships because they assume that these women are attracted to the “bad boy” types. This may be true for a minority of women, but it is certainly not true for all women. The reality is that most relationships start off in a positive way. Most abusive men are not abusive during the beginning of a relationship. On the contrary, most of these men are quite charming and act very gentleman-like, and it is this kind and gentle behavior of theirs that attracts the woman to them. Aside from just being nice and seemingly caring, these men may show certain emotional vulnerabilities with this woman (for example, they may share a sad/tragic story or event that occurred in their life) which may add to the charm factor. Often, even when the very first acts of abuse occur, a while afterwards the man will often return to his charming ways by acting and feeling very apologetic and doing and becoming romantic again to appease the woman.
Many women stay in an abusive relationship because of the children that they share with their abusive partner. Living with a father who is abusive towards the mother is far from an ideal situation for the children. However, oftentimes women stay because they feel that it is in the best interest of their children. These women may feel guilty about separating the children from their father. Some women may feel that they will not be able to financially support their children if they leave their abusive partner. Some women may worry about the safety of their children, because even if a woman does leave, the courts may grant the father partial custody or at least grant the father unsupervised alone time with the children, and the woman may worry that during this alone time the abusive man could brainwash the innocent children against her, or in the worst case, the man may start behaving abusively towards the children.
Oftentimes a man may directly or indirectly pressure the woman into feeling a sense of guilt. The source of guilt is often indirect because the woman simply feels that she is responsible for the well-being of the man. Other times the man may very directly make the woman feel guilty by threatening her with the negative consequences that will supposedly occur if she leaves. In extreme cases, he may threaten to kill himself if she leaves. Alternatively, he could threaten her or her family.
5. Financial needs or dependency.
One of the reasons why it is very difficult for some women to leave an abusive relationship is all of the logistical issues that come along with leaving, and the majority of these logistical details center on financial dependency. Many of these women are married to, or at least live with, their abusive partner. They simply cannot just get up and leave. Often, due to financial reasons, they have to think about the basic logistics such as where are they going to stay, what are they going to eat, etc. As mentioned earlier, these concerns become even more prominent if children are involved.
6. They don’t know they’re being abused.
Some women simply do not even realize that they are in an abusive relationship. These women are certainly not ignorant. If their friends, colleagues, or others go through similar abuse, they can easily see that this is abuse. However, they fail to believe they themselves could be victims of abuse. This maybe especially true of highly educated and/or accomplished women who are successful in other areas of life.
In the United States, one third of all domestic violence victims are women between the ages of 16-24. For many of these women, this is their first or one of their first relationships that they are in and this may affect some of their decisions.
Some women may feel ashamed that they have tolerated such abuse and they may avoid telling others, even close friends and family, for fear of being judged. The society and culture that a woman lives in can affect her decisions as well. In certain societies, divorce is still looked down upon, so women may feel that they will be judged by others if they leave an abusive marriage.
8. Damaged self-esteem.
After a certain period of time, the abuse may start affecting the woman’s mental health and well-being. She may start believing that she is unworthy of being treated with love and respect.
Unfortunately, the victim may be impacted so much by the abuse that they completely separate or disassociate themselves with the abuse. This individual may eventually start displaying symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). At this stage, the victim is in trauma (due to the abuse) and this detachment from the trauma is unhealthy, but it is the way the victim is trying to cope with their trauma. According to psychologists, some of the symptoms of PTSD include:
- Trouble remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself and the world
- Having distorted feelings like guilt or self-blame
- Loss of interest in the activities that they once enjoyed.
PTSD is a very dangerous state to be in for anyone, but especially for abuse victims, because they may feel further isolated from friends and family and it prevents them from seeing the abuse as the real problem that it is. PTSD may inhibit the victim from taking the necessary steps to leave the relationship.
10. They fall into the trap.
As mentioned earlier, intimate relationships often start off with the man being on his best behavior and showing his charming and kind side to the woman. The abuse usually starts off gradually when the man may take steps to isolate the woman and then gradually introduce the physical and/or emotional abuse. Also, occasionally manipulation is used.
The steps that are taken may vary from one couple to another, but there is a general cycle of abuse and eventually the victim becomes trapped into the vicious cycle of violence and they have trouble leaving for many of the reasons mentioned above.
The next time you see or hear of anyone who is the victim of an abusive relationship, please avoid judging them because the reasons they have not yet left the relationship are many and varied. Instead, if possible, encourage them to seek help by contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline.