Updated: Mar 1, 2022
Why can't she just leave? This is a very common question that comes up in domestic abuse cases in intimate relationships whether the couple involved are married or still dating.
If you are one of the many people who just can't comprehend why survivors remain with the perpetrators, well, you're in the right place. This post is for you as it provides some insights into the reasons some victims of domestic abuse feel helpless & hopeless even when they have enough support to leave the abuser.
I believe it's common knowledge that domestic abuse is no respecter of gender. Men and women can be caught up in intimate abusive relationships. However, inherent patriarchal privileges make more women vulnerable to domestic abuse than men are. It doesn't mean the lower percentage of men in abusive relationships is being ignored.
In fairness to those who have not directly experienced domestic abuse, it's really difficult for them to fathom the justification for staying in such toxic relationships when violence comes home. It's a no brainer, right? Well, it's not always that simple and I will explain.
The hard truth
First, the understanding of what domestic abuse is. For many people, when they hear about domestic abuse, they only think of physical abuse and the worst case scenarios. But physical abuse is usually the aftermath of other forms of abuse.
Realistically by the time a woman experiences physical abuse, she would have endured other types of domestic abuse.
Secondly, domestic abuse rarely occurs as a one-off incident. It is typically a repeated pattern of intentional, abusive, life threatening and coercive behaviours which could be physical or non-physical that the abusive partner inflicts on the other party. Please read the post on the cycle of abuse
I want to believe that you've read the two links above. Right?? Now that we understand the types of domestic abuse and the cycles in which they occur, we can now look at some of the reasons domestic abuse victims ''don't just leave''
Long term manipulation of cultural values often forces people to accept mediocrity as cultural values whereas they are indeed 'cultural sentiments'. Cultural sentiments could be sentimental attachments to what is being perceived as a taboo or forcibly accepted as ways of life. In some cultures, it is considered a taboo for a woman to leave her marital relationship, or a woman once married should never leave her husband regardless or they'll face the wrath of condemnation by the society and rejection by family and friends with whom they share the same or similar cultural sentiments.
Perceived religious doctrines often limit a victim of abuse to feeling trapped in abusive relationships. Some may feel they're offending God by reporting the abuse, seeking help or leaving. Faulted religious beliefs could also be as a result of spiritual abuse by not only the abuser but the religious leaders as well. For instance, where Christians in abusive relationships are being intimidated that God hates divorce, women are reminded that a wise woman builds her home and must continue to endure the abuse while fervently praying for the abuser. Victims in such situations often feel guilty and entrapped making it difficult for them to seek necessary help.
Personal beliefs are ideas individuals hold to be true which are often influenced by culture, religion, environment, mentors or life experiences. Knowingly or unknowingly due to faulted parental upbringing, peer pressure and the immediate environment the victim was raised in, some victims of domestic abuse adopt a sense of personal attachment to the abuser. Such personal beliefs could be seeing themselves as failures if they leave the abuser, personal conviction that they can change the abuser, perception of the value attached to marital relationship status. A victim with these types of orientation or personal beliefs will struggle to seek help or accept support to leave an abusive relationship
Perceived Personal Gains
There are circumstances where some victims may not leave an abusive relationship because of some form of personal benefits the victim enjoys or perceive to enjoy as a result of the relationship they have with the abuser. This could be direct or indirect financial gain, victims' social status, abuser's social or business networks.
Abusers are usually tactical about exerting control and instilling fear in their victims usually by initially ensuring their targets trust them, then affirm their victims with a committed relationship afterwards. The different forms of abusive behaviours are often subtle and unleashed gradually in such a way the victim may not notice soon enough. Through coercive control, manipulation and gaslighting the victim is gradually stripped of their own self-identity and self-esteem which then make it difficult for them to even realise that they're being abused as they begin to doubt themselves and their own reality.
Economic Abuse/Financial dependency
Abusers are often controlling. Many victims of abuse are often prevented from working or running any form of business so that the abuser can control and intimidate them. There could be threats to withdraw financial support for the woman or the children if the woman leaves the relationship. In many cases where there's financial or economic abuse, limited access to funds or absolute lack of financial independence make it difficult for victims to leave the abuser.
A greater degree of the fear experienced by victims of domestic abuse comes primarily from the fear instilled by the abuser. Other fears could be fear of being alone, fear of rejection by family members and close friends, fear of being judged, condemned or chastised by the society. Fear of not being believed about the abuse because many abusers usually have an aura of positive and responsible outward appearance. Fear of uncertainty, fear of failure based on personal beliefs, fear of starting life all over again especially where the victims have been grossly controlled or prevented from making any independent decisions. There's also the fear of becoming a single parent or raising children alone considering the general misconceptions of children raised by single parents becoming vulnerable to unruly behaviour in the society or ending up in the prison accompanied by the broken home syndrome. More on that in next point below
Children & The Broken-Home Syndrome
I've often heard victims of domestic abuse say they only remain in the relationship for the sake of the children. Also, many women especially are also often ill-advised to stay in an abusive relationship for the same reason. The thing is, domestic abuse affects the children directly as much as it affects the parent being abused.
Children should not and must not be raised either in a toxic environment or by a toxic person. Most parents are usually their children's first teachers and heroes. The home is the primary learning environment for children who usually learn by what they see. Exposure to domestic abuse is often traumatic for children. It's one of the reasons we are now faced with a generation of broken adults with unresolved childhood trauma from direct or indirect traumatic experiences such as sexual violence, being yelled at, abandonment, condemnation or loss of a loved one
The broken home syndrome is a misguided notion of a single parent household being referred to as a 'broken home'. Whereas, the reality is that a broken home is, in fact, a highly dysfunctional home where there has been exposure to any form of domestic abuse or substance misuse and not a single parent household. Many successful world known leaders today were raised by single parents.
Shame & Isolation
The shame experienced by domestic abuse victims comes from general misconceptions, personal beliefs and possible verbal abuse by the abuser. I have heard many clients express feeling ashamed of admitting they're being abused. Also, abusers usually isolate their victims through various controlling and monitoring tactics by cutting off their immediate network of family members and/or friends, therefore, making it extremely difficult for the victim to seek necessary support and help. Victims may be consistently prevented from visiting family members or friends alone, or even going to the grocery store. They may be prevented from having private telephone conversations or none at all with their emails or social media accounts being completely monitored by the abuser.
Societal stigma stems from a general lack of understanding of domestic abuse. Personally, I'm of the opinion that societal stigma around domestic abuse is basically a form of reverse psychology or mental enslavement where victims have been manipulated long enough, from many generations before us, to bear the shame and responsibilities of an abuser's behaviour.
I genuinely can't think of any other logical explanations as to why someone who has been abused should hide and live in shame while the perpetrator has the audacity to go about their daily business with confidence as if they've done nothing wrong.
What do you think about Societal Stigma? Please share your views on this in the comment section.
Risk to life
Sadly, a greater percentage of homicide from domestic abuse happens either when the woman prepares to leave the abuser or after she leaves and have ended the relationship. There could be a risk of harm not only to the victim but also to the children, relatives and support workers. Bear in mind that domestic abuse can be perpetrated by a current or an ex-partner/spouse. Most perpetrators of domestic abuse are often highly entitled, controlling and manipulative and would consider their target/victim leaving them an exposure of their negative behaviour and a perceived threat. This often happens where the abuser is either narcissistic, psychopathic or sociopathic whether they're clinically diagnosed as such or not
According to the latest ' UK Femicide Census' published in December 2018 on the Women's Aid website here , Page 4 of the publication indicates that ''152 (76%) of women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse between January 2009 and December 2015 were killed within the first year that followed their separation''
Have you ever read about, heard of or seen situations where a woman who has been brutally abused, with possible near-death experience insists on remaining in the relationship with the abuser after being saved?? Yeah? That's a typical example of trauma bonding. It's a form of loyalty or strong emotional bond a traumatised victim develops over time for their abuser/attacker/perpetrator.
Trauma bonding often occurs where there's prolonged exposure to domestic abuse as a result of some or all of the reasons stated above. Because domestic abuse often happens in cycles, trauma bonding develops from those periods of intermittent rewards, punishments, empty promises, superficial apologies, denial, victim blaming and rationalisation of the abuse by the victim. The victim may also feel the need to protect the abuser by denying it or rejecting help and support.
Trauma bonding is often likened to Stockholm Syndrome which is a condition coined from a bank robbery that happened in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 where four hostages developed alliances for their captors and refused to testify against them in court. Read more on Wikipedia
There are some victims of domestic abuse who have no children with the abuser, they're financially independent, they have enough help and support available to them, but still find it difficult to leave the abuser. This is to show that leaving the relationship isn't as straight forward as people think.
I hope this brings some clarity.
What are your thoughts?
Please share your contributions in the comment section.