50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10

“It would take me yet another year of planning, forgiving, calling, reaching for help, before I could leave.” —Sarah Buel

reaching out for help

Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.

We know victim’s frustrations with feeling like the abuse is somehow their fault. If only they’d leave, right? Wrong. We know better. In fact, we’re taking a closer look at 50 reasons why it may be near impossible to leave. To answer the often-asked question “Why don’t you just leave?” we’ve adapted Sarah M. Buel’sFifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay” — 50 different reasons that she has encountered throughout her 22 years of work in the domestic violence field.

Follow along on the blog this week as we discuss 10 different obstacles each day.

1. Advocate: The victim doesn’t have an enthusiastic supporter on their side so may feel discouraged or hopeless.

2. Batterer: The batterer is wealthy, famous, powerful in the community, etc., and can afford to hire private counselor and pressure decision-makers.

3. Believes Threats: The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill them and the children if they attempt to leave.

4. Children’s Best Interest: The victim believes it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, especially if the abuser doesn’t physically abuse the children.

5. Children’s Pressure: The children put pressure (independently or by the abuser’s influence) on the abused parent to stay with their partner.

6. Culture and Race: Because of differences in race or culture, the victim worries about being treated unequally by the justice system if they come forward, or believes stereotypes about acceptable actions in their own culture.

7. Denial: The victim is in denial about the danger, instead believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.

8. Disabled: Victims who are disabled or physically challenged face obstacles in gaining access to court and social services, and may be isolated from basic info about resources.

9. Elderly: Elderly victims may hold traditional beliefs about marriage and believe they must stay, or are dependent on the batterer for care even in the face of physical abuse.

10. Excuses: The victim believes the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, blaming job stress or substance abuse for example.

Comment section

45 replies
  1. While I do appreciate this blog post and the others to come, as a DV survivor, I believe it is the wrong question for society to ask. It once again places the blame on the victim.

    I would rather empower victims/survivors by saying that we leave when we believe it’s the safest moment to do so, and not before. Those of us who have lived through DV and have left an abuser know how difficult it is to navigate a DV relationship, and as you note, many people are killed or permanently injured by their abusive partners during this period.

    Technically, there may be 50 reasons or 100 reasons why we don’t leave, but in my mind there is really only one: the trauma sets up a psychological dynamic that makes it nearly impossible for us to see or think clearly. If and when there is a moment of clarity, we may be able to find a safe way out — if there are resources available to assist.

    One last point: I am a white, highly educated, upper-middle-class woman. I was completely dismissed by the police and legal/”justice” system throughout my ordeal. He was believed; I was not. I was painted as the problem; he was seen as a saint. The point about culture/race being a factor does not ring true for me. Simple being female is enough to incur the wrath of the justice system.

    Thank you for the work you do.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with your statement, Lucy. From one survivor to another : I am glad you made it out. I am glad you are here. Anyone that HASN’T had to overcome however many of whichever obstacles to leave a violent relationship has NO clue how brave and strong you are and how dangerous the situation can be.
    I don’t know you, but I am proud of you =)

  3. Yes these are the typical reasons and I agree, it takes a team to leave abuse, not just the victim but another resin it’s hard to leave is because there is no law to protect you after the split. I have just been tortured in court in child custody and the abuse was not considered. I also couldn’t afford to leave as I would have to pay my abuser $300 a month in spousal support. There were so many times during my court case that I knew I would have to return to my abuser depending on the judgment that day. Society has a lot of work to do. IMO. Thank you for giving us a voice and all the progress that has been made.

  4. I am also a white middle class educated woman and it took me 20 years to leave my abuser. I left when I was strong enough and felt that the danger was minimal. I was fortunate though to have dealt with police officers who believed me and helped me.

  5. It took me 30 years to leave my abuser. I am a woman 70 years old and I have seven children. The emotional abuse was the worst. I felt like I was dumb and stupid. No education. After I left I finally got a voice and I haven’t stopped talking since. I am a woman and court advocate here in Mn.

  6. Lucy I agree with you that the psychological dynamic does make it extremely difficult to think clearly or positively enough to find a way out and that this is in fact the biggest obstacle to overcome..

  7. I live in a liberal urban environment, am Caucasian, have an advanced degree, am employed full time as a white-collar professional. I’ve done a lot of therapy to try to understand myself and do better in this life. I was sexually, emotionally and physically abused by my boyfriend of 2.5 years and it took me many tries to leave that relationship. I went over and over in my mind trying to figure out what was wrong with me, what I could do to make the relationship work. I was embarrassed and ashamed of what was happening and I was reluctant to tell anyone the real truth. Friends and family told me to stick with it and to lighten up, that good men are hard to find (especially at my age). I did get out, and I’m ok. Not great, but improving all the time. Now if a friend or coworker happens to tell me she’s having troubles, I’ll listen closely. If abuse is happening, I will not even hint that there’s something wrong with my friend for staying – she very probably has low self-esteem like I did. I will not judge another woman because I believe this mimics the abuse – and sides with the abusers. Men who abuse need to be held accountable, and that is where the focus will be for me going forward. That is what I am now committed to, and I hope it makes me a better, stronger woman and friend.

  8. Kathy, it took something pretty drastic for me to sort of “wake up.” I had reached out for help during my marriage — saw several counselors and also talked to someone in the abuser’s family with whom I was very close. No one helped me. I felt alone, and he had threatened my family so it made it difficult to go to them for help.

  9. The police seem to always be on his side because I really think they think I deserve the abuse because I have called on them so many times, yet I stay in danger. It may have alot do to with the fact that I am a white female with a black male that has had many many run ins with the law.

  10. I was abused for the first time last week. I have a black eye, black breast, bruised chest. bruised side, bruises that I feel but can’t see. Threats of death. I called the police and he told me he would beat the case and make things worse for me. I am white, he is black. He was going to say that I got into a fight with anothe female. He broke my glasses. He ripped off my favorite shirt. He violated my body trying to see if I had been with another man. I am broken. And I can’t leave because I rely on him to help pay the rent and bills even though he is addicted to gambling and drugs and the money is gone. I am just broken.

  11. JJ,

    I’m so sorry that you have gone through this. None should have to experience what you have gone through. I’m so glad you reached out to us online. I know this must have been very difficult to do. Abusive people will often try to manipulate the situation to make themselves look like the victim, even though they are the perpetrator.

    But you don’t have to do this alone. You have a right to be safe and there are people and organization that want to help you be safe. I would encourage you to call us at 1(800)799.7233. We are open 24/7 and we are completely confidential and anonymous. We can talk about a plan for your safety and also connect you to local resources like shelter, counseling or legal advocacy. There is support out there for you, all you need to do is reach out.

    Until then,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  12. Hey Stephanie,

    What you are saying is very common. Oftentimes, the police have no training around the dynamics of domestic violence and so don’t know what to look for. Other times, the cops are abusive themselves. And of course, I’m sure your abuser could turn on the charm when he had too and became a master manipulator. It can sometimes help to contact victim advocates services or internal affairs to get the justice that you deserve.

    I would encourage you to call us at 1(800)799.7233. We can talk about a plan for your safety and alternative solutions that do not involve the police. We are here 24/7 and are completely confidential and anonymous.

    Until then,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  13. Hi. I am a young disabled woman. I live in a wealthy area and have been in an abusive relationship with a very successful man for several years. He is very charming and very smart…
    I do not have family to go to as one parent is a very upper class popular person who abused me my whole life and refuses to help. My other parent recently passed. My friends are tired of helping me by letting me stay with them or hearing about the same problems.
    I feel very alone and scared and hopeless. I have no money and no job because I was ignorant and chose to not work because my partner wants to take care of me financially and because my disability can keep me from a high paying job.. It was also not acceptable for me to work a low paying job that my partner would be embarrassed of.
    I don’t think people believe me and Or think I need help. I don’t feel deserving of help. People assume that because I came from upper class and live in upper class… That I will have access to money and a place to live. I wish that were true. the little money I have from disability, goes straight to all my medication and medical doctor appts or hospital stays…
    I have no self esteem and have been living my life with the understanding that my appearance is my whole value.. This is also very important to my partner and so he pays $$$ for me to have work done and keep maintenance with constant beauty treatments and expensive gym memberships …. He doesn’t prefer my light colo skin so he pays for me to tan regularly and get airbrush tans.
    When I’m not sick, I’m working out to maintain my figure and getting Beaty treatments…
    Honestly, I feel im worthless without all of that and it’s one of the things that keeps me from leaving. I’m so ashamed and embarrassed.
    Besides that I feel I have no place to go that would be realistic. I’m sick half the time and the other half then what ?
    I’m an extreme animal lover and have been fortunate enough to be able to rely on my partner to afford a handful of rescue animsls that I can’t part with..
    Are there people out there that would even care ?
    I feel trapped. My relationship is physically, emotionally, mentally abusive. But I feel like I deserve it for not keeping my mouth shut when I need to. Plus I have reacted numerous times and fought back physically. So I’m just as bad aren’t I ? The last two times we broke up.. One I left with bruises all over my body from furniture being pushed ontop of me. Two I refrained from coming back when he wanted and he had someone follow me.
    I have been followed other times by other people he hires. He supplies everything I have including my phone and computer, which he installs software on to track what I do.

    I’m extremely depressed and hopeless. I’m sorry I had so much to say.

  14. Tracy,

    I am so sorry to hear of the physical, emotional and mental abuse that you are and have experienced. Abuse comes in many different forms and can affect anyone. You do not deserve to be abused. It must be very difficult feeling alone, scared, hopeless and trapped in this relationship. Even more so it must be scary not having support from your close family and friends. I want to let you know that you are not alone. You are not undeserving of help and help is available for you. I also want you to know that you are valuable and you are not worthless. It takes a lot of courage and strength to even open up and share with us about all that you are experiencing. I hope you will be able to give us a call so that we can talk about the help that is available for you. Our hotline number is 1-800-799-7233; we are available 24/7 and are completely confidential and anonymous.

    Your safety is also very important to us, I know you mentioned your husband monitors your calls and internet usage, please call us when you feel safe to talk.

    Again thank you for opening up and we look forward to you calling us so we can explore the options available for you.


  15. I left 5 years ago and they still believe him… you are absolutely right! He has a record, I do not, and now we are in a terrible custody battle and the likelihood of him winning custody is huge. I am a white woman and work for one of the largest defense companies in the US. Please keep fighting and empowering fellow survivors! ♥

  16. One of the biggest obstacles for male victims to leave is that men don’t like to think of themselves as victims. Changing the language of abuse from “victim” of abuse to “target” of abuse would go a long way towards allowing men into the conversation.

  17. Mark,
    It is completely understandable that some people might not feel comfortable being labeled as a victim. It can be important to be respectful of what individuals of any gender want to be identified as, if anything. That could be anything from victim to survivor to something completely up to them; opening up this can certainly open up the conversation to all, including men.

    Hotline_Advocate KK

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