50 Obstacles to Leaving

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

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 20+ years of work in the domestic violence field.

50 Obstacles to Leaving

Advocate

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

Batterer

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

Believes Threats

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

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.

Children’s Pressure

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

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.

Denial

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

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.

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.

Excuses

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

Family Pressure

Family members exert pressure if they believe there’s no excuse for leaving a marriage or if they’re in denial about the abuse.

Fear of Retaliation

The batterer has shown willingness to carry out threats and the victim fears harm to themselves or the children if they leave.

Fear of Losing Child Custody

The batterer has used the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can take many different forms depending on the couple’s socio-economic status — ex. If victims have been forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions.

Financial Despair

The victim realizes that they cannot provide for themselves or their children without the batterer’s assistance.

Gratitude

The victim feels gratitude toward the batterer because the batterer has helped support and raise their children from a previous relationship, or take care of them if they have health, medical or other problems.

Guilt

Batterers have convinced victims that the violence is happening because it’s their fault.

Homelessness

Homeless abuse victims face increased danger, as they must find ways of meeting basic survival needs of shelter, food, and clothing while attempting to elude their batterers.

Hope for the Violence to Cease

This hope is typically fueled by the batterer’s promises of change, pleas from the children, or family’s advice to save the relationship.

Isolation

The victim has been cut off from family, friends and colleagues and lacks a support system or people to stay with.

Keeping the Family Together

Victims believe it is in their children’s best interest to have their father or a male role model in the family.

Illiterate Victims

Illiterate victims may be forced to rely on the literate batterer for everyday survival.

Incarcerated or Newly Released Abuse Victims

Such victims often don’t have support systems to assist them with re-entry to the community. Parole officers may require that they return home if that appears to be a stable environment.

Law Enforcement Officer

If the perpetrator is a law enforcement officer, the victim may fear that other officers will refuse to assist or believe them if they come forward.

LGBTQ+ Victims

Victims may feel silenced if disclosing their sexual orientation (to qualify for a protective order) could result in losing their job, family, and home.

Low Self-Esteem

Victims may believe they deserve no better than the abuse they receive.

Love

Since many batterers are initially charming, victims fall in love and may have difficulty altering their feelings with the first sign of a problem.

Mediation

Mediation can put the victim in the dangerous position of incurring the batterer’s wrath for disclosing the extent of the violence.

Medical Problems

The victim must stay with the batterer to obtain medical services, especially if they share insurance.

Mentally Ill Victims

Victims face negative societal stereotypes in addition to the batterer’s taunts that the victim is crazy and nobody will believe anything that they say.

Mentally or Developmentally Challenged Victims

These victims are particularly vulnerable to the batterer’s manipulation and are likely to be dependent on the batterer for basic survival.

Military

If the victim or the perpetrator is in the military, an effective intervention is largely dependent on the commander’s response. Many commanders believe that it is more important to salvage the soldier’s military career than to ensure the victim’s safety.

No Place to Go

Victims can’t find affordable housing or there is no shelter space.

No Job Skills

Victims without job skills usually have no choice but to work for employers paying minimum wage, with few, if any, medical and other benefits.

No Knowledge of Options

Victims without knowledge of the options and resources logically assume that none exist.

Past Criminal Record

Victims with a past criminal record are often still on probation or parole, making them vulnerable to the batterer’s threats to comply with all of their demands or be sent back to prison.

Previously Abused Victims

Sometimes previously abused victims believe the batterer’s accusation, “See, this is what you drive your partners to do to you!”

Prior Negative Court Experiences

Victims don’t believe that they will be given the respect and safety considerations that they need in court.

Promises of Change

The batterer’s promises of change may be easy to believe because they sound sincere. Victims are socialized to be forgiving.

Religious Beliefs

Beliefs may lead victims to think they have to tolerate the abuse to show their adherence to the faith.

Rural Victims

Victims may be isolated and simply unable to access services due to lack of transportation, or the needed programs are distant and unable to provide outreach.

Safer to Stay

Assessing that it is safer to stay may be accurate when the victim can keep an eye on the batterer, sensing when the batterer is about to become violent and, to the extent possible, taking action to protect themselves and their children.

Students

Students in high school or college may fear that untrained administrators will deny their requests for help. If the perpetrator is also a student, the victim often does not want them to be expelled from school.

Shame and Embarrassment

The victim doesn’t want to disclose the abuse or may deny that any problem exists.

Stockholm Syndrome

The victim may experience this syndrome and bond with the abuser.

Substance Abuse or Alcohol

Either the victim or offender’s substance abuse may inhibit seeking help, often for fear that the children will be removed.

Teens

Teens are at greater risk for abuse in their relationships than any other age group. Peer pressure, immaturity, no knowledge of resources, and low self-esteem all factor into the decision to stay.

Transportation

A lack of transportation condemns victims to a choice between welfare and returning to their abusers.

Unaware that Abuse is a Criminal Offense

This can occur often if family, friends and community professionals minimize the crimes.

Undocumented Victims

Victims facing complex immigration problems if they leave are often forced to stay with the batterers who may control their INS status.

Every person’s situation is unique, and you may be unable to leave a situation for a complex combination of different reasons. If you’re contemplating leaving an abusive relationship or struggling in one that you cannot leave, consider contacting The Hotline to speak confidentially with an advocate, and take a look at our resources on leaving safely.

*Sarah M. Buel is Clinical Professor, University of Texas School of Law (UTSL). She was founder and co-director, UTSL Domestic Violence Clinic; co-founder and consultant, National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence; and a former domestic violence, child abuse, and juvenile prosecutor and advocate. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Extension School and Harvard Law School.

 

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