168: Why Victims Can’t ‘Just Leave.’


Have you ever wondered why victims don’t leave abusive relationships?
Have you ever wondered why YOU didn’t leave the abusive relationship?

If so, you’re not alone. I talk about this a lot because I’m so passionate about it. I want people to understand that it’s so much more difficult than we realize.

I’ve talked about trauma bonds which is a VERY real reason why victims can’t ‘just leave.’ But in this post we’re going to discuss the societal reasons that keep victims stuck.

TRIGGER WARNING: There’s no deep details, but there will be mention of some heavier topics related to abuse. If you feel you can’t deal right now, that’s totally ok! Keeping yourself mentally safe is so important.

A question that comes up a lot is “Well why didn’t you just leave?”

Instead of standing on my own soapbox, I’m going to reference an article entitled

“Why do victims stay?” (Source)

This article starts out with something really strong and really, really important.

“Abusers repeatedly go to extremes prevent the victim from leaving. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threats of separation by their partner, or actual separations, were most often the precipitating events that led to the murder.”

It shows that victims are put at an extreme risk for even considering leaving.

“The victim in violent relationships knows their abuser best and fully knows the extent to which they will go to make sure they have and can maintain control over the victim.”

The victim knows the violence of the abuser.

People think that if there’s a threat of abuse, it will be overtly obvious. They believe that it’s dangerous to believe a victim because they are probably lying.

What this does is tells the victim that what they went through didn’t happen and further makes them feel like it was their fault.

Believing that someone would ‘never do those things’ because you think you know them is the peak of ignorance.

It strips the dignity and hope from the victim piece by piece – and they already don’t have a lot left.

The reason why this is so dangerous is because, one, it could lead the encouraging the victim to stay with the abuser or it could lead someone to end their life because they believe it won’t get any better.

When it comes to abuse, understanding the realities and nuances is so incredibly important.

The other big misconception is what we think when we think of an abuser. The first thing we think of is a fat, bald dude with beer stains on his tank top. Amber bottles sloshing in his hand while he throws things and screams at people.

Yes – this stereotype exists for a reason. But the truth is that abusers can be very charming. They can be very kind and charismatic.

How do you think they hook the victims to begin with?!

Abusers do not want the world to know that they’re abusers, so why would they do something in front of you that’s going to get them in trouble?

“A recent study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders or bystanders.”

Two out of 10 people who die in domestic violence altercations are not even the victim.

“Additional barriers to escaping a violent relationship include but are not limited to:

the fear that the abusers actions will become more violent and may become lethal
unsupportive friends and family
knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
the victim feeling that the relationship is a mix of good times love and hope.

Along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear, it all boils down to cognitive dissonance which leads to a trauma bond. (Click here to learn more)

“The victims lack of knowledge of or access to safety and support.”

Please do not just say “go to a DV shelter.”

Absolutely, yes, those are resources. But one, those resources are not available everywhere. And unfortunately, they’re at full capacity more often than we realize. I am not discouraging anyone from going absolutely. If that’s a resource, please go seek help.

But if you don’t understand the realities of going to a DV shelter, don’t act like it’s the easiest decision to make.

“Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear the abuser will hurt or even kill their children.
Lack of means to support themselves and or their children financially.
Lack of access to cash, bank accounts or assets lack of having somewhere to go. For example, no friends or family to help no money for a hotel shelter programs are full or limited by length of stay.
Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave.
Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship.
Lastly, believes that two parent households are better for children despite abuse.”

I did this for a long time. I believed that it was better to stay so I could tell my son that I tried. Then realizing that it was more harmful to stay because he was seeing the interactions and he was seeing that as normal.

He was taking that and putting that in his brain as “this is what a family is, this is what love is.”

I don’t want that for him. I want him to know that families are loving, not abusive.

I had to let go of the guilt that I felt because the relationship ended.

Now I get the opportunity to show my son what it means to demand respect, to know that I deserve more. I get to build us a life from the ground up without relying on someone who’s gonna treat us like garbage.

“The societal barriers to escaping a violent relationship.”

This is a societally massive problem.

Statistics say that one in four women and one in five men (and I believe it’s closer to one in two and one in three respectively) are victims of abuse.

Anywhere where there is a group of people, there is a victim of abuse.

But the terrifying part is they may not even realize that they’re a victim.

That’s why it’s incredibly important for us to share and get this information out there.

“A victim’s fear of being charged with desertion, losing custody of children or joint assets
Anxiety about a decline in living standards for themselves and their children
Reinforcement of clergy or secular counselors of saving a couple’s relationship at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.”

This is so common. This is why when people come forward, and they share about their abusive parents, some will say, ‘Oh, but that’s your mom, you can’t hate them. Oh, well, that’s your dad, that’s your grandma. You can’t hate them. You can’t cut them out.’

We do this in a relationship setting as well, where people will say ‘I think I need to leave’ and they’ll get a response like ‘but your kid, they need to have a dad in their lives. They need to have the mom in their lives. You can’t cut the grandma out of there.’

This is because we value that over the respect and safety of the victim.

“Lack of support to victims by police officers and law enforcement who may treat violence as a domestic dispute instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person. Often victims of abuse are arrested and charged by law enforcement, even if they are only defending themselves against the batterer.”

Reactive abuse is very real. Anyone who is going to be in a leadership position whether they are are a police officer, a judge, a CPS worker, whatever. They need to understand what reactive abuse is and how to recognize it.

“The socialization of some made to believe that they are responsible for making their relationship work. Failure to maintain the relationship equals failure as a person.”

I relate to this one so much. I pined after my ex for so long because I felt like it was my fault and my responsibility to save the relationship.

If you relate to that you are not a failure. The relationship didn’t fail.

You were abused by someone who saw you as property.

That’s not a failed marriage, you chose to take your freedom back and that is incredibly powerful.

And I am so proud of you.

If you feel this could help someone, please share it. If you connected with it, please share it. It’s time to share the realities of abusive relationships.

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