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Home / Articles / Escaping Violence / Barriers to Leaving, Part 2

Barriers to Leaving, Part 2

Why doesn’t she just leave? A DV survivor gives possible reasons for staying

  • By
  • Feb 03, 2016
Barriers to Leaving, Part 2

Her son was only 2 ½ when Sarah Buel, JD, clinical professor of law at Arizona State University, left an abusive husband. One day, before leaving, she saw her son slap his stuffed teddy bear across the face and tell him, “I told you not to ever say that!” Buel, horrified, could have sworn her son had never witnessed the abuse she had endured at the hands of her husband, but clearly, she told the State Bar of Arizona, he had. It was her wake-up call. “I had to get out of there.”

Today, after graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School and founding the Harvard Battered Women’s Advocacy Project, she works as a clinical professor of law at Arizona State University, and has worked with other survivors for the past 30 years.

When she left, she calls herself “extraordinarily blessed” for having a “loving, supportive mother that I could turn to. Many, many, many survivors have nobody.” A lack of any type of support system is just one reason why survivors might stay with an abuser. Buel compiled a list of 50 reasons why leaving an abusive partner is always much harder than just walking out the front door. You can read the first 10 reasons in Part 1, here. Below, her next 10 reasons.

11. Pressure from family members. Family pressure is exerted by those who either believe that there is no excuse for leaving a marriage or have been duped into denial by the batterer’s charismatic behavior, says Buel.

12. Fear the abuser will retaliate. Survivors are often scared their abuser will retaliate, either toward them or their children, when they leave. Since the abuser has already carried out his threats of abuse in the past, a survivor will take seriously these new threats.

13. Fear of losing child custody. This fear, says Buel, can immobilize even the most determined abuse survivor. Abusers know nothing will devastate the survivor more than seeing his or her children endangered, so using the threat of custody becomes yet another weapon for the abuser, heightening his power and control tactics to further terrify the survivor. Learn more about how to prepare yourself for a custody battle in the article “Battered Mothers Custody Conference.

14. Financial abuse. This can take many forms, depending on the couple’s socioeconomic status, but the batterer may control anything from access to all financial records, credit cards and bank accounts to convincing survivors they are incapable of making any financial decisions. Buel says survivors are sometimes forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions as well, at which point, the abuser tells them they will face prison terms for their part in perpetuating a fraud if they tell someone. For free, online tools to help you become financially independent, see, “Do You Know Where Your Money Is?

15. Financial despair. A consequence of the above, many survivors who experience financial abuse may realize they are dependent on the abuser for all financial needs. The survivor may have to turn to an insufficient amount of welfare to provide for herself/himself and the children, and may be more likely to return to the abuser who promises financial security.

16. Gratitude. Survivors may feel a sense of gratitude toward the batterer because he has helped support and raise her children from a previous relationship. Or, the survivor may have a serious health problem through which the abuser has supported them. “You are so lucky I put up with you; certainly, nobody else would” is a common message abusers use to convince their victims no one else would want them.

17. Guilt. This is a common feeling among survivors whose abusers have convinced them that it is because of the survivor’s “incompetent” behavior that the abuse occurs.

18. Homelessness. Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Homeless abuse survivors face increased danger as they struggle to meet basic survival needs while simultaneously attempting to elude their batterers.

19. Hope that the violence will end. A survivor’s hope of peace at home is often fueled by the abuser’s promises to change, pleas from children, some clergy member’s urgings to “just pray more,” a family’s pressure to save the relationship and other well-intentioned, but dangerously misguided counsel. Many survivors want so desperately to believe that their abuser will change, not realizing that without serious interventions, chances are slim the abuse will stop.

20. Isolation. Over time, abusers often cut off a survivor from communicating with their family, friends and colleagues. It’s a manipulation tactic that increases the likelihood a survivor will stay with the abuser. Without safety plans or reality checks, it’s more difficult for a survivor to assess his or her true level of danger. Living in a rural community can be another type of isolation barrier a survivor can face. Learn more in “A Rural Barrier.

Editor's Note: See Barriers to Leaving articles Part 1, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5, or click through the 1-50 list here.