Survivors of domestic violence from any and all socioeconomic levels, cultures and genders face valid and significant barriers to leaving their abusers, and they often share similar concerns. Any survivor can be worried about breaking up a family or can live in fear that their abuser will retaliate. Any survivor can lack outside support from family and friends or be too isolated to find help. Walking away from a relationship, especially when abuse is present, is not as simple as it sounds.
Sarah Buel, clinical professor of law at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, compiled 50 reasons why survivors may not be able to simply walk out the front door when their partner begins to abuse. Her comprehensive list comes from 30-some years of working with domestic violence survivors, as well as from her own experience escaping abuse. You can read the first 20 reasons in Part 1 and Part 2. Below, the next 10. Do any resonate with you?
21. Wanting to keep the family together. Survivors with children often believe it is in the best interest of their children to have the other partner in their life full-time. Unfortunately, they may not know about the adverse and long-term effects children can experience witnessing domestic violence. For more info, read “5 Facts About Children of Domestic Violence.”
22. Illiteracy. An astounding 45 million U.S. adults are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level, according to the Literacy Project Foundation. Without the ability to read job applications, apartment leases, court documents and other important correspondence, illiterate survivors may be dependent on their abuser for survival.
23. Incarcerated or newly released survivors. These victims often have few, if any support systems to assist them with reentry to the community, says Buel. Parole officers may require they return home after incarceration and may not be aware that their abuser is still there. Some incarcerated survivors have taken the fall for their abuser. When they return home, they may be forced by their abuser to perform illegal activities again in order to avoid further abuse or to prevent themselves from being killed.
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24. The abuser is in law enforcement. If the abuser is a police officer, the survivor may have fears that other officers will not help. He or she may also fear that reporting the abuse will cause the abuser to lose their job in law enforcement, which can be especially worrisome if that is the only income and if the couple will face poverty as a result. For ways to get help in this situation, read “When Your Abuser is a Police Officer.”
25. LGBTQ survivors. Lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and questioning survivors may feel trapped if they’re afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, which may be necessary in order to receive help, like when filing for a protection order. They may fear disclosing this information, or fear their abuser may reveal this information to those who may not know they are “out,” and thus lose relationships with family and friends or possibly lose their job as a result. They may have also experienced previous discrimination from law enforcement or the court system. For LGBTQ-specific groups survivors can reach out to, read “Violence Just as Prevalent in LGBTQ Relationships.”
26. Low self-esteem. Survivors with low self-esteem may believe they don’t deserve any better than the abuse, especially if they have grown up in families where abuse has been present.
27. Love. Yes, a survivor can still be in love with his or her abuser, even as he or she wants the violence to stop. Abusers are often very charismatic and charming during the courtship stage. Wanting the “good times” to come back, a survivor may believe they need to try harder to please the abuser, or they may rationalize that the abuse is only one aspect of an otherwise good relationship.
28. Mediation. In matters of family law, such as a report to law enforcement of domestic violence, mediation is still required in some jurisdictions. This puts the survivor in a dangerous position of having imbalanced power, not to mention the abuser will rarely show their true self in court. Survivors are left feeling that the abuser has controlled another facet of the court system through which the survivor may lose everything, from custody of the children to marital assets, says Buel. For similar reasons, “couples counseling” is also not recommended.
29. Health issues. Medical problems, for either the survivor or his or her children, could mean that a survivor must remain with the abuser in order to continue receiving proper medical care.
30. Mental illness. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in both the U.S. and Canada experience mental illness in a given year. For those with mental illnesses who are also being abused by their intimate partner, the challenges are often compounded. These survivors may be discriminated against or disbelieved, especially if their abuser convinces others that the victim is “crazy.” Abusers further keep these victims trapped by convincing them that no one will believe them if they reveal the abuse and that they are indeed “crazy.” If you’re not finding the support you need, read “When No Believes You,” for further advice.
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