Home Articles Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Many survivors with abusive partners are trapped out of fear

  • September 03, 2014
  • By domesticshelters.org
Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

A commonly heard question when it comes to violent relationships is, “Why doesn’t the victim just leave?” It seems obvious enough—if your partner is abusive, why would you stay? Unfortunately, it is often much more complicated than realized for a survivor to simply walk out the door.

“That is definitely a common assumption that you get from the public,” agrees Anna Marjavi, program manager with  Futures Without Violence, a national nonprofit aimed at advocacy to end violence against women. “The most important thing to know is that leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman. It’s the time when she’s most likely to be killed.” Often times, abuse can escalate after a survivor leaves because abusive relationships are based on a cycle of power and control. When an abuser feels he has lost control over his victim, he often uses violence as a way to coerce his partner to return, or as a form of retaliation for her leaving.

“The biggest factor [for not leaving] is fear,” says Marjavi. “A lot of women are threatened by their partner, who’ll say, ‘If you ever leave me, I’ll kill you,’ or ‘If you ever talk to anyone about what’s happening, I’ll kill you.’ They’re very intense threats.” An abusive partner may also threaten to harm the children, a survivor’s extended family or pets if the woman leaves. Marjavi says some abusive partners will kill a family pet as a warning on the seriousness of their threats. “This is why it’s important for women to work with an advocate so they can leave in the safest way possible,” says Marjavi.

Another reason a survivor may stay in an abusive relationship is because they find themselves financially dependent on the abuser. “Survivors may not have control of their own money, or even have a credit card,” says Marjavi. Without any financial resources, it may seem impossible to leave. Find out how to take control of your money in "Finding Financial Independence After Abuse."

Marjavi also says that many people also don’t think about how a survivor believes that she really loves the abuser, in spite of what she's enduring. “They [survivors] hate the behavior, but love the person and believe they can change.” This is where it can be frustrating for friends and relatives who try to help their loved one facing abuse. Those who haven’t experienced violence may not understand how strong the control is that the abuser has over his victim. 

There are so many barriers to leaving, in fact, that a Harvard law professor and survivor penned a paper outlining 50 different reasons why a survivor might be trapped with an abuser. 

Bottom line: It must be the survivor’s choice to leave. Providing a survivor with resources for help, such as shelters, advocacy groups and information about orders of protection, can be vital in convincing her that leaving is, indeed, a possibility. Find an advocate in your community that can help you, or a survivor you know, with safety planning and options for the future by entering your ZIP code in the DomesticShelters.org home page