“Why doesn’t she just leave?”

“Why doesn’t she just leave?” or “Why does the victim stay?”

The better question to ask here is “Why does the abuser do this?”  In fact, the focus on the survivor and why they do not leave is part of the larger pattern of victim-blaming .  That being said, it is important to understand why someone may not be able to leave an abusive relationship (and answer the question “Why doesn’t she just leave?”) so we can know how to help the survivor gain access to safety.

Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship – It is important to understand that there are many barriers to safety in an abusive relationship. Leaving can sometimes be dangerous and there are many factors an abused partner must consider in the analysis of how to respond to an abusive partner:

  • Fear: of retaliation from the abuser; of being alone
  • Forced contact: often victims are forced to see their abusers in classes, at community centers, in extracurricular activities, in dorms, or just around campus in general
  • Community: the victim and abuser may share a common community, such as a friend group, and breaking up risks that many in that group will blame the victim for leaving
  • Isolation: from friends, family, community support, resources
  • Threats: the abusive partner may threaten to commit suicide or hurt their partner/children, other loved ones and/or pets, threaten to call INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services), threaten to take the children, threaten to “out” their partner to family or coworkers…
  • Lack of resources or information about available resources
  • Hope/belief that partner will change
  • Love and concern for partner’s well-being (fear that partner will be arrested, imprisoned, deported etc.)
  • Economic necessity
  • Shelters are full
  • Culture/ religion/ family pressures to stay together
  • Shame and guilt
  • Depression
  • Belief that the abuse is their fault
  • Immigration status: fear of deportation without partner’s support, fear of separation from children, law enforcement etc.
  • Children: desire to provide them with a two-parent home, custody concerns etc.

You can also download this information as a handout.

Adapted in part from Corasupport.org