Why don’t women leave abusive relationships?
One of the questions we hear time and time again is “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
We need to stop blaming survivors for staying and start supporting them to enable them to leave. By understanding the many barriers that stand in the way of a woman leaving an abusive relationship – be it psychological, emotional, financial or physical threats – we can begin to support and empower women to make the best decision for them while holding abusers solely accountable for their behaviour. Here are just a few of the reasons that prevent a woman leaving:
Danger and fear
One of the most important reasons women don’t leave is because it can be incredibly dangerous. The fear that women feel is very real – there is a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation. 55% of the women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse in 2017 were killed within the first month of separation and 87% in the first year (Femicide Census, 2018).
Domestic abuse often relies on isolating the victim: the perpetrator works to weaken her connections with family and friends, making it extremely difficult to seek support. Perpetrators will often try and reduce a woman’s contact with the outside world to prevent her from recognising that his behaviour is abusive and wrong. Isolation leads women to become extremely dependent on their controlling partner.
Shame, embarrassment or denial
Perpetrators are often well respected or liked in their communities because they are charming and manipulative. This prevents people recognising the abuse and isolates the woman further. The perpetrator often minimises, denies or blames the abuse on the victim. Victims may be ashamed or make excuses to themselves and others to cover up the abuse.
Trauma and low confidence
Imagine being told every day that you’re worthless and the impact that this has on your self-esteem. Victims have very limited freedom to make decisions in an abusive relationship, they are often traumatised, regularly told ‘you couldn’t manage on your own, you need me’. Fear is constant and they live in a world of everyday terror.
Abusers often control every aspect of their victim’s life – making it impossible to have a job or financial independence. By controlling access to money women are left unable to support themselves or their children. They may fear having their children taken away or, if she has an insecure immigration status, may fear being deported.
The support isn’t there when they need it
Asking for help is not easy. Misunderstandings about domestic abuse often prevents professionals from knowing what to do, how to talk about it or where to direct women disclosing abuse.
Useful articles and videos
Femicide Census (developed by Karen Ingala Smith and Women’s Aid Federation of England working in partnership, with support from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Deloitte LLP). (2018) The Femicide Census: 2017 findings. Annual Report on cases of Femicide in 2017. Published online: Karen Ingala Smith and Women’s Aid.