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The Challenges and Effects of Leaving An Abusive Situation

Leaving an abusive relationship is very hard to do. A victim of domestic violence does not stay in the relationship because she/he likes the abuse. There are many circumstances and factors that impact the difficult decision and act of leaving an abusive relationship. And when a victim leaves an abusive relationship she/he is at a 75 percent greater risk for being killed by her/his partner. The abuse also does not always end once she/he has left the relationship.

There are many possible barriers to a victim leaving an abusive situation:

• fear for her/his own life and the lives of those she/he loves (The abuser has threatened to commit suicide or to kill her/him, children, family, friends, or pets if she/he leaves.)

• fear that no one will believe her/him (The abuser appears as a good person in public.)

• fear that the abuser will take the children away or call social services

• fear that the abuser will find her/him (That’s what happened the other times she/he left. Why would this time be different?)

• fear that she/he always will be looking over her/his shoulder wherever she/he goes because no one can guarantee her/his safety if she/he leaves

• fear that law enforcement will arrest her/him and take the children

• fear that she/he will be deported or threatened with deportation if she/he is an undocumented immigrant

• fear that the abuser will “out” the victim to family, friends, neighbors, and employer in same-sex relationships.

• fear that she/he may face retaliation or the loss of needed care if she/he is a person with a disability being abused by a caregiver (She/he may also fear she/he will never have another relationship if this one ends.)

• fear that the abuser will deny the abuse when asked about it and that others will blame the victim or think she/he is crazy

• fear of making it on her/his own if she/he has low self-esteem, self-confidence, and personal power (Many abusers seek to control their partners by emphasizing their incompetence and repeatedly stating that their partners would be unable to function independently. Because women often define themselves by their success or failure as a wife or mother, when things are not going well at home they may take responsibility for the troubled relationship and feel lower self-esteem. A victim may be professionally or socially successful, yet only feel a sense of private failure.)

• fear of losing societal or socioeconomic status

The victim doesn’t leave because of the frequency and severity of the abuse.

• Abuse is unpredictable. It may occur frequently over short periods or only once in a while. The abuser may promise the victim that this time will be the last. The victim wants to believe that this is true and that things will be like they were in the beginning of their relationship.

• Abuse may be minimized. If she/he is not being physically abused, she/he may not consider the situation as being “severe or bad enough” to leave.

Another barrier for the victim leaving might be the victim’s sense of shame, embarrassment, or blame.

• The victim doesn’t think anyone will believe or understand her/him or will wonder how she/he got into such a relationship and question her/him as to why she/he hasn’t already left.

• Family and friends continually blame the victim for the abuse, by asking “Why don’t you just leave?” or “What did you do to make him/her mad?”

• The abuser has told the victim that the abuse is her/his fault and she/he believes it. The abuser wasn’t abusive in the beginning, so it must be the victim. The victim believes she/he can make the abuse stop if she/he can just get it right by anticipating the abuser’s every need and comply with those demands.

• Family and friends are angry with the victim for staying in the relationship and have withdrawn their support. The victim feels even more isolated and alone and believes she/he has no one.

• The victim may be embarrassed about some of the things she/he has done or was made to do in the relationship.

Another barrier for the victim to leaving might be financial worry.

• The victim may have little or no work skills and wonders how to find employment that will enable her/him to provide adequate shelter, food, clothing, and child care for her/his family.

• The abuser may harass the victim and threaten her/his safety and others in the workplace, if she/he is employed.

• The victim may have been fired from previous employment due to the abuser’s ongoing harassment on the job or absenteeism due to injuries or emotional stress suffered in the relationship. Therefore, it could be difficult to find new employment.

• The victim may have little or no access to cash. The abuser makes all the financial decisions and controls all the money and important financial documents.

• The abuser may have destroyed the victim’s credit. Therefore, the victim is unable to obtain a home and other necessities to provide for her/his family.

• The victim may fear losing a job if abuse is reported.

Another barrier for the victim to leaving might be her/his feelings.

• The victim may still love her/his partner or the person she/he first fell in love with and she/he remains hopeful that it can still work out.

• The victim believes that she/he is the only one who can help the abuser overcome his/her “problem” or “bad temper.”

• The victim is depressed, making it difficult to take action.

• The children love their father/mother and don’t want to leave their school, home, or friends.

• The victim may believe that as long as the children have a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothes on their backs, she/he can stand the abuse.

Another barrier for the victim leaving might be beliefs about marriage and relationships.

• The victim believes that what happens in one’s family is a private matter. No one, including law enforcement, judicial system, neighbors, co-workers, friends, or extended family should get involved.

• The victim believes that children need two parents in the home regardless of the situation. The victim may believe that she/he can stand the abuse as long as the abuser doesn’t abuse the children.

• The victim has strong religious beliefs about marriage and church, and clergy people encourage her/him to stay and work it out.

• The victim believes in rigid female/male roles in relationships where the male is “king of his castle” and has the right to do whatever he wants in his own home.

• The victim believes that it is the woman’s responsibility to make the relationship work.

Another barrier for the victim leaving might be lack of resources and support.

• Victims lack resources to leave abusive partners and start new lives. This includes affordable and dignified housing, child care, health care, and adequate paid employment.

• Oppressed populations feel the impact of pervasive racism and negative experiences with societal systems and may not trust judicial personnel, law enforcement, or social service, and community agency representatives.

• Abusers suffer little or no consequences -- there lives remain virtually unchanged -- while the victims continually are disrupted, relocated, and forced to leave their homes, neighborhoods, family, friends, job, and schools in an effort to keep safe.