One of the big questions we hear from everyone, kids included, is “why does my mom / sister / aunt / grandma / daughter stay? He’s hurting her, why can’t she just leave?”
This is a tough question for people to wrap their heads around. It seems SO EASY from the outside looking in. He’s hurting you, he’s an asshole – leave. Compound that with the little scenarios you have in your head about what you would do if “x, y or z” happened and it’s hard to comprehend why someone would not just get out.
There are two problems with this; one – it’s not always that easy to leave and two – the abuse doesn’t necessarily just magically stop and go away once you do leave.
There are a lot of reasons why someone might stay in a relationship that is unhealthy and / or dangerous. Often, there are many reasons kind of working together to create a big mess in your head that makes it difficult to see the possibilities around leaving and moving on.
Fear – is one of the most common feelings that help to keep people in unsafe places. People fear what will happen once they leave and this is often based on threats (some implied) and aggressive behaviour. The fear is valid no matter how silly it might seem to someone else. Fears might include threats to yourself, your family members, your pets, losing your kids and so on.
Believe the abuse is normal – many people don’t know what a healthy relationship is. Sometimes that’s because a person has grown up where there is abuse or has a history of abusive behaviour from other partners and sometimes it’s because a person becomes so accustomed to living like this they don’t realize the danger they are in.
Embarrassment – many folks don’t want to tell people that they are in an abusive relationship because they worry (and rightfully so in many cases) that others with judge them or that she’s done something wrong by getting involved with an abusive partner.
Low Self-Esteem – most people are constantly put down and blamed for the abuse and for everything that goes wrong and after a certain point, most people (even ones who you think are too strong for that to happen to) will believe it. It changes your world view and ultimately your view of yourself. If you came from a family environment where you were put down like that and / or had peers that treated you badly and then went into a relationship with also treated you the same way, you’re not going to feel very good about yourself no matter what others might say.
Love – there isn’t a magic switch at the side of our heads that lets us turn off the love emotion just because someone is abusive to us. Abusive relationships can be loving and appear caring at times when the abuse is not happening. This love and hope for a loving relationship keeps a lot of people in places that they might otherwise leave.
Social Pressure – if the abuser is popular or well-like, she may be afraid that no one will believe her and that people will take sides and based on what we see on social media, that’s a very valid fear. Just because someone is nice to others, doesn’t mean they can’t be abusive to their partner. People are not necessarily nice all the time in all environments the same way they’re not abusive and mean at all times in all environments. Many people put pressure to “work things out”.
Cultural / Religious reasons – sometimes a person culture or religion may strongly influence her to stay instead of breaking up the family and / or may actively blame her for not making her partner happy. In those cases, she has to leave not only her partner but her religious community as well (and often a primary source of support).
Parenting – Most people believe that it is better to have both parents raise the kids in the home than one and that somehow your kids will be damaged by the separation and divorce.
Money – most abused people are financially dependent on their partners and do not have enough money and / or access to any money or bank accounts. It’s very difficult to leave when you can’t afford a place to stay for the night or food for your kids.
Housing – many people feel like they have nowhere to go. Often, finding affordable housing is difficult (under good conditions) but when you add the money issues and the fact that there is a real lack of emergency and affordable homes combined there can be a real problem finding a place to live. Combine that with the fact that most abusers work hard to isolate abuse victims from family and friends and the victim may feel like they have no one to turn to because they’re estranged from others.
Distrust of police – many people have been taught to not trust the police and that they won’t help them. This can make it very hard for people to let the police help them stay safe.
This is a very short list of some of the more common barriers to leaving an abusive relationship. There can be numerous other factors also getting in the way. Many shelters, assault centres and victim service organizations have staff available to help people sort through the barriers and try to find some solutions. It’s not easy, but many times it is doable with a little help.