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    Why Don’t They Just Leave?

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    Why Don’t They Just Leave?


    There are many different attitudes about domestic abuse but if you are ever tempted to ask yourself, ‘Why don’t they just leave?’ try turning it on its head and ask yourself, ‘Why doesn’t the abuser just stop?’

    Even as professionals, we can feel helpless, even frustrated, working with people who are vulnerable and at risk but seem unable to break the bond and end an abusive relationship.

    In reality, there are so many reasons why someone would stay, that the odds are always stacked against them. Despite decades of support, legislation and services set up to help and support victims, it remains an incredible act of bravery. As professionals in the field, we should never underestimate what a courageous leap of faith it takes.

    Here are just some of the reasons people stay with abusers. It’s important to reassure them that there are solutions for every problem, even if they’re not easy to find. Thousands of people leave abusive relationships every year and move on into safe and happy futures. But when they are still in the thick of it we should take their reasons, fears and concerns seriously, and work with them to overcome barriers:-

    I need somewhere safe to live:

    Often, people don’t know where to go, or they don’t know how to get the abuser out of their home. They may not want to render themselves or their children homeless, and they may be unaware of refuges or other safe accommodation, or their rights under Housing Law. Unsuitable accommodation is one of the main reasons people return to abusive partners.

    I’m too afraid to leave:

    This is a real barrier for people who have been threatened or hunted down in the past. According to 2019 ONS data, between 1-2 women a week and 2 men each month are murdered by a current or former partner. This means that for some, their fears are completely valid. It’s a difficult concept for police and professionals to accept, but leaving can sometimes be more dangerous than staying, but these risks can be managed with specialist support and a robust safety plan.

    What about money?

    Economic abuse is often a factor in controlling and abusive relationships. It is extremely difficult to leave or start a new life if you have no money, or are in significant debt, no access to credit or no bank account.

    I still believe the abuse will stop:

    So many people cling to the belief that the abuser will change and the abuse will stop. This is fuelled by the complex cycle of abuse and the psychological effects of trauma bonding. Until this belief is shattered it’s likely that people will stay, or return after a split to give it another try.

    What about my immigration status:

    A person may be vulnerable due to their immigration status, especially if they are on a spouse visa. This is made even harder if they don’t speak English. Documentation, passports and correspondence are often controlled and managed by the abuser.

    I’m mentally exhausted:

    Ending a relationship is hard at the best of times, but it’s more difficult if a person’s experiences of abuse have destroyed their self-esteem or mental health. Making big life decisions and taking action under these circumstances can feel impossible.

    What about my pets?

    It is not always possible to take pets into temporary accommodation, but leaving them with the abuser might not be an option. Abuse, torture or starvation of pets can be used to blackmail a partner into returning to the family home. Research has shown a clear link between abuse of pets and domestic abuse.

    I have a disability:

    Those with disabilities are at increased risk and cannot easily leave a specially adapted home. They may rely on the abuser for care. Fleeing an abusive relationship is hard, but disability makes it even harder.

    I don’t want statutory services:

    People are naturally cautious about agencies like the police or social services becoming involved in their lives, particularly if they’ve had negative experiences in the past. This is one of the main reasons why domestic abuse can become a shared family secret with no one talking about it outside of the home.

    Anyone who faces barriers to leaving like the ones listed above, should be offered specialist support to manage their needs and risk. As part of this approach, NCDV can help with obtaining civil protection orders. Professionals can refer simply and easily via our website at


    Charlotte Woodward

    National Training Manager

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”