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 https://www.ncdv.org.uk/
National Training Manager