Why Does She Stay?
The Rural Advocacy Program (WRAP), has put together the following useful information to address this often asked question.
One of the most frustrating things for people outside a battering relationship is trying to understand why a woman doesn't just leave.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that extreme emotional abuse is always present in domestic violence situations. On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times. The reasons they return or stay in the relationship vary from case to case. Some of these include:
- Economic dependence: How can she support herself and the children?
- Lack of alternative housing: she has nowhere else to go.
- Lack of employment skills
- Ties to the community: The children would have to leave their school; she would have to leave all her friends and neighbours behind, etc. Ties to her home and belongings.
- Time needed to plan and prepare to leave
- Of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave
- That her partner will follow her and kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by her partner
- Of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.)
- Of emotional damage to the children
- Of losing custody of the children, often based on her partner's remarks
- Of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before
- Of the unknown: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't"
Lack of support
- Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family and friends.
- Social isolation resulting in lack of information about her alternatives.
- Lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, etc.
- Negative responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc.
- Family pressure; because Mom always said, "I told you it wouldn't work out." or "You made your bed, now you sleep in it."
- Unable to use resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, etc.)
- Insecurity about being alone, on her own; she's afraid she can't cope with home and children by herself.
- Loyalty: "He's sick; if he had a broken leg or cancer--I would stay. This is no different."
- Pity: He's worse off than she is; she feels sorry for him.
- Wanting to help:"If I stay I can help him get better."
- Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he's told her this).
- Denial: "It's really not that bad. Other people have it worse."
- Love: Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive. She remembers what he used to be like.
- Guilt: She believes--and her partner and significant others are quick to agree--that their problems are her fault.
- Shame and humiliation in front of the community. "I don't want anyone else to know."
Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change.
- Feeling helpless, as every previous attempt to make things better has failed.
- False hope: "He's starting to do things I've been asking for." (counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement.)
- Demolished self-esteem: "I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he's been calling her) to leave."
- Lack of emotional support -- she feels like she's doing this on her own and it's just too much.
- Simple exhaustion: She's just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.
- Belief that children will be damaged: "Kids need a father"
- Extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what
- Duty. "I swore to stay married till death do us part."
- "Acceptable Violence": The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
- Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship.
- Belief in the dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
- Identity. Woman are raised to feel they need a partner -- even an abusive one -- in order to be complete or accepted by society.
- Belief that marriage is forever.
- Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood).
- Religious and cultural beliefs.
A First Nations focus group has put together another list of reasons why women don't leave, simply titled "Barriers Facing First Nation Women". They include:
- Related to Chief, Council or Band office staff
- High cost of living
- Residential School Syndrome
- Adversarial court system foreign to Aboriginal values
- Unresolved grief
- Lack of police services
- Lack of safe/affordable/available housing
- Don't want to leave their homes
- Family ties and links to the community
- Not used to urban life
- Loss of culture
- Not used to systems, rules, imposed guidelines
- Loss of their space
- Homesick easily
- Legacy of abuses
- Internalized racism and toxic shame
- Isabel Johnson Shelter
- Children Exposed to Violence (Y's Kids)
- Information about Abuse
- Community Education
- Community ResourcesLinks