One of the most commonly asked questions about domestic violence is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” 

The reality for many victims of abuse is that there are often real challenges to leaving the relationship.  It is rarely as simple as just deciding to go and doing it.  Leaving an abusive relationship is a process that can vary in length from one person to the next.  Some individuals may choose to leave quickly and may have the resources to do so, but for others barriers may need to be addressed first. 

Additionally, asking this question places the burden of the abuse further on the victim.  We divert the focus off of the person committing the abuse and can unintentionally blame the victim for what is happening to them, even though we know it is never their fault.  Instead, we can choose to ask questions such as, “Why is that person choosing to abuse?” and “How can I help the victim find safety?”.

Some common barriers to leaving an abusive relationship are listed below.  When talking to someone about leaving an unsafe relationship, these issues may be explored to discover each person’s individual challenges and find ways to help.

  • Attachment, Love, & Hope for Change – Ending a relationship is rarely easy.  Even if your partner is hurting you, you may still feel love for them and a hope that they will change their behavior. 

  • Children – Parents may desire their children to live in a two parent home, or have the financial support of both parents.  Fear of losing custody during separation may occur.

  • Concern for the Safety of Others – Abusive partners may threaten to harm themselves, household pets, children, or others if the survivor leaves the relationship.

  • Cultural Expectations – Cultural and religious norms may provide pressure to maintain the relationship.

  • Dependency for Basic Needs – If the survivor is elderly, has medical needs, or lives with a disability they may rely on the abusive partner for caretaking.

  • Economic Stability – A survivor of violence may not have adequate means to support themselves, particularly if their abusive partner exerted financial control.

  • Fear – A reality of domestic violence is that danger often increases when the victim decides to leave.  Fear of retaliation is a valid concern.

  • Housing – Affordable housing is limited and survivors may have nowhere to go when they leave.

  • Immigration Status – Survivors who have immigrated to the U.S. may fear deportation or legal complications if seeking assistance.

  • Lack of Social Support Systems – A common tactic of abusive partners is to isolate victims from their friends and family, resulting in a loss of support systems to turn to.

  • Shame and Stigma – Societal attitudes about domestic violence can result in survivors experiencing shame, embarrassment, or guilt about what has happened to them.