Barriers to Leaving
Why Don't Survivors Just Leave?
Survivors face many barriers when they are making up their minds to leave an abusive relationship.
Survivors may be afraid that:
- Their batterers will kill them if they leave
- The violence will increase, based on their past experiences
- Their partners are not able to survive alone or may commit suicide
- The batterers will take the children or harm another family member
- The abuser may harm pets
- They will lose their children
In most cases, the fear is well founded. Survivors are at increased risk when they are leaving an abusive relationship. Those who have tried to leave may know they are at increased risk of severe violence if they try again. This "separation" violence may include:
- Stalking, harassment or threats
- Kidnapping the children or holding her hostage
- "Teaching them a lesson" for trying to leave
Lack of resources
Frequently survivors need a wide variety of resources to successfully leave a batterer. They may have limited resources to provide for themselves and their children, especially if they have been in an abusive relationship for a long time. They may need specialized services or assistance to fully heal from the abuse. The resources that survivors frequently need include:
- Money or financial resources for transportation, childcare, employment, food, clothing, housing, healthcare and insurance
- Community resources like shelters or services
- Personal resources such as skills needed to support herself and her children
- Social resources, including support from friends and families
- Care-giving resources for some older or disabled survivors who need help in doing daily activities
In some cases, the survivor may be unable to take action due to emotional distress caused by past violence. Abused women or men who spend 24 hours a day 7 days per week figuring out how to survive, may not have the time or emotional strength to figure out how to leave.
Family responsibilities and values
Survivors, like most of the people in our communities, have a strong desire to hold the family together for the sake of children and to fulfill their parental responsibilities. These beliefs and responsibilities can sometimes make it hard for survivors to separate from an abusive partner. In addition, other family members or friends may put pressure on the survivor to stay in the relationship. The specific beliefs that survivors may hold include:
- The need for a two-parent family
- The need to be the perfect wife or mother as defined by her community or culture
- Not wanting to disappoint family members
- Taking care of elderly parents or disabled family members
Feelings and beliefs
Survivors may have other deep feelings and beliefs that may keep them with their batterers. These may include the following:
- Not wanting to let go of the dream of "happily ever after"
- Believing the abusive behavior isn't really who the batterer is
- Hoping the abuser will change
- Feeling commitment and love during the "honeymoon periods" that may occur between abusive events
- Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, guilt and shame as a result of the abuse that undermine the confidence to leave
What might happen when the abused person leaves?
Leaving an abusive relationship is a different experience for each person.
- Some batterers increase the level of threat or violence, holding the survivor or children hostage, making repeated unwanted phone calls or visits, or threatening to harm the survivor's family or friends.
- Some people who are abused leave for the short term and return. They may leave and return several times before leaving for good.
- Others survivors attempt to leave and face an increased level of violence or even death.
- Survivors use a variety of strategies to be safer when they leave, such as restraining orders, shelters or community resources to assist them in breaking free and beginning a new life.