Why doesn’t she leave?

The question you should really ask is “Why does he abuse her?”. Instead of focusing on the abuser, society questions how the victim could stay with someone who treats her badly. It is much rarer to ask why the abuser could treat her so badly. The fact is that most victims of violence leave their partner sooner or later. Before she reaches the point of making that decision, there are many reasons keeping her there:

Being subjected to abuse could cause the victim to develop low self-esteem. She is broken down psychologically and does not feel strong enough to get out of the relationship

She hopes he’ll change since there are times when he is kind and caring

She loves him and is able to see the good in him and in the relationship

She doesn’t know where to go or who to turn to

He threatens to kill her

He threatens to kill himself

He threatens to sabotage her in different ways

If she stays in the relationship, she at least has some form of control since she knows where he is and what mood he is in

She stays to protect the children. If the children were alone with him, she could no longer protect them

He threatens to take the children and report her to Social Services

She is financially dependent on him

She does not have a residence permit

She would not be able to take along her pet if she flees, and she is afraid of what could happen to the pet if left alone with the abuser.

Normalisation is one of the reasons that a woman will stay in a violent relationship. This involves the woman’s self-esteem being broken down over time while the level of abuse gradually increases, causing lines to be blurred and the woman to redefine what is OK in a relationship. Another explanation model describes the emotional bond the woman has to her partner. The woman may be deeply involved in the man and the relationship and experience strong emotions of love, fear, compassion, hate, guilt and hope. Together, these strong emotions may serve as a traumatic bond that gives the man even more power over the woman. These two explanation models – normalisation and traumatic bonding – can be criticised for viewing the woman as having a passive role and making her no more than a victim. However, both research and the experience of women’s shelters have shown that abused women often resist the abuse in different ways. By fighting back, the woman may feel like she has some control over the situation and she is not a victim or a “battered woman”. Resisting and gradual breakdown are not mutually exclusive. They can occur at the same time. A woman who puts up resistance might not see herself as oppressed and abused. In this respect, resisting may actually be counterproductive to the process of leaving the relationship.

Many find it difficult to define their relationship as abusive. Many women don’t understand how they could have ended up in a situation like this. Many also find it hard to admit to themselves that they are being abused, partly because media and society in generally tend to associate abuse with severe physical violence. The truth is that intimate partner violence is usually systematic use of different forms of abuse as a way of having power and control over the partner. For many, mental abuse and sexual violence are more common, with many abused women finding it more humiliating and hurtful than the physical violence. Thus, ending an abusive relationship is hard, and many women will return to the relationship before finally leaving for good. Many abused women say they needed to “hit rock bottom” before finally being able to leave. In many cases, “rock bottom” involves the woman realising it is a matter of life or death – for her, her children or her pet. Even if a woman leaves the relationship physically, she may not have left the man emotionally. Freeing herself from the emotional ties may take time, and counselling by a third party may help her gain understanding of what she has been through and enable her to cut emotional ties such as guilt and shame.