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Why Do Domestic Violence Victims “Stay”?

The most common question I am asked as a domestic violence expert is “why a victim stays” with their abusive partner. “Staying” in relationship with an abusive partner may seem counterintuitive. However, research shows that victims make 7-8 attempts, on average, to leave an abusive relationship before they successfully leave.

Following are some of the common reasons a victim may “stay” with their abusive partner, which are the same reasons that it may take 7-8 attempts to “leave.”

· They fear retaliation by their abusive partner, including fearing for their own life. Victims are at greatest risk of severe injury and death when they attempt to leave their abusive partner.

· They may be isolated from support systems to help them—friends, family, professional advocates. The victim’s isolation from support systems is often facilitated and manipulated by the abuser.

· They may feel they have nowhere to go (e.g., safety, shelter).

· They may be experiencing trauma, which can result in emotional paralysis.

· They don’t want to break up their family.

· They don’t want to be alone.

· They are financially dependent on their partner.

· They care about and love their abusive partner.

· They don’t want to harm their abusive partner’s vulnerable identities or violate cultural standards/expectations.

· They have lost faith in the justice system to protect them against their abuser.

· They’re experiencing the abuser’s tedious behavioral tactics that serve to entrap and disempower them. These behavioral tactics are depicted in the Duluth Power and Control Wheel and range from:

  • Coercion and threats (e.g., threatening to hurt the victim, threatening to commit suicide, threatening to leave the victim)

  • Intimidation (e.g., using looks, actions or gestures to instill fear in the victim)

  • Emotional abuse (e.g., calling the victim names, telling the victim they’re crazy, triangulating family members “against” the victim)

  • Minimizing the impact of the abuse and blaming it on the victim (e.g., “I didn’t push you down the stairs, you tripped and fell”)

  • Isolation (isolating the victim from family, friends and institutions reinforces the victim’s dependency on the abuser)

  • Using children (e.g., threatening to harm or take away the children, triangulating children “against” the victim)

  • Using male privilege (demanding that the victim abide by an impossible set of rules)

  • Economic abuse (e.g., not allowing the victim to work, controlling all the finances).

  • Using sympathy appeals to manipulate (e.g., I’m all alone in here/jail)

  • Promising that life will be better in the future

Rarely does a domestic abuser use only one of the behavioral tactics; rather, multiple tactics are used to wear down their victim. In short, along with the many concerns victims may have (described above), the abuser’s efforts to control the victim are tedious and effective at entrapping and disempowering the victim—making it very difficult “leave.”

Our Expert Testimony work at Social Justice Associates is focused on helping to educate professionals and lay persons on the nuances of domestic violence. Our team has published some of the field’s seminal papers on the topic, trained audiences worldwide on domestic violence dynamics (e.g., Indiana Supreme Court, Ohio Supreme Court, Estonia Ministry of Justice), and served as expert witnesses on cases in federal- and state- courts—including cases involving minoritized victims and families.

Please contact us if you are interested in our Expert Testimony services: bonomi@socialjusticeassociates.org.

Resource links to 24-7 services if you and/or someone you care about has experienced domestic violence:

· National Domestic Violence Hotline: Domestic Violence Support | The National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org); 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text “START” to 88788.

· Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: RAINN | The nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization; 1-800-HOPE (4683).

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