Many people ask, “Why would someone stay in an abusive relationship?” Instead, ask “Why does the abuser choose to abuse?” Rather than placing the responsibility on the victim, this question emphasizes that violence is a choice and that the abuser is responsible for the choices he/she makes.
A victim may stay because of their belief in the relationship or their love for the abuser. Many victims hope that their partner will change his/her ways. A victim may also have religious or cultural beliefs that keep them in the relationship (i.e. belief that divorce is wrong, fear of judgment for leaving the relationship, etc).
Abusers often maintain power and control over a victim through financial abuse. Victims may remain in a relationship for fear of economic hardship, difficulty finding employment, lack of affordable housing and/or childcare, and the inability to financially sustain themselves. The fewer resources a victim has, the more likely the victim is to stay with their violent partner.
In situations where the victim has children with the abuser, the children can become another means by which the abuser gains power and control. The abuser may threaten to take or get custody of the children or threaten to harm the children if the victim leaves. The victim may also have guilt about breaking the children’s relationship with the abusive parent.
The threat of physical harm/death is real for victims of intimate partner violence and their loved ones. The danger of these threats increases when the abused partner is attempting to leave. Seventy-nine percent of spousal abuse is committed after the victim leaves.
Every victim has different reasons for staying. What may look like a logical way to leave an abusive relationship to someone on the outside, may not be feasible for the victim experiencing abuse. If the victim is to be successful in leaving an abusive relationship, they must find solutions with which they can live (cultural, religious, economic, etc). Opinions and solutions may change over time. Ultimately, the victim is the expert on their own life and only they know when it is safest to leave.