Why don’t women leave abusive relationships?
One of the questions we hear time and time again is “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
We need to stop blaming survivors for staying and start supporting them to enable them to leave. By understanding the many barriers that stand in the way of a woman leaving an abusive relationship – be it psychological, emotional, financial or physical threats – we can begin to support and empower women to make the best decision for them while holding abusers solely accountable for their behaviour. Here are just a few of the reasons that prevent a woman leaving:
Danger and fear
One of the most important reasons women don’t leave is because it can be incredibly dangerous. The fear that women feel is very real – there is a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation. 41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a male partner/former partner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 had separated or taken steps to separate from them. Eleven of these 37 women were killed within the first month of separation and 24 were killed within the first year (Femicide Census, 2020).
Domestic abuse often relies on isolating the victim: the perpetrator works to weaken her connections with family and friends, making it extremely difficult to seek support. Perpetrators will often try and reduce a woman’s contact with the outside world to prevent her from recognising that his behaviour is abusive and wrong. Isolation leads women to become extremely dependent on their controlling partner.
Shame, embarrassment or denial
Perpetrators are often well respected or liked in their communities because they are charming and manipulative. This prevents people recognising the abuse and isolates the woman further. The perpetrator often minimises, denies or blames the abuse on the victim. Victims may be ashamed or make excuses to themselves and others to cover up the abuse.
Trauma and low confidence
Imagine being told every day that you’re worthless and the impact that this has on your self-esteem. Victims have very limited freedom to make decisions in an abusive relationship, they are often traumatised, regularly told ‘you couldn’t manage on your own, you need me’. Fear is constant and they live in a world of everyday terror.
Abusers often control every aspect of their victim’s life – making it impossible to have a job or financial independence. By controlling access to money women are left unable to support themselves or their children. They may fear having their children taken away or, if she has an insecure immigration status, may fear being deported.
The support isn’t there when they need it
Asking for help is not easy. Misunderstandings about domestic abuse often prevents professionals from knowing what to do, how to talk about it or where to direct women disclosing abuse.
Useful articles and videos
“We shouldn’t ask why women stay – we should ask how it came to be that wherever they are, it can be impossible for them to leave.” Read more here
“Polly Neate, former chief executive of Women’s Aid to explain what constitutes coercive control – and where the line falls in any relationship.” Read more here
“I am not a Psychologist, I speak from years of personal experience and from spending time with women who have endured domestic abuse.” Read more here
“Domestic abuse is an invisible prison. So the next time the question is asked, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” – remember this picture.” Read more here
Femicide Census (2020) The Femicide Census: 2018 findings. Annual Report on UK Femicides 2018. Published online