Why domestic violence victims often stay

Have you ever heard the statement
“Why do people stay in abusive relationships?”, or “Why don’t they leave?”
These types of questions, although common, have a tendency — whether unintentionally
or not — to blame victims and suggest they enjoy or thrive on being abused.

If they didn’t enjoy being
ill-treated, they would leave, right? Obviously, if they choose to stay, they
must have low self-esteem, right? Wrong. These attitudes are common myths about
victims of domestic violence. The fact is that the reason for staying in an
abusive relationship is far more complex. Many abused victims have at least one
child or may not be employed outside the home. Many abused victims don’t have
property that is solely theirs and, in many cases, abusers have cut off access
to cash or bank accounts. Most abused victims fear losing joint assets and
custody of their children and fear a lower standard of living for themselves
and their children. All of these circumstances are factors in why victims stay.

In some cases, victims may seem to
want to be beaten. For those who come from dysfunctional families — families
in which they were routinely beaten and emotionally abused as children — they
know no other patterns of behaviour and have learned to expect frequent
incidents of violence. For such people, the anxiety of waiting for the next
outburst of violence is often more stressful and agonising than the violence
itself. They hate not knowing when they will next be abused, and they would
rather “get it over with” than to not know.

Traditional myths about why victims
stay in abusive relationships are as follows:

Many victims don’t view divorce as
a viable alternative.

Many victims don’t accept the
notion of single parenting. They believe a bad father/mother is better than
none at all.

Many victims are conditioned to
believe that they are responsible for making their marriage or relationship
work; that if the relationship fails, they have failed. In reference to women,
society has often taught them that their worth is measured by their ability to
attract and keep a man.

Many victims feel isolated from
their families and from society. Isolation is either the result of the abuser’s
possessiveness or jealousy, or it may be an attempt on the part of the victim
to hide signs of abuse from the outside world. Either way, such isolation leads
many victims to feel they have nowhere to turn.

Many victims externalise or
rationalise the reasons for their abuser’s behaviour, casting blame on
circumstances such as stress, financial hardship, job stress, chemical dependency,

Between violent episodes, there are
periods of calm during which the abuser can be charming, nurturing, and caring.
Those traits which initially attracted the victim resurface and the victim sees
his/her abuser as a loving person, thereby reinforcing his/her decision to

Often victims experience shame,
depression, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, abandonment, and an
enhanced sense of vulnerability.

In some cultures, abuse is
commonplace and accepted as a legitimate mode of communication, a sign of love
and caring, and a boost to the abuser’s self-image. In such circumstances, the
victim is likely to adopt the norms of society and thus avoid serious trauma.

To determine whether your
relationship is abusive, answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers,
the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.


Your inner thoughts, feelings

Do you:

feel afraid of your partner much of
the time?

avoid certain topics out of fear of
angering your partner?

feel that you can’t do anything
right for your partner?

believe that you deserve to be hurt
or mistreated?

wonder if you’re the one who is

feel emotionally numb or helpless?


Your partner’s belittling

Does your partner:

humiliate or yell at you?

criticise you and put you down?

treat you so badly that you’re
embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

ignore or put down your opinions or

blame you for his own abusive

see you as property or a sex
object, rather than as a person?


Your partner’s violent behaviour or

Does your partner:

have a bad and unpredictable

hurt you, or threaten to hurt or
kill you? 

threaten to take your children away
or harm them?

threaten to commit suicide if you

force you to have sex?

destroy your belongings?


Your partner’s controlling

Does your partner:

act excessively jealous and

control where you go or what you

keep you from seeing your friends
or family?

limit your access to money, the
phone, or the car?

constantly check up on you?

If you are, have been, or know
someone who is a victim of domestic violence and would like to speak with a
trained professional call the Employee Assistance Programme for a confidential
appointment, at 949-9559.

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