Why Do They Stay

Situational Factors • Economic dependence. How can she support herself and the children? • Fear of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave. • Fear of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before. • Survival. Fear that her partner will follow her and kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by her partner. • Fear of emotional damage to the children. • Fear of losing custody of the children, often based on her partner’s remarks. • Lack of alternative housing; she has nowhere else to go. • Lack of job skills; she might not be able to get a job. • Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family and friends. • Social isolation resulting in lack of information about her alternatives. • Lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, etc. • Negative responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc. • Fear of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before. • Fear of the unknown. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” • Fear and ambivalence over making formidable life changes. • “Acceptable violence”. The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse. • Ties to the community. The children would have to leave their school; she would have to leave all her friends and neighbors behind, etc. For some women it would be like being in the Witness Protection Program – She could never have any contact with her old life. • Ties to her home and belongings. • Family pressure; because Mom always said, “I told you it wouldn’t work out”, or “You made your bed, now you sleep in it”. • Fear of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.). • Unable to use resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, homophobia, etc.). • Time needed to plan and prepare to leave. Emotional Factors • Insecurity about being alone, on her own; she’s afraid she can’t cope with home and children by herself. • Loyalty. “He’s sick; if he had a broken leg or cancer – I would stay. This is no different.” • Pity. He’s worse off than she is; she feels sorry for him. • Wanting to help. “If I stay I can help him get better.” • Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he’s told her this). • Denial. “It’s really not that bad. Other people have it worse.” • Love. Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive. • Love, especially during the “honeymoon” stage; she remembers what he used to be like. • Guilt. She believes – and her partner and the other significant others are quick to agree – that their problems are her fault. • Shame and humiliation in front of the community. “I don’t want anyone else to know”. • Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change. • Unfounded optimism that things will get better, despite all evidence to the contrary. • Learned helplessness; trying every possible method to change something in our environment, but with no success, so that we eventually expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a logical response to constant resistance to our efforts. This can be seen with prisoners of war, people who are taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, etc. • False hope. “He’s starting to do things I’ve been asking for”. (Counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement). • Guilt. She believes that the violence is caused through some inadequacy of her own (she is often told this); feels as though she deserve it for failing. • Responsibility. She feels as though she only needs to meet some set of vague expectations in order to earn the abuser’s approval. • Insecurity over her potential independence and lack of emotional support. • Guild about the failure of the marriage/relationship. • Demolished self-esteem. “I thought I was too – fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he’s been calling her – to leave”. • Lack of emotional support – she feels like she doing this on her own, and it’s just too much. • Simple exhaustion. She just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave. Personal Beliefs • Parenting, needing a partner for the kids. “A crazy father is better than one at all.” • Religious and extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what. • Duty. “I swore to stay married till death do us part.” • Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship. • Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after. • Identity. Women are raised to feel they need a partner – even an abusive one – in order to be complete or accepted by society. • Belief that marriage is forever. • Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood). • Religious and cultural beliefs.