Why Victims Stay

When it is a viable option, it is best for domestic violence victims to do what they can to escape their abusers. However, this is not the case in all situations. Abusers repeatedly go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving.

Barriers of Escaping

Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder.

Threats from the Abuser

A victim's reasons for staying with their abuser are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: The abuser will hurt or kill them, they will win custody of the children, they will ruin their victim financially – the list goes on. The victim in violent relationships knows their abuser best and fully knows the extent to which they will go to make sure they have and can maintain control over the victim.

Staying as a Means of Protection

The victim literally may not be able to safely escape or protect those they love. A recent study of intimate partner homicides found 20 percent of homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, people who intervened, law enforcement responders or bystanders. 

Individual Barriers

Additional barriers to escaping a violent relationship include but are not limited to: 

  • Belief that two-parent households are better for children, despite abuse
  • Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear the abuser will hurt, or even kill, their children
  • The fear that the abuser's actions will become more violent and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave
  • Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave
  • Knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
  • Lack of having somewhere to go (e.g., no friends or family to help, no money for hotel, or shelter programs are full or limited by length of stay)
  • Lack of means to support themselves and/or their children financially, or lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets
  • Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship
  • Unsupportive friends and family
  • The victim feeling that the relationship is a mix of good times, love, and hope - along with the manipulation, intimidation, and fear
  • The victim's lack of knowledge of or access to safety and support. 

Societal Barriers

In addition to individual obstacles victims face when escaping violent relationships, society in general presents barriers. These include: 

  • Anxiety about a decline in living standards for themselves and their children
  • Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for victims fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep victims safe
  • Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating abuse
  • Inconsistency of abuse
    • During non-violent phases, the abuser may fulfill the victim's dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to "let off steam."
  • Isolation from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or because they feel ashamed of the abuse and try to hide signs of it from the outside world; The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn
  • The rationalization of the victim that their abuser's behavior is caused by other factors such as stress, alcohol, problems at work, or unemployment
  • Reinforcement of clergy and secular counselors of "saving" a couple's relationship at all costs rather than the goal of stopping the violence
  • The socialization of some made to believe they are responsible for making their relationship work. Failure to maintain the relationship equals failure as a person
  • Societal factors that teach women to believe their identities and feelings of self-worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man
  • Some religious and cultural practices that stress that divorce is forbidden
  • A victim's fear of being charged with desertion, or losing custody of children or joint assets


The information on this page came from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.