“Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Before working for SATEDA this would have been my response to hearing the stories of many victims of domestic abuse. Maybe you’ve thought exactly the same thing? In most other circumstances, leaving a situation where someone else is making your life a misery is a no-brainer. But it’s not quite that simple where domestic abuse is concerned. Here are a few reasons why victims can’t always ‘just leave’ and some suggestions of how you can help:

Hope for change:A victim can easily hope that change is just around the corner. They have probably invested a lot in the relationship and they naturally really want it to work out. They also probably love their abuser and the occasional moments when they are show affection can be enough to fuel their hope through the next acts of abuse. How to help: Be honest with the victim if you don’t think there is any hope for change. Suggest that the abuse isn’t because of stress at work/financial problems/health concerns/drink problem but because of the abuser’s belief system , which isn’t going to change.

 Nowhere to go: Often victims of abuse will have had access to money taken from them so they cannot pay for anywhere else to stay. They might have become socially isolated so the pool of people they could stay with is fairly small, particularly if they don’t want to be found by their abuser. Refuge spaces could be anywhere in the country and whilst it would remove you from the abusive situation it also removes you from lots of positive things such as support networks, jobs and studies. How to help: Help the victim gather information on their options of where they could go and what help they could access should they decide to leave. The local council will have team of housing officers who can help.

 Leaving can be dangerous. Often abuse escalates once the victim leaves. Abusers want control over their victims and leaving is an act that challenges that control and so the abuse can get worse in order to regain power. How to help: Encourage the victim to work with a specialist support agency to plan a safe exit from the relationship. SATEDA can help if you live in Swale.

 Lack of self-confidence. Abuse works by destroying the confidence and self esteem of the victim. It is quite likely that a victim doesn’t think that they are strong enough to leave or that they will be able to cope without the ‘protection’ or ‘help’ of their abuser. They may also have been made to believe that no one else could ever find them attractive or want to be in a relationship with them, and so staying in an abusive relationship seems better than facing a lifetime alone. How to help: Be encouraging and do what you can to build their confidence.

 What about the children? Victims will be made to feel that if they leave, it will be their fault that their children will not have two parents living under the same roof. They will feel guilty about breaking up a ‘happy home’ and may also fear the stigma attached to being a divorcee/single parent family, for which they will be blamed. How to help: Remind the victim that it is not their actions that are causing family breakdown but the actions of the abuser. The victim wouldn’t need to leave if their partner wasn’t abusive. Remind them that leaving will protect their children from both witnessing and experiencing abuse themselves.

Believes it’s normal. If a victim has only ever been in a relationship with their abuser, or seen other abusive relationships, they may just think that it’s normal and what all relationships are like. How to help: Show the victim examples of positive relationships.

Manipulation. A key feature of domestic abuse is emotional manipulation and coercion. The victim’s way of thinking and viewing their situation may have become so influenced by their abuser that they won’t consider thinking about leaving as an option or something that they need to do. Read Crystal’s story about this hereHow to help: Try and consistently but gently present truth to the victim, such as why things aren’t all their fault or why they didn’t deserve that piece of abuse, why they deserve better etc.

There are many more reasons why a victim doesn’t ‘just leave’ the relationship and each situation is very complex. HOWEVER, it is important to remind victims that leaving an abusive relationship and building a life free from abuse IS possible for them and a life of freedom is a human right. It is also important that the victim is empowered to do this in their own timing and isn’t pressured or rushed into it. In the mean time, helping the person stay safe whilst they remain in the relationship is important. SATEDA are of course here to help anyone in Swale who needs help to stay safe and become free from abuse. Find out how we can help here. For those further afield, here is where you can find out about domestic abuse services in Kent, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

For more suggestions on how you can support someone who is a victim of domestic abuse, you can read our previous blog post. You can also read about more barriers to leaving on the Refuge website here.

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