Simply asking the question Why do women stay in violent relationships is blaming the victim. People don't seem to ask nearly as often, Why do men batter?, a question which places the blame with the perpetrator. It is easy to blame the victims in battering relationships. Often, those outside the relationship will think that if she really wants to leave, she can. However, abuse is never the victim's fault, and there are often many psychological issues affecting abused women and their ability to leave an abusive relationship.
When a victim is caught in the cycle of violence, she is experiencing many emotions. During the violent stage, she is often afraid of her partner. She knows better than anyone else what that person will do to her or her children if she tries to leave. Once the violence is over and the couple is in that honeymoon phase, the victim may feel renewed love toward the batterer. The batterer is on his best behavior and the victim is reminded of all the qualities in him that she loves. During the tension building stage, the victim often grasps on to a sense of hope. More than anything, she wants things to change. She wants him to mean what he says this time. Adding to the love, hope and fear, battered women often experience shame, embarrassment and isolation.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence outlines three major categories for why women stay in abusive relationships:
Lack of Resources
- Most women have at least one dependent child.
- Many women are not employed outside of the home.
- Many women have no property that is solely theirs.
- Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts.
- Women who leave fear being charged with desertion, and losing children and joint assets.
- A woman may face a decline in living standards for herself and her children.
- Clergy and secular counselors are often trained to see only the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
- Police officers often treat violence as a domestic “dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person.
- Police may try to dissuade women from filing charges.
- Prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute cases, and judges rarely levy the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
- Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating the assault.
- Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for women fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep women safe.
- Many women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative.
- Many women believe that a single parent family is unacceptable, and that even a violent father is better than no father at all.
- Many women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making their marriage work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman.
- Many women become isolated from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or to hide signs of the abuse from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
- Many women rationalize their abuser's behavior by blaming stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment or other factors.
- Many women are taught that their identity and worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
Breakdown of Reasons:
- They fear him, believing him to be almost all-powerful. Often threats are made against her, e.g. he will kill her if she reports him to anyone. Police, in her eyes, offer no real protection.
- Victims do not have faith in the legal system to protect them.
- Even if it is the neighbors who report, he may take it out on her, so often when the police come she will not admit to being battered.
- She may be economically dependent on him and see no real alternative. Often relatively mild, in her eyes, battering is worth putting up with in exchange for economic security.
- Religious and cultural belief, or the eyes of society, demand that she maintain the facade of a good marriage.
- Often he is her only support system psychologically, he having systematically destroyed her other friendships. Other people also feel uncomfortable around violence and withdraw from it.
- Often she stays for the sake of the "children needing a father"; or he may make threats of violence against her children if she tries anything. Or he may threaten to have children taken away from her if she tries anything.
- Often batterers are otherwise highly respected and mild-mannered, so her concerns are not taken seriously. Often he is violence only with her, and she may therefore conclude that there is something wrong with her.
- She often believes his reasoning-that she "deserved" the punishment or that he was too drunk to know what he was doing.
- She may have no idea that assistance is available and may feel trapped.
- The battering takes place in a relatively short period of time. Afterwards, he may be quite gentle and loving and promise to never hit her again. This is part of the Cycle of Violence. Many battered women describe their men as charming and loving when they are not battering.
- She may be convinced that this battering was the last.
- She may have lived in a home where her father beat her mother, and accepts it as natural.
- Often battered women, motivated by pity and compassion, are convinced they alone can help the batterer.
- Often women believe that if only they could improve, stop making mistakes, that the battering will stop. They remain through guilt.
- Often women believe that things will change for the better.
- Many women are ambivalent about their situations. People dealing with battered women - police, lawyers, doctors, mental healthy workers - may need a decision quicker than she can make one.
- Fear, even terror, of loneliness. The thought of living alone terrifies them.
- Social stigma - because others cannot understand why any self-respecting woman would stay in that situations, she may be embarrassed to admit it.
- Often relatives get tired of helping her out, time after time, giving her a place to stay, etc. Or he may threaten them if they help her out.
- Often they do no see themselves as battered women. They may realize that they have problems, but don't identify the battering as being their main problem.
- Many have been raised to believe in the all-importance of a good relationship, and that good relations are their responsibility.
- Some don't know they have the right not to be beaten.
- Some women are afraid that if they report the crime, the batterer might lose his job - the family's only source of income.
- Some believe that outsiders should not be involved in the affairs of family.
- Some women are afraid of incurring the wrath of the extended family, if they break up or report him.
- Many women do not want any change in the relationship except not to be beaten.
Hotline Phone Numbers
Domestic Violence Hotline:
Crime Victims Hotline:
Rape & Sexual Assault Hotline:
TDD phone number for all hotlines:
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