It is a common scenario in abusive relationships: a person confides in a friend, family member or another person that she or he is being abused, and is ready to leave their partner. The victim might take steps to leave, and may actually do so for a period of time. Yet in many cases, the victim might then return to the abusive relationship, leaving the friend or family member confused, scared or even angry about the situation. The assumption may be that if the abuse were really that bad, victims wouldn’t go back. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Domestic violence involves a pattern of abuse and control, and often involves a high degree of emotional manipulation. Leaving is not that simple when you have been threatened by your abuser, believe that he or she will change, or are fearful that you cannot survive without him or her. Victims of domestic violence are often financially dependent on their abusers, and may share children or pets with their abusers, making the act of leaving even more complicated. Victims of domestic violence may worry about leaving their kids behind, terrified of what will happen if they are not awarded custody or if their partner is given unsupervised visitation with their children. Due to emotional manipulation, a victim may also believe that she or he is to blame for the abuse, and that it will stop if only she or he can change. There may be other barriers to leaving, such as if the victim is disabled, elderly, or belongs to a culture or a religion where leaving a partner would be viewed as unacceptable. Studies show that it takes an average of seven times of leaving before a victim of domestic violence can finally leave an abuser for good. This speaks to just how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship.
There is also the stark reality that it can be incredibly dangerous for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. The majority of women who are killed by their abusers — 75% — are killed when they attempt to leave an abusive relationship or after they have left such a relationship. This adds another layer to the analysis of why it is hard for so many victims to break free from their abusers.
Domestic violence is complicated, and victims of this type of abuse need our support. While it may be frustrating for family and friends to watch a victim of domestic violence return to an abusive situation, understanding some of the reasons why victims may do so is vital. Leaving an abuser is a process, and one that must be done with safety in mind. You can support this process by: believing a loved one, not judging her/his decisions, and providing Blackburn Center’s 24 hour confidential hotline number, 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122. You can learn more about how to help a friend who is a victim of domestic violence here.
This October, we ask you to join us in celebrating Domestic Violence Awareness Month by challenging this and other misconceptions about domestic violence. You can also help us continue to support victims of domestic violence by donating to Blackburn Center through the Purple Purse Challenge. Together, we can continue to make a difference in the lives of victims of domestic violence — and work to end the violence.