Barriers to Leaving

Fear of retaliation – against the survivor, the children, friends or family members.

Abusive partner may threaten to kill – the survivor or other family members if they leave, threaten to kill themselves or escalate the violence in an attempt to hold the survivor in the relationship.

Fear of losing the children, or placing them in danger –either in a custody battle or because of partners threats to abduct the children.

Fear of harmful or inadequate response –by police, courts, shelters, Child Protective Services, medical or mental health systems, the children’s schools or daycare, etc.

Fear of not being believed –abusers are often respected and popular members of the community who keep their violence and controlling behaviors secret from the public. The survivor knows this and it increases the fear that no one will believe them. Because the survivor believes that people will not understand the seriousness of the abuse, they fear that people will not support their choice to leave or “disrupt” the family.

Fear of being blackmailed –abusive partner may have threatened to reveal any problems of the survivors; mental health or addiction issues, for example. Threats may also be to “out” the survivor in a same-sex relationship, to have an immigrant survivor deported or arrested (although the abuser has no authority to do this, many immigrant survivors have no knowledge of their legal rights, and are very isolated from the rest of the community), cause them to lose their job, etc.

Fear of losing support systems – in order to escape their partner’s threats, many survivors have to leave the community that provides them with support. This is especially difficult for survivors whose ethnic, racial, or cultural heritage, language and experience are affirmed by their community.

Total isolation – an abusive partner may prohibit the survivor from using the phone, accessing transportation, reading the mail or newspapers, seeing family and friends, or having any access to support.

Hope for change in the abusive behavior– Survivors can be reluctant to leave when their partners are in treatment or agreeing to attend treatment. The belief that treatment or counseling will motivate them to change and stop abusing. It is important to remember that at one time the abuser and survivor were/are engaged in a love/intimate relationship, and that those feelings can be difficult to cast aside, even when safety is at stake. Denying the severity of the abuse is an effective coping skill for many survivors, and leaving is a process, not a one-time event.

Financial dependence—abusers frequently control all household financial resources, whether the survivors is working outside the home or not. Many survivors risk poverty and homelessness when leaving.

When Do abuse survivors leave?

  • Abuse survivors don’t “leave,” they ESCAPE!
  • Leaving is a process which must include safety and alternative resources for survival.
  • The first time an abuse survivor leaves it may be a test to see whether the batterer will actually get some help to stop the violence.
  • When the batterer is violent again, they may leave to gain more information about resources available.
  • The survivor may then reconcile and begin to get some economic and educational resources together in case they decide they must later leave.
  • They may next leave to break out of the isolation in which the batterer has virtually imprisoned her.

Most abuse survivors eventually leave

  • The most likely predictor of whether an abuse survivor will permanently separate from their abuser is whether they have the economic resources to survive without that relationship.
  • HOWEVER, some survivors stay in their relationship for a wide variety of reasons. Judging their decision is not helpful. It IS helpful to keep working with them on ways to stay safe while in the relationship, and affirming their self-determination.