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Barriers to Leaving

Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship


Understanding the Challenges


Fear of Retaliation

Survivors often fear retaliation against themselves, their children, friends, or family members. Abusive partners may threaten to kill the survivor or others, escalate the violence, or even threaten to kill themselves to prevent the survivor from leaving.


Fear of Losing Children or Placing Them in Danger

Survivors may fear losing custody of their children or that their partner will abduct them. The threat of a custody battle or direct threats from the partner can make leaving seem impossible.


Fear of Harmful or Inadequate Response

Survivors may fear that police, courts, shelters, Child Protective Services, medical or mental health systems, or schools will not provide the support they need, or may even worsen their situation.


Fear of Not Being Believed

Abusers are often respected and popular in the community, keeping their violence hidden. This makes survivors fear that no one will believe them or support their decision to leave.


Fear of Being Blackmailed

Abusive partners may threaten to reveal personal issues such as mental health or addiction problems, or to "out" a survivor in a same-sex relationship. They may also threaten deportation or job loss to maintain control.


Fear of Losing Support Systems

Leaving an abusive partner often means leaving behind a supportive community. This is especially challenging for survivors whose cultural, racial, or ethnic identity is affirmed by their community.


Total Isolation

Abusive partners may isolate survivors by prohibiting phone use, restricting access to transportation, monitoring mail, and preventing contact with family and friends.


Hope for Change in Abusive Behavior

Survivors may hope that their partner will change, especially if the abuser is in treatment or counseling. Emotional ties and the belief that the abuser can change often complicate the decision to leave.


Financial Dependence

Abusers often control all household finances, making survivors financially dependent. Leaving can mean risking poverty and homelessness.


The Process of Leaving


Escaping the Abusive Relationship

Leaving is not a single event but a process that requires safety planning and access to resources. The first attempt may be a test to see if the abuser will change.


Gathering Resources

Survivors may reconcile with the abuser to gather economic and educational resources. This preparation can be crucial for eventual permanent separation.


Breaking Isolation

Survivors may leave temporarily to break out of isolation and gather information about available resources. Each step away from the abuser helps build a path to safety.


Supporting Survivors


Affirming Self-Determination

It's important to support survivors' decisions, even if they choose to stay for a time. Working with them on safety strategies and affirming their self-determination is crucial.

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