Domestic abuse victims are often asked the questions: Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you ask for help sooner? These questions shift the blame to the wrong person and come from a very damaging and harmful practice: victim-blaming.
But the answer is simple:
leaving an abuser isn’t that easy. While everyone has their specific reasons, what they are is irrelevant; the victim should never be blamed for being abused. However, there are certain motives that are noticeably frequent and can easily explain why the cycle of violence is so difficult to leave.
Fear of Retaliation
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence “1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime”.
According to NCBI, annually, domestic violence is responsible for over 1500 deaths in the United States. Abusers are violent and capable of anything. It’s only natural for the victim to fear that the abuser will murder them if they speak up or seek help, and many times the abuser will threaten them with murder, to begin with. The statistics point to the reality that victims face, and it is not just in the numbers. Any human will do anything that they can to survive.
Financial Dependency and Isolation
A big part of domestic abuse is that perpetrators are narcissistic manipulators. What this means for the victim is that the abuser will oftentimes try to take complete control of their lives by isolating them from family and friends, making it almost impossible to leave this circle of violence.
Sometimes, the abuser is the main source of income, which can also be a manipulation technique. The victim will feel threatened to lose their home, go hungry, etc, and if there are kids involved they also have them to think about. And if the victim is a vulnerable figure such as a child or an elder, it’s possible that they wholly depend on the abuser for all their needs.
Stockholm syndrome is a condition in which hostages develop a psychological bond with their captors during captivity. It is an emotional response to an emotionally stressful situation and victims of abuse can develop this syndrome.
Generally, during the period in which the victim is abused, they start to develop a bond or sympathy towards the abuser, typically because this can lead to kind treatment and less harm from the abuser. This can be particularly true for children being abused by a parental figure who they’re meant to see as their protector.
The syndrome can also make the victim develop negative feelings towards those trying to rescue them. While research regarding the subject is still ongoing, it’s thought that this is a survival and coping mechanism that develops after being in a particularly terrifying situation.
Familiarity becomes comfort for abuse victims
For some victims, the abuser is somebody they trust or love, a partner, a spouse, a parent, etc. Oftentimes it’s the person responsible for meeting all of their basic needs for survival. This is why it’s understandably difficult for them to remove themselves from the situation.
Uncertainty arises when the person thinks of leaving, and that’s only natural. They may oftentimes be concerned and ask themselves, what will happen then if this is all I’ve ever known?
According to psychologists, abusers can sometimes groom their victims. Grooming in domestic abuse is the act in which the abuser will attempt to cover their abuse by being overly affective or romantic with their victims as a form of manipulation. They’ll flood their victims with care, and signs of love. According to Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D. this predatory tactic is meant to build a deep emotional connection.
There are many more reasons why the violence circle is so difficult to leave for victims. Each case it’s different but what’s important is to remember that the victim is never at fault for the abuse. Instead of asking them why they didn’t leave, we should point fingers at the abuser and ask, why is this person so comfortable with violence, and why are we so comfortable in pointing fingers at the victim, to begin with?