Why do women stay? Why don't they leave?
It's not uncommon to hear "Why do women stay in abusive relationships?"
or "Why don't they leave?" These types of questions, although
common, have a tendency—whether unintentional or not—to
blame victims and to suggest they enjoy or thrive on being abused. If
they didn't enjoy being ill-treated, they would leave, right? Obviously,
if they choose to stay, they must have low self-esteem, right?
No. These attitudes are common myths
about victims of domestic violence. The fact is that reasons for staying
are far more complex than a blanket statement about a victim's character
or strength of will.
In some cases, women may seem to "want" to be beaten. For
those who come from dysfunctional families—families in which they
were routinely beaten and emotionally abused as children—they
know no other patterns of behavior and have learned to expect frequent
incidents of violence. For such women, the anxiety of waiting for the
next outburst of violence is often more stressful and agonizing than the
violence itself. They hate not knowing when they will next be hit, kicked,
punched, burned, bitten, or stabbed, and they would rather "get it
over with" than not know when they will next be abused.
Often, it is dangerous for a woman to leave an abusive relationship.
If her abuser is economically abusive (see The Types
of Abuse) and withholds all family money from her, leaving can
lead to additional hardships. Leaving could mean living in fear of
being stalked, fear of losing custody of
any minor children (parental abduction is not uncommon), losing financial
support, and experiencing harassment at work.
Do not underestimate the effects of domestic
violence on its victims. Abused women experience isolation, shame,
embarrassment, and humiliation. Women may not immediately leave an abusive
- They fear their abusers will become more violent—perhaps
fatal—stalking them if they leave.
- Friends and family may not support their decision to leave.
- They fear being a single parent with little money.
- There are periods of calm, nurturing and love between incidents of
violence (see The Cycle of Abuse).
- They may be unaware of sources of advocacy and support.
- They may be unaware of shelters and other resources that offer
safety and support.
The reasons women stay in abusive relationships typically fall into three
Lack of resources
- Most abused women have at least one minor child.
- Many abused women are not employed outside the home.
- Many abused women don't have property that is solely theirs.
- In many cases, abusers have cut off access to cash or bank accounts.
- Most abused women fear losing joint assets and custody of their children.
- Abused women fear a lower standard of living for themselves and their children.
- Often, clergy and social workers are trained to "save the family"
rather than to stop violence.
- Police often treat incidents of domestic violence as mere "disputes"
rather than as serious crimes in which one person is physically assaulting
- Police may try to discourage women from pressing criminal charges.
- Attorneys are often reluctant to prosecute cases. Justices rarely
assign the maximum sentence or fine possible.
- Restraining orders and peace bonds (see Stalking)
do little to prevent abusers from repeating their violent patterns of behavior.
Sadly, there are too few shelters to keep women safe.
- Many women don't view divorce as a viable alternative.
- Many abused women don't accept the notion of single parenting. They
believe a bad father (or in the case of a lesbian
relationship, a bad partner) is better than none at all.
- Many women are conditioned to believe they are responsible for
making their marriage or relationship work; that if the relationship
fails, they have failed as women. Society has often taught these
women that their worth is measured by their ability to get and keep a man.
- Many abused women feel isolated from their families and from society.
Isolation is either the result of the abuser's possessiveness or jealousy,
or it may be an attempt on the part of the victim to hide signs of abuse
from the outside world. Either way, such isolation leads many victims
to feel they have nowhere to turn.
- Many victims externalize or rationalize the reasons for their abuser's
behavior, casting blame of circumstances such as stress, financial hardship,
job stress, chemical dependency, etc.
- Between violent episodes, there are periods of calm during which the
abuser is charming, nurturing, and caring. Those traits which initially
attracted him/her to his/her victim resurface and the victim sees her
abuser as a loving person, thereby reinforcing her decision to stay.
(See The Cycle of Abuse.)
Following are just some of the wonderful books on this topic
available from Amazon.com. Click on the cover art to learn more.
For even more resources, visit Amazon.com
Mary Kay Inc. Supports Women's Shelters
Since 2000, the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation has awarded millions of dollars
to women's shelters across the United States. From 2005 through 2007, the Foundation
has awarded $20,000 grants, totaling $3 million, to 150 shelters in all 50 states for
each of these years.