Understanding Victims’ behaviour

Understanding Victims’ behaviour

Why doesn't she leave?

The most common question around domestic abuse is ‘Why doesn't she leave?' It is essential that as health professionals we understand the losses and gains associated with making the decision because there is a tendency for professionals to become frustrated with women who don't leave, or who leave and then return.

This section seeks to focus upon what prevents women from leaving and sustaining the break so that we can better provide the support she needs.

The decision to leave an abusive relationship is not easy. Research reveals two reasons that women overwhelmingly cite for not leaving - fear of further violence and nowhere else to go. There are also emotional reasons why victims find it difficult to leave. Victims are likely to blame themselves having endured significant emotional abuse which involves manipulation and distortion of the events. The choice to leave may also be in conflict with her beliefs and desire to fit into her community; in some cases she may face direct pressure from other people to stay and ‘make a go of it'. For many victims, there is also an economic burden associated with the decision to leave a violent partner. With all this in mind leaving is likely to be a process rather than a single isolated event because the victim's resolve is very likely to waiver depending on the response she receives from other people and the behaviour of the abuser.

What does a victim hope to gain from leaving?

  • Safety for herself and any children (this is, of course, statistically unlikely in the short term)
  • Self respect
  • Self confidence
  • A chance for a new start
  • Control over her life
  • Improved health

What does a victim face losing if she leaves him?

  • Home
  • Possessions
  • Job (either because she has moved or because it is an easy way for him to find her)
  • Father for the children
  • Status (as a wife, particularly important in communities where divorce still carries a stigma such as in Catholic communities)
  • Hope that things will work out
  • A partner that at one time at least, she loved and for whom she may still have feelings of care
  • Finances
  • Friends and family
  • Pets
  • Her routine or ‘the known' (this includes all the things that make up your day-to-day life - your exercise class, the children's school, the garden you have lovingly tended, your GP, dentist, the local shops where you are known etc)
  • Children (this is statistically unlikely but she will invariably have been threatened with this by the abuser and so it will form part of her decision-making process)

What this means is that when abused women leave they frequently face nothing but loss for quite some time. The single biggest gain ‘safety' may not be gained for weeks, months and in some cases years.

It is also important to remember that victims are likely to be making the decision to leave within the context of her abuser begging for forgiveness, pleading for another chance and promising to change.