From the outside looking in it seems obvious. If someone is abusing you physically, mentally or emotionally, you leave. Why would you allow someone to cause you pain when you can just walk away? Why would you knowingly put yourself, your children and even your pets in danger? For many women in abusive relationships, it isn’t that easy. Women in these dangerous relationships face a complicated dilemma.
A group of domestic violence researchers published a study in 2015 analyzing the reasons women stay in abusive relationships. This research was inspired by a twitter campaign, #WhyIStay. This campaign was a response to former NFL athlete Ray Rice knocking his finance unconscious in a hotel elevator. His Fiancé, Janay Palmer, married Rice shortly after the incident and publicly defended him, making many question why she would stay. Through their analysis, they identified 8 main reasons women stay in abusive relationships.
Being controlled and abused is traumatizing which leads to self-blame and confusion. Being harassed and blamed wears the victim down causing guilt. Aggressors harass and put blame on victims, which in turn wears the victim down causing distress and guilt. Many victims believe they deserve, and even blame themselves, for triggering the abuse. Abusive relationships are more than just physical. Many victims stay in emotionally or financially abusive relationships because they don’t realize its actually abuse. Just because it doesn’t leave a bruise doesn’t mean it’s not abuse.
Many women become so beaten down they start to feel worthless. They blame themselves and believe they have done something to deserve the abuse. It can get to a point where the victim doesn’t even trust their own thoughts anymore.
The threat of any type of harm is powerful. Abusers use this power to manipulate women and keep them trapped. Females in abusive relationships are much more likely to be traumatized. They feel trapped because their abuser may threaten them and their loved ones or the victim believes it will be an ugly nightmare.
Wanting to be a Savior
There are many women who feel a desire to “fix” their partners. Some believe they can love and help their partners until they are better. Many victims tend to put their partner’s needs above their own and feel responsible to stay committed to the marriage. Many abusers may use their past experiences or problems to manipulate their victim to stay.
Children and Pets
Many victims sacrifice their own safety in order to put their children, and their pets, first. Often women believe that if their partner isn’t beating them, he would beat his kids. “71 percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32 percent reported their children had hurt or killed animals.”  Others feel responsible for maintaining a family for their children, and they want them to have a father.
Family Expectations and Experiences
Past experiences with violence distort victims perception of themselves or of a healthy relationship. Some victims grew up in a home where their mother was abused by their father. This causes the perception that the abuse is somehow okay. Others may face religious pressures from their families to make their marriage work.
Many women in abusive relationships face financial limitations, including limitations associated with caring for their children. Some may not have anyone to support them if they walk away and may not make enough to support one or multiple children on their own. There are women who experience financial abuse where their abuser will damage their credit and finances purposefully to maintain control.
A common tactic of manipulative partners is to separate their victim from family and friends. This can sometimes be physical where the abuser will trap their victim in the middle of nowhere. Other times emotional abuse is used to isolate the victim. Many victims face the ultimatum of picking their partner over their family and friends.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of judgment and victim blaming surrounding abusive relationships. Domestic violence is not black and white making it difficult to understand why women stay. Many people don’t understand the complicated and twisted cause of abuse. Leaving an abusive relationship is never an easy choice- regardless of how easy it may seem to someone on the outside. It is just one more painful decision the victim has to make. Instead of pressuring and judging women who choose stay, we need to support them and offer assistance whenever they make the difficult decision to leave.