All this week, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has been posting “50 Obstacles to Leaving” in bites of 10 a day. I thought it would be helpful to combine all 50 and repost them here as a reminder of what those living with domestic violence are dealing with and why you should never blame the victim.
- Advocate: The victim doesn’t have an enthusiastic supporter on their side so may feel discouraged or hopeless.
- Batterer: The batterer is wealthy, famous, powerful in the community, etc., and can afford to hire private counselor and pressure decision-makers.
- Believes Threats: The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill them and the children if they attempt to leave.
- Children’s Best Interest: The victim believes it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, especially if the abuser doesn’t physically abuse the children.
- Children’s Pressure: The children put pressure (independently or by the abuser’s influence) on the abused parent to stay with their partner.
- Culture and Race: Because of differences in race or culture, the victim worries about being treated unequally by the justice system if they come forward, or believes stereotypes about acceptable actions in their own culture.
- Denial: The victim is in denial about the danger, instead believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.
- Disabled: Victims who are disabled or physically challenged face obstacles in gaining access to court and social services, and may be isolated from basic info about resources.
- Elderly: Elderly victims may hold traditional beliefs about marriage and believe they must stay, or are dependent on the batterer for care even in the face of physical abuse.
- Excuses: The victim believes the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, blaming job stress or substance abuse for example.
- Family Pressure: Family members exert pressure if they believe there’s no excuse for leaving a marriage or if they’re in denial about the abuse.
- Fear of Retaliation: The batterer has shown willingness to carry out threats and the victim fears harm to themselves or the children if they leave.
- Fear of Losing Child Custody: The batterer has used the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking.
- Financial Abuse: Financial abuse can take many different forms depending on the couple’s socio-economic status—ex. If victims have been forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions.
- Financial Despair: The victim realizes that they cannot provide for themselves or their children without the batterer’s assistance.
- Gratitude: The victim feels gratitude toward the batterer because the batterer has helped support and raise their children from a previous relationship, or take care of them if they have health, medical or other problems.
- Guilt: Batterers have convinced victims that the violence is happening because it’s their fault.
- Homelessness: Homeless abuse victims face increased danger, as they must find ways of meeting basic survival needs of shelter, food, and clothing while attempting to elude their batterers.
- Hope for the Violence to Cease: This hope is typically fueled by the batterer’s promises of change, pleas from the children, or family’s advice to save the relationship.
- Isolation: The victim has been cut off from family, friends and colleagues and lacks a support system or people to stay with.
- Keeping the Family Together: Victims believe it is in their children’s best interest to have their father or a male role model in the family.
- Illiterate Victims: Illiterate victims may be forced to rely on the literate batterer for everyday survival.
- Incarcerated or Newly Released Abuse Victims: Such victims often don’t have support systems to assist them with re-entry to the community. Parole officers may require that they return home if that appears to be a stable environment.
- Law Enforcement Officer: If the perpetrator is a law enforcement officer, the victim may fear that other officers will refuse to assist or believe them if they come forward.
- Lesbian and Gay Victims: Victims may feel silenced if disclosing their sexual orientation (to qualify for a protective order) could result in losing their job, family, and home.
- Low Self-Esteem: Victims may believe they deserve no better than the abuse they receive.
- Love: Since many batterers are initially charming, victims fall in love and may have difficulty altering their feelings with the first sign of a problem.
- Mediation: Mediation can put the victim in the dangerous position of incurring the batterer’s wrath for disclosing the extent of the violence.
- Medical Problems: The victim must stay with the batterer to obtain medical services, especially if they share insurance.
- Mentally Ill Victims: Victims face negative societal stereotypes in addition to the batterer’s taunts that the victim is crazy and nobody will believe anything that they say.
- Mentally or Developmentally Challenged Victims: These victims are particularly vulnerable to the batterer’s manipulation and are likely to be dependent on the batterer for basic survival.
- Military: If the victim or the perpetrator is in the military, an effective intervention is largely dependent on the commander’s response. Many commanders believe that it is more important to salvage the soldier’s military career than to ensure the victim’s safety.
- No Place to Go: Victims can’t find affordable housing or there is no shelter space.
- No Job Skills: Victims without job skills usually have no choice but to work for employers paying minimum wage, with few, if any, medical and other benefits.
- No Knowledge of Options: Victims without knowledge of the options and resources logically assume that none exist.
- Past Criminal Record: Victims with a past criminal record are often still on probation or parole, making them vulnerable to the batterer’s threats to comply with all of their demands or be sent back to prison.
- Previously Abused Victims: Sometimes previously abused victims believe the batterer’s accusation, “See, this is what you drive your partners to do to you!”
- Prior Negative Court Experiences: Victims don’t believe that they will be given the respect and safety considerations that they need in court.
- Promises of Change: The batterer’s promises of change may be easy to believe because they sound sincere. Victims are socialized to be forgiving.
- Religious Beliefs: Beliefs may lead victims to think they have to tolerate the abuse to show their adherence to the faith.
- Rural Victims: Victims may be isolated and simply unable to access services due to lack of transportation, or the needed programs are distant and unable to provide outreach.
- Safer to Stay: Assessing that it is safer to stay may be accurate when the victim can keep an eye on the batterer, sensing when the batterer is about to become violent and, to the extent possible, taking action to protect themselves and their children.
- Students: Students in high school or college may fear that untrained administrators will deny their requests for help. If the perpetrator is also a student, the victim often does not want them to be expelled from school.
- Shame and Embarrassment: The victim doesn’t want to disclose the abuse or may deny that any problem exists.
- Stockholm Syndrome: The victim may experience this syndrome and bond with the abuser.
- Substance Abuse or Alcohol: Either the victim or offender’s substance abuse may inhibit seeking help, often for fear that the children will be removed.
- Teens: Teens are at greater risk for abuse in their relationships than any other age group. Peer pressure, immaturity, no knowledge of resources, and low self-esteem all factor into the decision to stay.
- Transportation: A lack of transportation condemns victims to a choice between welfare and returning to their abusers.
- Unaware that Abuse is a Criminal Offense: This can occur often if family, friends and community professionals minimize the crimes.
- Undocumented Victims: Victims facing complex immigration problems if they leave are often forced to stay with the batterers who may control their INS status.
Missouri Coalition AgainstDomestic & Sexual Violence
National Network to End Domestic Violence
NationalCoalition Against Domestic Violence
These 50 Obstacles were adapted from Sarah M. Buel’s “FiftyObstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse VictimsStay”—50 different reasons that she has encountered throughout her 22 years of work in the domestic violence field and were taken from a week's worth of posts from The NationalDomestic Violence Hotline.