2. Abuser’s influence. If the abuser is wealthy, a politician, famous, a popular athlete or otherwise a powerful player in his or her community, he or she can generally afford to hire private counsel and pressure the decision-makers to view the case with more leniency. Some wealthy abusers not only hire private detectives to stalk, terrorise and frivolously sue their partners, they do the same to the advocates who assist their victims.
3. Threats. The survivor’s life and the life of his or her children are often threatened by the abuser if the survivor attempts to leave. Statistics show survivors are more likely to be killed when attempting to leave an abusive partner than at any other time. It’s dangerous to advise a survivor to simply leave without ensuring there is an extensive safety plan in place.
4. Children’s best interest. Some survivors believe it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, particularly if the abuser does not physically assault the children.
5. Pressure from children. Children putting pressure on the abused parent can be quite compelling, especially with those abusers who are manipulate the children into begging the survivor to “just let daddy come home.” Children are often torn, wanting the violence to stop but also wanting the family to stay together. Read more about childhood domestic violence in “When Children Witness Violence.”
6. Cultural and racial defenses. Cultural defences may be used by both offenders and survivors to justify abuse. Some people conform to common stereotypes about their own or other cultures, but the bottom line is that domestic violence is against the law, regardless of what behaviour is permitted in the “home” country or what may be sanctioned here in various communities.
7. Denial. Some victims are in denial about how dangerous their abuser may be, believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.
8. Disabilities. Survivors who are disabled or physically challenged may face greater obstacles, not only in gaining access to the court and social services, but also to basic information about existing resources as they are more likely to be more isolated from these options.
9. Elderly. Senior survivors tend to hold traditional beliefs about marriage. They believe they must stay, even in the face of abuse. Others are dependent on the batterer for care and finances and may be more afraid of being placed in a nursing home or having no one to assist them than remaining with an abuser.
10. Abuser’s excuses. A survivor may believe the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, often blaming job stress or substance abuse, in part because the survivor sees no one holding the offender responsible for his or her crimes. Domestic violence is not caused by stress, alcohol or any other substance abuse, although these things can exacerbate the problem. Most individuals, when under stress or the influence of alcohol or drugs, do not batter their partners.
11. Pressure from family members. Family pressure is exerted by those who either believe that there is no excuse for leaving a marriage or have been duped into denial by the batterer’s charismatic behaviour.
12. Fear the abuser will retaliate. Survivors are often scared their abuser will retaliate, either toward them or their children, when they leave. Since the abuser has already carried out his threats of abuse in the past, a survivor will take seriously these new threats.
13. Fear of losing child custody. This fear can immobilize even the most determined abuse survivor. Abusers know nothing will devastate the survivor more than seeing his or her children endangered, so using the threat of custody becomes yet another weapon for the abuser, heightening his power and control tactics to further terrify the survivor. Learn more about how to prepare yourself for a custody battle in the article “Battered Mothers Custody Conference.”
14. Financial abuse. This can take many forms, depending on the couple’s socioeconomic status, but the batterer may control anything from access to all financial records, credit cards and bank accounts to convincing survivors they are incapable of making any financial decisions. Survivors are sometimes forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions as well, at which point, the abuser tells them they will face prison terms for their part in perpetuating a fraud if they tell someone. For free, online tools to help you become financially independent, see, “Do You Know Where Your Money Is?”
15. Financial despair. A consequence of the above, many survivors who experience financial abuse may realize they are dependent on the abuser for all financial needs. The survivor may have to turn to an insufficient amount of welfare to provide for herself/himself and the children, and may be more likely to return to the abuser who promises financial security.
16. Gratitude. Survivors may feel a sense of gratitude toward the batterer because he has helped support and raise her children from a previous relationship. Or, the survivor may have a serious health problem through which the abuser has supported them. “You are so lucky I put up with you; certainly, nobody else would” is a common message abusers use to convince their victims no one else would want them.
17. Guilt. This is a common feeling among survivors whose abusers have convinced them that it is because of the survivor’s “incompetent” behaviour that the abuse occurs.
18. Homelessness. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among families. Homeless abuse survivors face increased danger as they struggle to meet basic survival needs while simultaneously attempting to elude their batterers.
19. Hope that the violence will end. A survivor’s hope of peace at home is often fueled by the abuser’s promises to change, pleas from children, some clergy member’s urgings to “just pray more,” a family’s pressure to save the relationship and other well-intentioned, but dangerously misguided counsel. Many survivors want so desperately to believe that their abuser will change, not realizing that without serious interventions, chances are slim the abuse will stop.
20. Isolation. Over time, abusers often cut off a survivor from communicating with their family, friends and colleagues. It’s a manipulation tactic that increases the likelihood a survivor will stay with the abuser. Without safety plans or reality checks, it’s more difficult for a survivor to assess his or her true level of danger. Living in a rural community can be another type of isolation barrier a survivor can face. Learn more in “A Rural Barrier.”
21. Wanting to keep the family together. Survivors with children often believe it is in the best interest of their children to have the other partner in their life full-time. Unfortunately, they may not know about the adverse and long-term effects children can experience witnessing domestic violence. For more info, read “5 Facts About Children of Domestic Violence.”
22. Illiteracy. An astounding 45 million U.S. adults are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level, according to the Literacy Project Foundation. Without the ability to read job applications, apartment leases, court documents and other important correspondence, illiterate survivors may be dependent on their abuser for survival.
23. Incarcerated or newly released survivors. These victims often have few, if any support systems to assist them with reentry to the community, says Buel. Parole officers may require they return home after incarceration and may not be aware that their abuser is still there. Some incarcerated survivors have taken the fall for their abuser. When they return home, they may be forced by their abuser to perform illegal activities again in order to avoid further abuse or to prevent themselves from being killed.
24. The abuser is in law enforcement. If the abuser is a police officer, the survivor may have fears that other officers will not help. He or she may also fear that reporting the abuse will cause the abuser to lose their job in law enforcement, which can be especially worrisome if that is the only income and if the couple will face poverty as a result. For ways to get help in this situation, read “When Your Abuser is a Police Officer.”
25. LGBTQ survivors. Lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and questioning survivors may feel trapped if they’re afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, which may be necessary in order to receive help, like when filing for a protection order. They may fear disclosing this information, or fear their abuser may reveal this information to those who may not know they are “out,” and thus lose relationships with family and friends or possibly lose their job as a result. They may have also experienced previous discrimination from law enforcement or the court system. For LGBTQ-specific groups survivors can reach out to, read “Violence Just as Prevalent in LGBTQ Relationships.”
26. Low self-esteem. Survivors with low self-esteem may believe they don’t deserve any better than the abuse, especially if they have grown up in families where abuse has been present.
27. Love. Yes, a survivor can still be in love with his or her abuser, even as he or she wants the violence to stop. Abusers are often very charismatic and charming during the courtship stage. Wanting the “good times” to come back, a survivor may believe they need to try harder to please the abuser, or they may rationalize that the abuse is only one aspect of an otherwise good relationship.
28. Mediation. In matters of family law, such as a report to law enforcement of domestic violence, mediation is still required in some jurisdictions. This puts the survivor in a dangerous position of having imbalanced power, not to mention the abuser will rarely show their true self in court. Survivors are left feeling that the abuser has controlled another facet of the court system through which the survivor may lose everything, from custody of the children to marital assets, says Buel. For similar reasons, “couples counseling” is also not recommended.
29. Health issues. Medical problems, for either the survivor or his or her children, could mean that a survivor must remain with the abuser in order to continue receiving proper medical care.
30. Mental illness. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in both the U.S. and Canada experience mental illness in a given year. For those with mental illnesses who are also being abused by their intimate partner, the challenges are often compounded. These survivors may be discriminated against or disbelieved, especially if their abuser convinces others that the victim is “crazy.” Abusers further keep these victims trapped by convincing them that no one will believe them if they reveal the abuse and that they are indeed “crazy.” If you’re not finding the support you need, read “When No Believes You,” for further advice.
31. Mentally disabled. If the survivor has a mental disability or a developmental delay, they are particularly vulnerable to the abuser’s manipulation, and more likely to be dependent on him or her for survival, says Buel. Finding a service provider or advocate trained in this area is key to developing a proper safety plan for leaving.
32. Military. If the survivor or the abuser is in the military, an effective intervention is largely dependent on the commander’s response. Buel says many commanders believe that it is more important to salvage the soldier’s military career than ensuring a survivor’s safety. For advice on reporting domestic violence when you or your partner is in the military, read, “Domestic Violence in the Military.”
33. No place to go. Housing is expensive, shelters are often at capacity and survivors can fear putting friends and family at risk if they stay with them when escaping an abuser. Intensive safety planning is key, says Buel, to ensure the best place to escape to is found and that the abuser will not be able to locate the survivor.
34. No job skills. Survivors with no job experience usually have no choice but to work for a job that pays minimum wage with few, if any medical benefits and little flexibility. If any emergency should arrive, such as a medically related emergency or one related to childcare, the survivor may feel he or she has no other option but to return to their abuser.
35. No knowledge of options. Survivors without awareness of their options in their communities, especially those in rural communities or survivors without access to the internet, may illogically assume no help is available. Buel says she hopes every advocacy group prioritizes getting their message out.
36. Past criminal record. Survivors with a previous criminal record, especially those still on probation, make them vulnerable to a batterer’s threats to comply with his or her demands or be sent back to prison. A criminal record could also prevent a survivor from getting an order of protection. Consult with an advocate for help on navigating the legal system in this case, says Buel.
37. Previous abuse. Sometimes, previous abuse can make a survivor believe he or she is to blame for this repeated treatment when, in reality, abuse is never deserved.
38. Negative experiences with the court system. Survivors who have not found the legal system to be supportive or easy to navigate may have no reason to believe they will find safety there again, which can prevent them from filing for an order of protection or pressing charges.
39. Promises of change. An abuser may sound sincere in his or her promises to change, swearing he or she will never drink, yell or hit the survivor again. Not wanting the marriage or relationship to fail, the survivor wants to believe things will get better, so will give the abuser umpteen chances to change.
40. Religious beliefs and misguided teachings. Such beliefs can lead survivors to think they have to tolerate the abuse to show their adherence to their faith. Furthermore, if the abuser is a priest, rabbi, minister or other high-level member of the faith community, the survivor can feel intimidated by their status and fear the congregation will support the abuser above all else.
41. Rural victims. Survivors who live in rural areas face isolation and limited access to services due to a lack of transportation, or the programs they need don’t offer outreach. In smaller communities, survivors also face the obstacle of the everybody-knows-everybody conundrum, and may be reluctant to reveal abuse because the heightened scrutiny can cause them more embarrassment among family and friends. Read more about the challenges of facing abuse in rural areas in “A Rural Barrier.”
42. Safer to stay. It may sound improbable, but sometimes, it’s safer for a survivor to stay. Particularly if the abuser has previously engaged in stalking or death threats, a victim may assess that, by keeping an eye on the batterer, they can sense when he or she is about to become violent and, as much as possible, take action to protect him or herself and any children in the home.
43. Being a Student. Students in high school, college or graduate university studies may fear that not only may their requests be stymied by untrained administrators, but that their student records could reflect their involvement with an abuser. If their abuser is also a student, the survivor may be afraid of being called out for “snitching” by disclosing abuse.
44. Shame and embarrassment. Many survivors feel shame or embarrassment about the abuse, which can prevent them from disclosing it to anyone, or may cause him or her to deny abuse when questioned by loved ones.
45. Stockholm syndrome. This is when an oppressed person develops a powerful bond with their oppressor, in this case, an abuser. It can make the survivor more sympathetic to the abuser and can prevent a survivor from leaving. You can read more about it in “Can DV Survivors Have Stockholm Syndrome?”
46. Substance or alcohol abuse. If either the survivor or the abuser, or both, are abusing alcohol or other substances, it may inhibit the survivor from seeking help, often for fear that children they share could be removed from the home. Or, a survivor may presume a shelter will not accept him or her if the survivor is struggling with addiction.
47. Teens. According to Buel, teens, especially those who are pregnant or who are already parents, are at greater risk for abuse in their relationship than any other age group, yet are the least likely to report or seek adult intervention. Some teens are fleeing homes where they were abused, or witnessed abuse between adults, and are more vulnerable to dating abusive partners as a result. This low self-esteem can factor into a teen’s decision to stay with an abuser. An astounding 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse by a dating partner each year. Read more in “Teens: Are You in an Unhealthy Relationship?”
48. Transportation. Without a car to access a job or childcare, many survivors feel hopeless about the prospect of leaving and avoiding poverty or further harm.
49. Unaware that abuse is a criminal offense. Though hard to believe for many of us, some survivors are unaware that the abuse they’re enduring is a criminal offense, often because someone in their life has minimized the crime.
50. Undocumented survivors. Undocumented victims fear they will face complex immigration problems if they leave. Their abuser has told them that he or she can get them deported. The survivor may fear losing custody of her children if reported as undocumented.