Understanding why people stay in abusive relationships requires us to think about our own assumptions first. For example, why are we not asking “why doesn’t the abusive partner stop abusing?”

We need to be very careful not to blame the victim. But unfortunately, sometimes just asking this question makes us guilty of victim blaming.  As well, we need to stop saying that “this would never happen to me.” Just about every victim of domestic violence has wondered how this possibly could have happened to her (or him).

In order to understand why people stay in abusive relationships, we need to really think about the barriers that keep them in those relationships (one of which may be our tendency to suggest that the victim – and not the abuser – needs to take action).  Other barriers include:

  • Victims lack financial resources to be independent and fear poverty
  • Victims are concerned about the disruption in their children’s lives should they separate or seek support from a shelter (for instance, moving to a different community or school)
  • Abusers threaten to abduct children, fight for sole custody, or refuse to pay child support
  • Abusers may also threaten to harm or kill children, pets, extended family members, or themselves in the event of a separation
  • People with disabilities or those who are not Canadian Citizens may rely on their partners for additional support (like attendant care or immigration sponsorship)
  • Victims may face additional language barriers and rely on their abusive partners for translation
  • Victims fear that nobody will believe them or the social stigma that comes with reporting
  • Victims do not fully understand their rights
  • Victims are told by their particular churches, family members, friends, etc. that they should stay in the relationship for the sake of the children
  • Victims feel that they are to blame for the abuse8