Note: Domestic Violence is committed against men as well as women (1 male in 6 female cases). Since the majority of cases involve women the term “she” will be used in this article to reflect the victim.

The most frequent response to news of a domestic violence incident in communities is “Why does she stay?” While this seems a simple question, its answer is complicated and vast. In fact, on the contrary, most victims are, for various reasons, in a constant cycle of staying, leaving and returning.

Moreover, the question seems to show the lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence and shows the tendency to blame the victim.

A victim may stay or return to an abusive relationship for a variety of reasons. These range from threats of death to, because the abuser has alienated her friends and family, she simply feels she has nowhere to go.

Many victims feel that they can change their abusers, that his violence is temporary. She may feel that if she loves him more or is more loyal he will stop abusing her. She may feel pity for him saying, “He’s had a hard life” or “He needs me.” Many women don’t want the relationship to end, just the violence.

It’s her fault

Since emotional abuse is a prominent factor in domestic violence, she may believe her abuser when he says, “See what you made me do?” The victim may believe that if she paid more attention to his needs then he would not “need to beat” her to make her pay attention.

She may feel embarrassed that she chose to marry an abuser and is afraid of the reaction of family and friends. She may feel humiliated and ashamed.

There is a perception that domestic violence only happens in lower income communities when in fact it knows no income bracket. Many women are afraid that if they report the violence, their husbands might lose their jobs or that people won’t believe that a successful, affluent man could do this. Fear of being ridiculed or accused of presenting false claims may also play into her decision to stay.

Some women feel that the failure of the relationship is her fault. The victim often feels that if she were just a better wife this wouldn’t have happened and most likely that she drove him to this act of violence. She also may feel a lack of personal competence or have a fear of “being alone.”

Other women may believe that all men are violent and this is just to be expected. This is usually the result of growing in a home in which domestic violence was commonplace.


Fear is a major factor in domestic violence. Many women believe their abuser’s threats. She may believe that he will kill her if she leaves and he finds her. She may believe that the violence will be more severe “the next time.” He may threaten to harm (or kill) himself, their children, parents, friends and/or pets.

She may live in constant fear that he will cause her to lose her job or harm her reputation.

Most victims are afraid that he will stalk her and fears looking around every corner for him to find her and abuse her more severely.

Many cases involve threats that if she reports anything to the police, clergy, family, friends or doctors the consequences will be dire.

Honeymoon period

One phase of the cycle of abuse is called the “honeymoon period.” This phase is a period of calm that follows the violence.

During this period he may promise her that it will “never happen again.” He may tell her he loves her, he is sorry, give her flowers or expensive gifts to show that he is sincere. He may be kind, thoughtful, charming and remorseful. He also may appeal to family and friends to assist him in applying pressure on her to return to him. Most often, thinking that he has changed, she will return to the relationship as if nothing has happened. After this period, the domestic abuse cycle (anger buildup—violence—honeymoon) begins again.

The average abused woman leaves 7 to 8 times before permanently leaving a relationship.

Economic factors

One aspect of leaving that is often overlooked is the economic impact. She may be unemployed and have no means by which to support her and the children. Her education may be lacking or she may have no work experience. The abuser may control of all cash, checking and savings accounts leaving her no way to support even the initial stage of leaving. She also may not have access to important documentation such as birth certificates and social security cards which are important in attempting to get a job or apply for services for the children.

In a lot of cases, a shelter may not be close enough that she would be able to maintain her current job while seeking assistance.

The Children

Many times the children play an important role in her decision to leave. She may be afraid that he will abuse or abduct them. Police or legal repercussion may be threatened if she leaves and takes the children such as having her arrested for kidnapping or taking away her custody.

Belief that children need a father may play a role and she feels she can make that sacrifice for them.

Also, if she relocates the children, it may mean a disruption in their school year or mean that they will need to change schools and thus friends.

Pressure from family and community

Many family or religious beliefs may dictate to stay married “at any cost.” Family members may deny that violence there is violence in her relationship and think she is “making it up” for attention.

Then again, she may have been the child in an abusive household and think this is normal family life. Sometimes the family may blame her for the violence.

When turning to her spiritual leaders, some religious leaders are vehemently against divorce and may tell her to “stay and pray” for a better outcome.

Lack of community support

There may be a lack of community support available to the victim or she may have been so isolated by her abuser that she may be unaware of the services available.

She may fear that there is an inadequate childcare to assist her in removing herself from the situation.

There may be few jobs or a lack of affordable housing in the area. This makes the decision to leave seem a certain failure from the beginning.

Past experiences with assistance agencies or legal council may have been negative.

The answer to the question “Why does she stay?” can have any number of answers with any number of fears and perceived negative consequences attached. Each case is different but nevertheless the sense of being trapped is a real and fearful situation for the victim.

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