“Understand What You Are Asking: Why Don’t They Just Leave?”

As we enter a new year and a new decade we wanted to spend some time on our blog addressing the most popular questions and misconceptions that we hear from our community. This month we are answering the question, “Why don’t they just leave?”. While to someone who isn’t in an abusive relationship, this may seem like an obvious solution, what many don’t realize is that leaving an abusive partner is often much more complicated (and dangerous) than it seems. 

If you have ever heard someone talk about domestic abuse, they will tell you that it is about power and control and how domestic abuse is all about the abusive partner needing to have power and control over their partner/victim. When a victim leaves (or tries to leave) they are taking away power from her partner, which can cause retaliation that is often very destructive and dangerous. The fact is that the most lethal time in an abusive relationship is after a victim leaves (or tries to leave). More than 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has gotten out. We want to educate on the complexity of abuse and shed light on why leaving isn’t the easiest or safest option for a victim – it is the opposite. 

  1. Fear: Rightfully so, a person may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship. Whether that be fear for their safety or fear of the unknown of what to do now that they are looking to begin a new (abuse-free) chapter of life. 
  2. Believing Abuse is Normal: A person may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, and they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
  3. Embarrassment or Shame: It’s often difficult for someone to admit that they are being abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong and deserve the abuse coming from their abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them or think of them differently. 
  4. Low Self-Esteem: When an abusive partner constantly puts someone down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for the victim to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault. This is known as emotional abuse and it is an effective way that abuse belittles their partner to help keep control and power over them. Emotional abuse in addition to threats of physical violence, isolation, verbal abuse, financial abuse
  5. Love: So often, the victim feels love for their abusive partner. They may have children (and/or pets) with them and want to maintain their family. Abusive people can often be charming, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and the victim may hope that their partner will go back to being that person. They may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
  6. Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles supported by someone’s culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
  7. Language Barriers/Immigration Status: If a person is undocumented, they may fear that reporting the abuse will affect their immigration status. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to express the depth of their situation to others. We have seen so much more of this as our political climate has changed in the past few years. A number of minorities are terrified of law enforcement and what may happen to them if law enforcement gets involved. We have also seen an increase in the diversity of our survivors coming to our doors, new languages, cultural backgrounds, and customs has required us to add resources to better serve everyone that is needing our safety and support. 
  8. Lack of Money/Resources: Financial abuse is common, and a victim may be financially dependent on their abusive partner. When a victim’s money is taken and controlled, they are given no access to bank accounts and credit cards, and all of their belongings are to their abusive partner’s name, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner. 
  9. Disability: When someone is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence their decision to stay in an abusive relationship

These are just a few of the complex reasons an individual will stay. On top of the stress and trauma they are enduring, leaving is a lot to consider and carry out. At Harbor House, we have and are continuing to evolve our programs to address these barriers to make connecting with us and reaching out easier and more welcoming for anyone that needs support. Our 24/7 helpline provides a line for individuals to reach out at any time to talk about anything they need to process. We have a number of bi-lingual staff on our team to provide better support for our Hispanic, Hmong, and Deaf survivors and we have (in the past year) utilized the language line 10x more than any year prior. 

When individuals decided to come in to meet with an advocate, they are assigned an advocate that will join them on their journey. Our advocates will talk through what they are experiencing, how they are feeling, and challenge them to think about what they want for their future. We believe our job is to be their cheerleader, to give them resources that will help them get to where they envision their future, not to make decisions for them or tell them what to do. We also offer support groups where individuals can meet other survivors that understand the emotions, fears, and hardships they have been experiencing. Our support groups are meant for survivors to make new friendships and bonds and also to support healing in a communal setting through a support network of other support group attendees.

The next time the question. “Why don’t they just leave?”, consider the question. “Why are they abusive?, What don’t they stop abusing their partner?, or “What can I do to support victims?


Staying in an abusive relationship is not a crime – committing an act of domestic violence is – we need to stop blaming victims. 


If you feel you are in an unsafe relationship, please give us a call to talk to one of our advocates. All of our services are free and 100% confidential. We are here 24/7 to provide you support, please give us a call at 920.832.1667.