There is a popular assumption that if a woman is in an abusive relationship she has the power to end the abuse if she just leaves. However, the reality is that leaving does not mean the abuse ends and in fact, is the most dangerous time for a woman. Violence in an intimate relationship is a systematic pattern of domination, where the abuser uses abusive tactics designed to maintain power and control over the woman. So, once she has left, the abusive partner is usually angry that they’ve lost power and control and it’s their goal to regain that control, which can also mean an escalation of violence.

We know there are many barriers for survivors that will prevent them from leaving and only a survivor knows when it is safe to leave. Even then, it is still a risk. Safety is always at the centre of our work at Battered Women’s Support Services. You may call BWSS Crisis & Intake Line at 604-687-1867 or toll-free at 1-855-687-1868 for support and information.

The next time a survivor steps forward to disclose abuse consider these 19 reasons below about why they stay.

1. Fear 

Fear of retaliation; of being killed; of the abusive partner hurting loved ones; of being stalked; of not being believed; of unsupervised visits with the abusive partner putting children at risk. The statistics outline the reality that the most dangerous time for a survivor/victim is when she leaves the abusive partner. 77 percent of domestic violence-related homicides occur upon separation and there is a 75 percent increase of violence upon separation for at least two years.

2. Gaslighting 

Gaslighting is where the abusive partner minimizes what’s happening by convincing a survivor her memories of events are incorrect. She ends up doubting her own intuition about the level of danger she’s in, even as friends and family might be able to clearly see it. An abusive partner will even make a survivor feel like the abuse is her fault, and if only she changed her behaviour, the abuse would stop.

3. Isolation 

The abusive partner will isolate the survivor from her friends, family, community support, and resources, as abusive partners seek to cut off survivors from support networks as a control mechanism

4. Children

Fear for safety of children, if the abusive partner has threatened to hurt them if she leaves, custody concerns (such as the abusive partner gaining custody which occurs in more than half of cases); child abuse that has occurred as a result of trying to leave.

5. Threats of suicide

The abusive partner may make threats to hurt their partner/children, other loved ones, and/or pets; threats to call Canada Border Services Agency or Immigration Canada; threats to take the children; threats to “out” (as in coming out?) their partner to family or coworkers, etc.

6. Economic Necessity

The abusive partner may control the finances or be the sole source of finances for the family; the abusive partner may have destroyed the survivor’s credit or forced joint accounts so starting over financially is not feasible.

7. Lack of resources/Information

Such as lack of transportation to services, lack of access to the internet to find services or lack of resources in the survivor’s language.

8. Nowhere to go/Housing Crisis

Shelters are full, wait lists are long, and rent prices are too high, so even when survivors feel ready to leave they might not have anywhere to go.

9. Hope

The abusive partner promises they will change, using manipulative tactics to try to keep the survivor in the relationship.

10. A connection to the partner’s well-being

Far that the abusive partner will be arrested, imprisoned, deported etc. which may have consequences for the survivor through retaliation, finances, and children.

11. Failure of the criminal legal system

With a very low prosecution rate, survivors are not likely to pursue prosecution when they will have to be revictimized in court without any meaningful results. Perpetrators often threaten the partner if they don’t recant and even when victims press charges, did this have to be in quotations? it often only leads to a “slap on the wrist” for the perpetrator. There have been instances where the victim is wrongfully arrested by police for allegedly perpetrating domestic violence.

12. Racism

In the criminal justice system that results in a fear of turning to resources such as the police or courts.

13. Culture/religion/family pressures to stay together.

14. Shame

The belief that the abuse is their fault, largely because of societal victim blaming. Causing many survivors feel like the abuse is somehow their fault.

15. Immigration status

Abusive partners may threaten the survivor with deportation if she discloses abuse, which can also result in fear of separation from children, law enforcement etc.

16. Distrust of police

If survivors have called the police in the past and haven’t had a positive experience, they’re not likely to call again. Similarly, if the survivor’s abuser is a police officer, disclosing abuse can be even more dangerous. The abuser has likely told her no one will believe her or that he’ll be able to convince them she was the perpetrator. Police officer abusers also have access to firearms, even if they’ve had a domestic violence charge, increasing her lethality risk.

17.  Elderly or having a disability

The abusive partner may be the survivor’s caretaker or vice versa—the survivor might be the abusive partner’s caretaker. The survivor might stay out of obligation or may feel like they can’t live independently without the abusive partner’s help.

18.  Victims who are from other marginalized genders face stigmas 

We often refer to survivors as “she” because the most common victim of domestic violence is someone who identifies as female. But all gender identities can be survivors as well and escaping from an abuser can add another barrier. Nonbinary survivors often feel left out of the conversation of domestic violence altogether. Resources for LGBTQ2S and non-binary survivors of violence.

19. Pets

Many women are not able to escape their abusive partners because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave. Domestic violence is an issue that does not discriminate. It affects even our beloved pets. People who abuse will use anything they can to gain power or control, which can include your pets. If you’re creating a safety plan of your own to leave an abusive relationship, safety planning for your pets is important as well. If possible, don’t leave pets alone with an abusive partner. If you are planning to leave, talk to friends, family, or your veterinarian about temporary care for your pet. Create your own personalized safety plan using our online interactive tool that includes prompts to help you and your pets remain safe while you are in an abusive relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave.

When our friend, family member, loved one is living with abuse by an intimate partner, we have a key role in supporting their journey. You may be the only person that they can trust. Click here to learn how you can help a friend.

Take action and give the gift of safety. Because Safety Changes Everything.