Why Do Victims "Go Back" or Stay?

A question often asked about domestic abuse situations is, "Why don't they just leave?" (or similarly "Why did you stay so long?")

Ellen Higgins and Deborah Hackworth explore this question and its answers with host Claudia Pahls on this episode.

First, the question should be reframed to "Why does the abuser keep abusing?" We need to stop blaming the victim for being in an abusive situation.

Even when a victim leaves, the abuse rarely stops. It may stop for them, but the perpetrator will likely continue to abuse if they don't change their behavior.

Also, since abuse is all about power and control, when a victim tries to leave and the perpetrator feels like they're losing that control, abuse escalates. With that in mind, and realizing that the relationship has its good times, leaving becomes difficult.

Deb illustrates the situation well with a metaphor. Each reason not to leave becomes a cinder block.

  • Love- The victim still feels love

  • Finances- The abuser may hold the finances and the victim relies on them

  • Children- Victims worry about what will happen to their children if they leave

  • Pets- Victims may worry about threats to pets

  • No plan- It isn't the fairy tale we see in media that a victim just decides and leaves and the abuser realizes their ways. It takes on average 8 times for someone to try to leave before it's a permanent decision.

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