In 2014, the hashtag “#WhyIStayed” spread on social media after a video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, went viral, sparking a conversation surrounding why domestic violence victims stay in their relationships. There were valid concerns that the question was victim-blaming. According to an article from USA Today, one of the original people behind the hashtag explained, “My purpose was to change the question from, Why doesn’t she leave? to, Why does he hit her?” Today, the question still remains, even if the conversation is no longer making headlines.
The question is a complex one, with no single answer, as every situation and every victim is different, with varying experiences, personalities, backgrounds, and needs. A victim can have one particular reason or a full list of reasons as to why they may stay with their abuser. Regardless of the reasons, it is important to remember that a victim has a right to choose what is best for them and their situation, even if from the outside looking in, you may not understand or agree.
While not always a primary reason, fear can be a significant underlying factor in someone staying, specifically the fear of what happens after they leave an abusive relationship.
Will the abuser follow through with threats they’ve made in the past?
Will the victim be able to support themselves and their children once they are out?
How will the victim’s family, friends, and community respond to them choosing to leave?
These concerns can often be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when victims contemplate leaving.
Here are several reasons, documented by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), as to why victims have stayed:
- Fear that the abuser will escalate their abusive behaviors if the victim tries to leave.
- Lack of access to or knowledge regarding safety, support, and resource options.
- Unsupportive friends and/or family.
- Lack of means to support themselves financially, including being unable to access bank accounts, cash, and assets.
- Fear of losing custody of mutual children should they leave or divorce the abuser, or that the abuser will hurt or kill the children.
- Having nowhere to stay when they leave or fear that homelessness would be their only option.
- Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship.
- Issues regarding trust or support in relation to the Criminal Justice System (i.e., law enforcement, prosecutors, etc.).
- Inconsistency of abuse; during non-violent phases, the abuser may fulfill the victim’s dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to “let off steam.”
Again, these are merely a sampling of many reasons as to why someone may stay in an abusive situation.
There are many things that can be done to assist and support victims of domestic violence. On an individual scale, you can learn and share information about local resources that are available, educate yourself on the myths and facts about DV, share articles like this one on social media, and volunteer time to community organizations. The more support, resources, and information are readily available and shared, the more likely someone may learn about it and be able to access what they may need to start the process of leaving.
The Arkansas Valley Resource Center is available to help when someone may be considering exiting an abusive relationship. We are a voluntary service, and staff will not force a victim into any actions or choices they are not ready for. AVRC also doesn’t require for a victimization to have been involved in the criminal justice system in order for someone to access our services. AVRC offers many options for someone trying to exit an abusive situation, including seeking financial assistance, housing support, protection orders, divorce and custody assistance, and peer counseling. We can also assist in relocation out of the area, via various transport options, as referring and connecting victims with ongoing support in the area they may be relocating to.
Remember that everyone is different, that no one timeline or process is right for every person; what works for one victim could put another in harm’s way. Regardless of the when, if, or how of someone leaving, it is important to be supportive whenever someone decides to take steps toward leaving and is making choices that are right for them.