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One of the most frequently asked questions about domestic violence is, “why do women stay?”  To be able to provide support and services to the victims and survivors of domestic violence, it is crucial that this issue be addressed.  However, the question that needs to be answered is not “why women stay” but rather “what prevents women from leaving”.

Why doesn’t she leave?

Some people are beginning to look closely at what battered women do to survive in the midst of battering relationships.  One of the most interesting things that researchers found when they examined battered women’s behavior was how much they sought help to resolve their problems.  It became clear that in these studies that the real problem was the help that was offered – and that battered women are neither passive nor helpless.

The study shows that battered women’s help seeking behavior increases as the battering becomes worse, culminating in the woman trying to leave the relationship.  Battered women had extensive contact with police, courts, district attorneys, ministers, therapists, Al-Anon groups, and child protection agencies.  However, very little of this help seemed to help.  Most of it seemed designed to actually hurt her efforts to be safe.

It is NOT battered women who are helpless, it is the SYSTEM that is helpless.

60% of the women killed in the U.S. are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

80% of all murders & serious injuries are inflicted on women when they try to escape.

Batterers and the community must take responsibility for ending domestic violence.

The questions and answers about violence towards women, until very recently focused on women.  Women were considered the problem, the reason men were violent.  Therefore women had to change in order to fix the problem. This approach has trapped many abused women into situations where they believed the abuse was a problem that they had to fix. 

Abuse is not a problem the victim can correct.

It is a problem that only the abuser can fix.

Or that society can work to protect the victim from.

From Domestic Violence for Beginner, by Alisa Deltufo

The summary that follows attempts to breakdown and categorizes the factors that prevent women from leaving.  All of these factors are not found in each case, but a combination of some of them is usually enough to keep the woman together with her husband/partner.

Frequency and Severity

The battering may occur over a relatively short period of time.

He may tell her and she may be convinced that this battering was the last.

Generally, the less severe and less frequent the incidents, the more likely she’ll stay.

Economic Dependence

The partner may control all the money and she may have no access to cash, checks or important documents.

The victim may be economically dependent on him and see no real alternative.  In their eyes, it may be worth putting up with abuse in order to gain economic security.

 Economic conditions today afford a woman with children few viable options.  She often has no marketable skills.  Government assistance is very limited and many women dread welfare.


She believes her partner to be almost omnipotent.  She sees no real way to protect herself from him. 

If she or even a neighbor reports him to the police, he will often take revenge on her.

Often, she is so terrified, that she will deny abuse when questioned.

Some women are afraid that if they report the crime or tell of the abuse, their partner might lose his job, possibly the only source of income for the family.

Some women are afraid of incurring the wrath of the extended family if they break up with him or report him.

She might still love the abuser and might fear loneliness & lack of emotional support.

She might also fear that partner will not survive alone.

She might fear losing custody of her children.

Low Self Esteem

 Learned helplessness; often explains a battered woman’s inability to act on her own behalf.  She learns that her behavior has no effect on the outcome of a situation, since she is repeatedly abused with no logical consequences from preceding incidents.  She begins to believe what he says about her being incompetent and unable to function on her own.

 Severely depressed people often cannot take action.

 Often he is violent only with her and she therefore concludes that it must be something wrong with her.  She often accepts his reasoning that she "deserved” the punishment or that he was just too drunk to know what he was doing.

Some women believe that if they would improve or stop making mistakes, that the battering would stop.  They stay because of guilt.

Social stigma . . . because others can’t understand why any self-respecting woman would stay in that situation, she may be embarrassed to admit it.

She believes she has no power to change her situation.

Beliefs about Marriage

 Religious and cultural beliefs or the eyes of society demand that she maintain the façade of a good marriage.

Often she stays for the sake of the “children needing a father.”

 She may believe that battering is a part of every marriage.

 Many women are raised to believe in the all-importance of a good relationship with a man, and that good relationships are their responsibility, not his.

Her Beliefs about Men

 She often still loves him and is emotionally dependent.

She believes him to be all-powerful and able to find her anywhere.  Many of her fears and beliefs about him are based in reality since some of the violence exhibited by these men is lethal.

 Often, motivated by pity and compassion, she feels he is the only one who can help him overcome his problem.


Often he is her only support system psychologically, he having systematically destroyed           her other friendships.  Other people feel uncomfortable around violence and withdraw from it. 
She may have no idea that services are available (if indeed they are) and may feel trapped.  Religious counselors, general helping agencies and law enforcement and judicial officials are not social workers or trained in the complexities of battering.  Medical personnel often do not identify battering victims.  

He often threatens to kill her, the children and anyone else if she reports him, thus cutting off communication with potential helpers. 

Often relatives get tired of helping her out, time after time, giving her a place to stay, etc.  They no longer are willing to be resources upon which she can rely.

Having no one to talk to, they often don’t even see themselves as battered women.  They may realize they have problems, but they don’t know they have the right to not be beaten.

Some women believe that outsiders should not be involved in the affairs of a family.