It’s the question every survivor of domestic violence is posed, often incredulously: Why didn’t you just leave? The reality is that leaving an abusive relationship is often a herculean task that endangers the woman and calls for resources that aren’t readily available.
In the United States, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence each year. But it doesn’t end there: The World Health organization reports that globally, about 35 percent of women have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. And that just includes those that have reported the violence. Between 55 and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners never contacted organizations, shelters, or the police for help. That means a large number of women stay.
Fact: One in three U.S. women has been or will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime.
FACT: A woman is beaten every 15 seconds in the United States. Countless more are emotionally abused, sexually coerced, and controlled financially.
A Deeper Look At Domestic Abuse: Why I stayed
Leaving is never the easy choice — it is just one more painful choice in a reality full of painful choices.
1. I was afraid of being shamed, judged, hated, or accused of lying.
You hear it all the time — an allegation of domestic abuse is waved away, with the reasoning, “I know him — he would never do that, she’s making it all up, he’s a nice guy.”
2. Abuse is generally cyclical, and most abusers follow a pattern that keeps victims feeling trapped.
It was as though he could sense when I was about to throw in the towel, and he’d suddenly be back to his old, loving self, making it very difficult for me to justify leaving him especially because I loved him and desperately wanted us to be able to function in a healthy relationship. He was giving me hope and I constantly thought to myself that maybe he’ll change, and everything will get better.
He would have a “moment of clarity” in which he would get down on his knees, sobbing, telling me he hated himself for what he’d done to me and begging me to forgive him.
3. I loved my husband.
Is it possible to love someone who abuses you? Absolutely. Furthermore, since abusive behavior is very rarely black and white, it makes things much more complicated than “should I stay or should I go.”
Despite everything he’d put me through, to see him collapse in tears like that to see him hurt so much nearly destroyed me. So even though I knew all too well the terrible things he’d done, in those moments, he seemed to me like a lost, broken boy and I would ache for him. I loved him so much that seeing his pain felt far worse than the pain he inflicted on me. And I couldn’t walk away not when he was hurting. Not when he needed me.
4. His emotional abuse and manipulation destroyed my self-esteem.
During my ten year marriage my ex-husband left some pretty inconceivable bruises on me, many times old bruises didn’t have time to heal before the next round would appear. He slowly began to eat away at my self-esteem and the mind games were the worst part. He would twist my thoughts and words until I felt like I was going crazy and would second guess the reality of the situation. I started telling myself that things weren’t that bad and they could be worse. Doubting the validity of your own thoughts and experiences is exhausting and terrifying, and it leaves you very, very vulnerable.
5. Fear of retaliation.
Simply running away from an abusive partner does not always mean the abuse will stop. In many cases, abusers will go so far as to stalk, rape, or even kill the women who tried to leave them. Sometimes it is literally not safe to leave. The realization of having to co-parent with the person who hurt you so badly is hard to imagine.
So the next time you find yourself tempted to say something judgmental about someone who has remained in an abusive situation for a period of time — please remember these words, from someone who has been there.