Why Victims in Domestic Violence Relationships Stay

If you are a person in a domestically violent relationship, please know that there are resources available to you when you are ready. You may reach out the National Domestic Violence Hotline on their website here, as well as call the Hotline number at: 1-800-799-7233  OR  1-800-787-3224 (TTY). 

Trigger warning for the following content as it does discuss domestic violence in some detail. Thank you.

Victim blaming is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence when working with clients that have been sexually assaulted, abused, and taken advantage of. Why individuals have the innate desire to place guilt on the victim of a crime, I will never know. Often at risk for being victim-blamed are individuals that have stayed in domestically violent relationships. This can also be called Intimate Partner Violence.

In a lot of education or prevention curriculum, it is often stated that women are the victims and men are the people carrying out the abuse. Though this oftentimes seems like the case, I want to make it very clear that men are also victims of domestic violence. Any person, in any type of relationship, can be a victim of domestic violence, likewise, any person in any type of relationship can be abusive. Domestic violence does not discriminate, and neither should we if we want to eradicate this issue.

Now, how does domestic violence happen? Do people see it coming? There are red flags and signs to be aware of, but many times the person abusing has manipulated their partner so that those red flags are excused. In order to better understand the the cycle of a domestically violent relationship, the following diagram illustrates what it looks like.

One thing about this diagram that I’d like to correct is the numerical order of the categories. The Honeymoon Phase in a DV relationship is typically what takes place first. The victimized partner is in love with the abuser, and the abuser is the “best” and most “loving” partner. This lays the foundation for the manipulation that will follow – The calm before the storm. To the person being manipulated, this feels like love – true, intense, amazing love. It’s because of this feeling, because of being in love, it becomes harder down the road to see what is happening, or to leave. Too many times, excuses are made for poor behavior and abusive tendencies, because the relationship is in a “rough patch.” Please understand before you victim blame, that they were in love, the abuser treated them wonderfully and right, and whisked them away. Which makes this hard, because it could happen to anyone. We are humans, and often crave human affection and partnership. When this happens, we may fall in love fast and hard. This isn’t a trait of the person being taken advantage of, but a trait many people hold. We are humans, and we are emotional, attached, and love craving beings.

Next, tensions begin to build. The person being abused may feel they did something wrong or hurtful, but are unsure what it is. They can feel the abusive person’s anger and frustration, and has a foreboding feeling as to what is going to happen. This person may feel like they are walking on egg shells, and attempt to avoid the impending conflict.

The tension that was building finally explodes into something very serious – abuse. This could be verbal, psychological, physical, sexual, or emotional. The abuser uses intimidation and power to purposefully cause harm to their partner. I will not give examples here, as I do not want to trigger any individuals. I’m sure you understand what can occur in this phase.

After the abuse occurs, the abuser wants to make sure that they haven’t gone too far so the person being abused leaves. The abuser makes up excuses, said they were having a bad day, and apologizes for their outburst. They may even say it’s the partner’s fault, and frame it in such a way that the person facing abuse feels responsible, and as a result, apologizes to the abuser. Intense manipulation occurs here so that the abuser remains in control, and the person in a DV relationship feels that it was a normal relationship fight or argument that everyone experiences.

This cycle continues, with a period of calm, happiness, and feelings of love before the tension begins to rise again. Eventually, the cycle may break down completely until the abuser no longer bothers with calm and reconciliation, and uses only fear and intimidation to keep the partner being abused where they are.

This is a horrific cycle, and many people get stuck in it. But why? Often times, people being abused understand what is occurring, and they long to leave the relationship, but they do not. This occurs for a multitude of reasons, and differs depending on the person and their relationship. It can also be many things at once. The next figure depicts how the abuser uses their power and control to keep the person being abused where they are, and ensures their inability to leave.

Image result for power and control wheel

In regards to fear tactics, when the abuser’s partner attempts to leave their abusive relationship, the person’s likelihood of being murdered at the hands of their abuser increases by 70%. When they finally have the courage to leave, to leave everything behind, they now have a 70% chance of being KILLED by their abuser. So before any fingers are pointed at the person in a domestically violent relationship, let’s take a moment and understand that there is an immense amount of courage it takes to walk away and put your life at risk.

That being said, really look at the Power and Control Wheel. If the couple has children together, the abusive partner often will use the children to make the person stay. This could be threatening to harm the children, take the children away from the person being abused, etc. It is also important to understand that when children are in the home with domestic violence, the children have a high chance of also being abused by the parent. They also are at a significant risk for becoming abusers themselves, or entering abusive relationships in the future.

Another significant factor in domestic violence, is the frequent financial abuse that occurs. If the partner does have a job, the finances are typically taken away from them. The abusive person ensures that the person being abused has no financial resources or support to leave. If a person doesn’t have money to provide, they cannot move into another home, or get access to other resources that may assist in the leaving process. The person being abused would have to start from scratch, and if family or friend support is not an option, will likely need to stay in a shelter. The person being abused is being severely oppressed by the abuser, for the sole person of not enabling them to leave.

Based on the breakdown of DV/IPV relationships, I hope you walk away with a better understanding of WHY domestic violence occurs in the first place, and WHY it is so incredibly difficult for the person being abused to leave. Please allow yourself to emphatically look at people in these situations, and understand that they are brave and facing war at home every day.

With this heavy material, it is easy to leave feeling helpless. How can we help? What can we do to assist people in domestic violence SAFELY flee their abuser? My next post will detail what we as social workers, friends, family members, or neighbors, can do to alleviate the pain and suffering that occurs. With this, I sincerely hope you continue to educate yourself, engage in tough conversations, and grow to be able to lend a helping hand instead of critical words.


Thank you,

Laura Swanson, BSW

Disclaimer #1: The illustrations above are not mine. They are used frequently, and it is difficult to track down the original source. Please understand that I do not own those images or anything about them.

Disclaimer #2: In this post, I tried my absolute best to use person-first language. It is best to avoid using labels such as “abuser,” “victim,” etc., because it ultimately dehumanized a person, and allows another to see them as only one thing. There are times I did not use person-first language because of my personal difficulty finding a correct sounding sentence. Please excuse this. I am working on changing this completely, but it does take time to get used to correcting these terms. Both the person that abused, and the person being abused, are PEOPLE. It is necessary that we remember that, and do not limit one’s life story to one label. Thank you.

Featured Image found here.

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