Safe + Sound Blog

Why Do Survivors Stay?

“Why Didn’t You Just Leave?”

By Lauren Lia, MSW, LCSW
Director of Clinical Services

This is the question survivors of domestic abuse hear over and over again. The question may come from well-meaning family and friends, or even from the system designed to help them. But, leaving isn’t easy and there are real reasons why it is hard to leave.

It takes a survivor an average of 7 to 12 times to leave an abusive relationship (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2019), and there are numerous reasons that make leaving difficult for survivors of domestic abuse.

Financial abuse reportedly occurs in 99% of abusive relationships (NNEDV, 2017). Survivors often have difficulty accessing family funds for a deposit for housing, or their sole earning wage may not pay bills for themselves and their children.

Safety is an incredibly important factor. The most dangerous time for a survivor is after leaving the relationship when the abusive partner loses power and control over their partner (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2019). Threatening harm if a survivor leaves is a common control tactic. The data shows the risk for survivors during this time is serious and real.

Lack of education about healthy relationships and domestic abuse is an incredibly influential dynamic. We speak with so many survivors that, after receiving support from Safe+Sound Somerset, can finally label their experience as abuse. It is only after leaving that some survivors realize the warning signs that were present all along, but not be recognized at the time.

All of these factors make leaving more difficult. They are also a call to action to reduce barriers in a variety of ways.

                  • Financial education and empowerment programs: so no one has to endure abuse just to pay bills.
                  • Increased protections, such as access to safety planning tools: so a survivor can safely exit an abusive situation.
                  • Community education: so community members can better spots sings of domestic abuse and understand its dynamics, making them stronger supports for survivors in their lives.

Just as important as addressing these barriers is shifting the question to begin with. The question “Why didn’t you just leave?” is rooted in a mindset of victim blaming, meaning putting responsibility on the survivor rather than the perpetrator of the abuse.

More effective questions that do not carry this connotation:

“What has happened to you?”

“What can I do to support you?”

“What do you need in this moment?”

These trauma informed questions seek to focus on the survivor as a capable person who can make healthy decisions for themselves and their families when they have the support they need.

In summary, “leaving” is a complex issue that each survivor of domestic abuse must navigate based on their own set of personal circumstances. As a family member, friend or professional, we must offer our understanding and support to a survivor without judgement. 

If you know someone who wants help leaving an abusive relationship, or you have questions about how domestic abuse and resources available to survivors, contact our 24/7 call and text hotline at 866-685-1122. Information and resources are also available at www.safe-sound.org.


Sources and additional reading:

“50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10.”  The National Domestic Violence Hotline, April 12, 2019.

“Learn More about Financial Abuse.”  NNEDV, 2017.

“Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships? – The Hotline.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline, March 12, 2018.