Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay

by Sarah M. Buel

It is when my head makes contact with the wall that I freeze, though his fist is coming toward me again. I have not yet taken behavior psychology and do not know that some animals flee when attacked.It would take me yet another year of planning, forgiving, calling, reaching for help, before I could leave. The Legal Aid Office told me there was a three-year wait, even for a divorce when you were getting hit. All the private attorneys wanted at least $10,000 for a retainer since he threatened to contest custody.The judge told me I needed to keep the family together. The priest told me to diversify the menu and stop cooking so much Italian food. Only the older, male marriage counselor told me that it was dangerous for me to stay. So, now I’m a single Mom, without child support and trying to go to night school and keep my job. But with minimum wage, I can’t seem to pay both day care and the rent, so sometimes I think about going back, just to make sure my son has enough to eat. It hurts more to watch him eat macaroni with ketchup for the third night, than it ever did to get beaten. 

That abuse victims make many courageous efforts to flee the violence is too often overlooked in the process of judging them for now being with the batterer.Regardless of whether I am providing training to legal, law enforcement, medical, mental health, or social service professionals, when people find out I also have been a victim of abuse, some inevitably ask, “How is it you could get a full scholarship to Harvard Law School, but you stayed with a violent husband for three years?” This question has been fueled by those who believe that remaining with a batterer indicates stupidity, masochism, or codependence.Far from being accurate, such labels prove dangerous to victims because they tend to absolve batterers of responsibility for their crimes.
Domestic violence represents serious violent crime: this is not codependence, for there is nothing the victim can do to stop the violence, nor is there anything she does to deserve the abuse. Domestic violence victims stay for many valid reasons that must be understood by lawyers, judges, and the legal community if they are to stem the tide of homicides, assaults, and other abusive behavior. The following represents a much-abbreviated, alphabetical list of some reasons I have either witnessed among the thousands of victims with whom I have had the honor of working over the past twenty-two years —or that reflect my own experiences.