why women live with abusive partners
Socio-Cultural Norms,  Systemic Gendered Discrimination,  Violence Against Women and Girls

Why Can’t Women Escape Abusive Relationships?

Violence against women by their domestic partners is prevalent in all countries, across different socio-economic classes. 1 in 3 women globally faces domestic violence. 1 in 5 women worldwide dies because of intimate partner violence. Some 47,000 women and girls worldwide were killed by their intimate partners or other family members in 2020. This means that, on average, a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes. These are based on reported data – we are aware that there is a huge number of women who can not even report domestic violence. The question remains why can’t women escape abusive relationships?

 

An estimated 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000- 58 per cent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, more than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner.” UN Women

 

 

Living with Abusive Partners: The Reality

 

I knew many women in India who had endured life-long emotional and physical abuse by their husbands but never even considered leaving the marriage or reporting the violence. If asked, their responses will seem to follow a pattern-

“I don’t have any money of my own”

“He is my husband, how can I leave him?”

“Who will feed my children?”

“My family will never support me”

“How I can survive on my own!”

 

For women to leave an abusive relationship is not just about a law, it’s about being able to survive once you’ve left abusive relationship. Somewhere to go, an income, not having a social stigma attached to you, not having family and friends say – “Well, you should have just lived with it.”

 

 

Despite the glaring signs of danger and the often unbearable circumstances, many find themselves trapped in a cycle of abuse that seems impossible to escape. The reasons behind this struggle are intricate and multifaceted, weaving together societal, psychological, and economic factors. Understanding these complexities is crucial in providing effective support and intervention for survivors. Here’s a closer look at why it’s so challenging for women to leave abusive relationships:

 

 

Lack of  Economic Independence

In societies worldwide, women have long been traditionally perceived as homemakers. The preference for marrying women who are non-working, ‘homely,’ ‘non-independent,’ and submissive remains prevalent in many cultures. Over centuries, society overlooked the inherent dangers within this construct – when a woman and her children become entirely dependent on a man, she finds herself with no choice but to endure substantial injustice and abuse.

 

Some women are not raised with the skills necessary for economic and emotional independence. When their aspirations for an ideal family or partner falter, they may resign themselves to their circumstances due to a lack of viable alternatives.

 

Millions of women endure life with their abusers, motivated by the need to ensure the survival of their children and themselves. However, social and legal systems in the majority of countries fail to provide women with the necessary support to escape abusive relationships, which should encompass housing, childcare, and employment assistance.

 

Financial constraints often tie women to their abusers. Many survivors may lack the financial resources to support themselves and their children independently. The fear of homelessness, poverty, or losing custody of their children can be overwhelming, compelling them to stay in abusive environments for financial stability.

  

 

Social Stigma

Sruti’s (name changed) story is a classic example of the profound impact societal norms can have on women. Sruti was a young mother of three children living in Bangalore, who worked incredibly hard to pay the rent, school fees, and everything else for her family as her alcoholic husband did not help at all. She would often show up at work with bruises all over her face, signs of physical abuse she had been enduring for years!

 

Having known Sruti personally, during my helpless attempt in trying to understand why she had been enduring this horrific torture for years, I uncovered an ugly about our hypocritical society. She told me “If my kids starve or I can’t pay their school fees, my brothers and parents would help me with some money. If my husband dies tomorrow, they will come and take me back and will look after my children. But, as long as my husband is alive, I am bound to live with him. My family or community will never accept me or support me if leaving my husband.”  

 

Tragically, many families coerce women into remaining with abusive partners, even if they are financially independent, as divorce remains stigmatized in numerous cultures. Furthermore, many women fear reprisals for reporting crimes committed by their husbands, partners, or other relatives.

 

Thus, societal and cultural norms play a significant role in preventing women from leaving abusive relationships. Stigma, shame, and societal pressure to maintain the appearance of a happy relationship can deter survivors from seeking help or speaking out about their experiences.

 

 

Patriarchy and Social Norms 

Patriarchal ideology ingrains in women the belief that they are incomplete on their own, requiring a man to fulfill their needs, offer protection, and provide care. Even in modern times, husbands in many societies are legally designated as guardians, tasked with the roles of protection, control, and disciplining of their wives in cases of perceived disobedience. This imbalance in power dynamics between men and women often manifests in the use of physical and emotional violence by men to assert dominance over women.

 

Irrespective of their age, education, or professional achievements, societal norms dictate that women depend on male family members for support. Many women also harbor fears of navigating the complexities and dangers of the world alone, further perpetuating their dependence on male figures. 

 

While a growing number of women are bravely confronting these barriers and defying societal expectations, the reality remains that, in numerous countries, singledom poses significant risks to women’s safety. Despite the abusive nature of their relationships, many women opt to remain with their partners, driven by emotional and social bonds that make the prospect of leaving even more daunting.

 

It is undeniable that the emotional and social dependence women form with their partners, even in abusive circumstances, complicates the decision-making process surrounding escape from such relationships.

 

Watch this video below on “Conceptualizations of Violence and Legal Frameworks” From SDG Academy:

  

 

Fear of Retaliation

According to the government of Canada, Between 2007 and 2011, women were at a heightened risk of homicide by a spouse from whom they were separated in comparison to those with whom they were in a common-law or married relationship. This agonizing reality was articulated in a very simple yet heartbreaking manner in an interview published in the Guardian by the reporter Jana Kasperkevic

There is a toxic question that surrounds abused women: “Why didn’t she just leave?”The answer, too often is that many women that do leave get killed.


Male abusers often use intimidation, threats of violence, or promises of harm to keep their victims trapped. The fear of what the abuser might do if they attempt to leave can be paralyzing, leaving survivors feeling trapped and powerless. Many believe that Leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. 

 

According to Wendy Mahoney, executive director for the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “The statistics are that women in abusive relationships are about 500 many times more at risk when they leave. Domestic violence is all about power and control, and when a woman leaves, a man has lost his power and control.”

 

 

Internalized Beliefs and Low Self-Esteem

Years of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse can strip a person of their self-esteem and self-worth, leading them to believe they are unworthy of love, incapable of independence, or deserving of the abuse they endure. According to psychologists, these internalized beliefs can be the biggest hurdle to cross for many survivors of abuse before they can seek help or consider escaping an abusive relationship.  

 

 

Emotional Manipulation and Gaslighting

Abusers employ tactics such as gaslighting, where they distort the victim’s perception of reality, making them doubt their own abilities, thoughts, and actions. Abusers deny their abusive behavior and project their flaws or negative traits onto the victim, making them feel responsible for the abuse. Emotional manipulation and gaslighting can have devastating psychological effects on victims. The manipulation can leave victims feeling confused, isolated, and unable to trust their own judgment, making it difficult for them to recognize the abuse or to believe they deserve better. Survivors often experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues as a result of the abuse. They feel powerless to change their situation, believing that they deserve the abuse or that things will never improve.

 

 

Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding, also known as Stockholm syndrome, can develop in abusive relationships. The most common manifestation we see is when abused women often display signs of deep emotional attachment toward their abusive partners. This often confuses others and many even question the validity of the abuse. In reality, as a result of trauma bonding, the lines between love and abuse for the victim get blurred. 

According to the mental health counselor Stefanie Juliano, 

“It can become a cycle of, if I’m loved, I’m abused; it’s my fault and I need to please them. Many don’t even make the connection that they are, in fact, being abused.”

 

The intermittent kindness or affection from the abuser may be perceived as expressions of love, leading the victim to believe that the abuse is a temporary lapse, not a permanent reality. Despite the abuse, survivors may still hold onto feelings of love, loyalty, or dependency towards their abuser, making it incredibly challenging to break free. 

As per this article published in DomesticShelters.org, “Trauma bonding may also be a type of addiction—not to the bad parts of the relationship, but to the good. In other words, victims of abuse may be waiting for that next “feel-good moment” in the relationship, keeping them trapped in a cycle of abuse and relief.“

 

In addition to that, many abusive partners commonly isolate their victims from friends, family, and support networks. This isolation can leave survivors feeling alone and without a support system to turn to for help. Without a network of trusted individuals, leaving an abusive relationship can seem even more daunting.

 

 

Conclusion

Breaking free from an abusive relationship is a complex and deeply personal journey. It requires courage, support, and resources tailored to the individual needs of survivors. By addressing the various barriers that women face in leaving abusive relationships, governments need to work towards creating a safer and more supportive environment for all survivors. It’s crucial to listen to and validate their experiences, provide accessible resources and support services, and challenge societal norms that perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Together, we can empower survivors to reclaim their lives and build a future free from violence and fear.

 

 

In conclusion, I would like to touch upon the importance of addressing the root causes of violence against women and girls. Raising awareness and education about creating more inclusive policies to dismantle systemic inequalities, and empowering women to achieve education and economic freedom is the only way forward. To prevent gender-based violence and abuse, societies must treat women as equal and important citizens who don’t need to worry about their rights and safety. It is an extremely tragic reality that the home is the most dangerous place for many women, and fleeing violence at home is not even an option for many because society can not ensure their safety and security. 

 

Related posts:

Domestic Violence Against Women Across The World-Where Are We?

Systemic Gender Discrimination Across the World

Patrilocality: Roots of Gender Discrimination in Many Countries

In Search of a Safer Place for Women

Author

  • Swagata Sen

    A clinical researcher by profession, I am an advocate of gender equality and women’s rights. I have created Rights of Equality to dismantle institutionalized gender discrimination and harmful social practices through systemic changes. Over the last few years, our contributors from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds were able to voice their concerns about a range of issues that are oppressive to women across the world. We are hopeful that our efforts will help promote awareness and contribute to changing mindsets and shifting cultures about gender roles and norms.

15 Comments

  • mbswithcalie

    I’ve had a couple of my friends live with abusive partners and I was heartbroken for them I felt like therewasn’t anything I could do for them. Thankfully, both of them recognized the situation for what it was and were able to get away from their partner. Having a support system is so important!

  • Mommy Iris

    Leaving an abusive relationship is hard for many reasons. If you know or suspect that someone who is experiencing abuse, one of the most important things you can do is be there for them and offer support without judgment.

  • Mommy Iris

    Getting out of an abusive relationship isn’t easy, but nobody deserves to be abused If you know or suspects someone who is experiencing abuse, one of the most important things you can do is be there for them and offer support without judgment.

  • Cristina Petrini

    Touching insight on a topic, unfortunately, always current. I believe there is a complex psychological problem behind these women also and above all caused by trauma!

    • ninalehan21

      I am glad that you brought up this topic, it essential that we provide support and love to the everyone that is going through such ordeal. awareness and acceptance are obligatory.

  • Tessa

    This is a really important topic for people to understand but is hard to grasp when you’re not in the situation personally. It is so difficult for those women who feel trapped and without options! Thank you for sharing your insights and information.

  • wanderpurposely

    It is astonishing how many women deal with abuse regularly. This is a problem that hopefully will be helped through knowledge and learning more on how to help other women. Thank you for the staggering facts. This is a step in the right direction for sure.

  • WorldInEyes

    Indeed this is much deep and heart touching too..Abusive relationships are more common nowadays..do agree with your ideas…This blog post is much informative and interesting..Thanks for sharing this..Great work…

  • Nyxinked

    It goes deeper than being in love with the abuser, and much deeper than Stockholm syndrome of sorts. As you mentioned it could be about a fear of being alone or abandoned. I’ve known people in this situation and, at a time, you could even say I was in this situation. It’s never as straight forward as ‘leave them.’

  • Agnes Dela Cruz

    It is sad to know that there are women who are staying in an abusive relationship. I wish they can have that firm and gut decision to leave and seek help.

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