People in abusive relationships don't leave, because they literally can't
Trigger warning: Domestic violence
News of a young woman’s rape or murder often ignites particular reactions on social media. I’ve already written about the calls for women to try “be more careful” and “stay safe”, but there is one other common reaction that really bothers me: people, often men, stating that they don’t understand why women stay with abusive partners.
“Why doesn’t she just leave?”
It’s a strange thing to wonder. I think the reason why anyone, anyone at all, stays with and under the influence and control of an abuser is pretty glaringly obvious: abuse victims struggle to leave their abusers because their abusers purposefully work to make sure their victims aren’t able to leave.
Abuse is not random nastiness. It’s a calculated system to not only crush a person, but to gain complete control over them, body and mind. This is why so many of the “tells” of abuse involves isolation.
Abusers find ways to cut their victims off, physically and emotionally, from friends and family. They will often restrict or even cut off a victim’s access to money. They will try to make sure that the victim is forced to rely on them, and them alone, for everything from companionship and conversation to food.
Abuse is not just physical. There is an emotional and mental assault on the victim that leaves wounds just as devastating and deadly as the wounds the physical abuse leaves. An abuser won’t just try to make sure that a victim believes that they can’t leave, but also that they’re scum for just thinking about wanting to leave.
An abuser wants the victim to believe that they, the victim, are worthless, and that the abuser is nothing but kind, gracious, and patient, and they will constantly remind them of this. This is why the scream “look at what you made me do” is so often associated with abuse.
A lot of abuse victims are worried that they have nowhere to run to, that they are alone, and that anyone, if asked, would take their abuser’s side. A lot of victims aren’t allowed the money or strength to choose to buy themselves a lunch, never mind accomplish something as hard as getting away from their abusers. Hell, a lot of victims are often taught to be frightened of even thinking something “wrong”.
And people sit around loudly wondering why they don’t “just leave”. I’ve even seen people express the opinion that they don’t feel sympathy for victims who are finally murdered by their abusers, because they didn’t leave.
Imagine if we applied this logic to other situations.
“I know he died, but I have no sympathy for him. He knew he had cancer, why didn’t he just get better?”
“I know that rock fell on her and crushed her leg, why didn't she just run to find help.”
Imagine being told every day that you’re worthless scum, and then reading a tweet from a stranger saying that, if you are murdered, you deserve it.
It’s astounding how cruel we humans can be, especially to people who need our help and empathy the most.