Criminal defense lawyers see the world from a variety of perspectives. We know, for example, that some accusations of domestic violence are false. They might be made to gain an advantage in child custody proceedings or to exact revenge upon an unfaithful spouse.
Sadly, we also know that other accusations of domestic violence are true. Some abusers (mostly, but not exclusively, men) grew up as victims of abuse. They saw their parents hitting and belittling each other. Many of those children grow up to be abusive adults, repeating the patterns they learned in their formative years.
Regardless of the reason that abuse occurs, no victim should tolerate it. Yet many do. Understanding why victims of abuse stay with or return to their abusers may help those victims gain the strength to leave an unhealthy relationship.
Abusers apologize. They promise to stop. They swear that they will never be violent again. They might even agree to seek treatment. Victims stay because they believe — or want to believe — those assurances.
Some abusers are convincing because they are sincere. They know they are wrong. They feel guilty. They tell themselves they won’t do it again. They want to change but they don’t know how. Despite their good intentions, they lose control the next time they become angry.
Other abusers do not recognize the need for change. They blame their victims for provoking their anger. They promise to change because they fear their victims will leave them. They persuade victims to stay by manipulating them, taking advantage of their love and affection.
People who stay in an abusive relationship often suffer from low self-esteem. When they are accused of doing something wrong that provokes the abuser’s anger, they accept the blame. They feel sorry for making a mistake. They convince themselves that the abuse will stop if they become a better spouse or lover.
Victims who suffer from low self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to emotional abuse. When the person they love insults them or calls them names, they feel the criticism is justified. They may stay with the abuser because they do not believe that anyone else would love them.
When an abuser is in control of family finances, the abuse victim may feel that staying in the relationship is the only available choice. Victims who have no job outside the home often lack the income and financial resources that are necessary to begin an independent life. Older victims, in particular, may not have parents to whom they can turn for support. Although a court might order an abusive spouse to pay alimony or maintenance if the victim leaves a marriage, the victim may believe that the spouse will never pay a cent.
Abuse victims cover their bruises. They claim their broken bones were caused by slipping on the ice. They don’t want friends, neighbors, and family to know that they are in a relationship with an abusive individual. They think that leaving the relationship would be a public acknowledgement of their poor judgment in becoming involved with an abuser. Some victims just cannot bear the shame they would feel if others were to know their predicament.
Keeping the Family Intact
If there are children in the relationship, the abuse victim may worry about losing those children in a custody fight. The victim might also think that an intact family is better for the children.
Those concerns are short-sighted — a broken family that is free of abuse is better for children than an intact arena of terror — but victims may not understand the damage that an abusive relationship does to the children of that relationship. They may also succumb to pressure from parents and other relatives who mistakenly believe that children are more likely to thrive if the family remains intact.
Lack of Awareness
Resources exist that benefit both abuse victims and abusers. They do no good if people who need them are not aware of them.
Battered women’s shelters can provide a safe place to stay when an abused woman leaves home. Advocacy organizations in the local community can help abuse victims obtain protective orders and find long-term housing. Awareness of those resources can help end an abusive relationship.
Instead of relying on threats and manipulation to prevent a spouse from leaving, abusers who are serious about maintaining a loving relationship should get help. Effective treatment programs do exist. Anger management counseling may be sufficient for some. In other cases, a longer program of psychotherapy may be needed to break the cycle of violence. Until an abuser not only promises to get help but follows through on those promises, abuse victims should find whatever help they need to assure their physical safety and emotional welfare.