Barriers to leaving


Why Doesn’t She Leave?


“Why doesn’t she leave?” is probably the most frequently asked question about partner abuse. This presumes that victims never leave abusive partners which is not true. Women are most likely to leave an abusive partner when: their children witness the violence and/or are also being abused; the woman fears for her life; and/or she has access to accurate information about options and positive support for her decision to leave.


Cycle of Abuse

Women in violent relationships are twice as likely to have witnessed their fathers assaulting their mothers as women in non-violent relationships. Research suggests that girls who witness their mothers being abused learn that abusive and violent behaviour: is appropriate or “normal” in intimate relationships; is an acceptable way for men to express their feelings or solve problems; and is something women deserve or tolerate.


Power and Control

Exercising power in a relationship helps the abuser control his partner’s feelings, thoughts, actions and behaviours. He uses whatever means are necessary, such as intimidation, threats, coercion, humiliation and pain, to establish and maintain control. It often gets more severe and more frequent. Women don’t leave abusive relationships because their partners don’t want them to leave.


Self Esteem 

The abuse and violence experienced over time: undermines the woman’s self image, self esteem, self worth, confidence and independence; establishes a “habit of compliance” in relation to the abuser; and isolates her from friends, family and social supports ~ all of which make it very difficult for her to reach out for help and to leave.


Expressions of Remorse and Apologies

The abuser’s expressions of remorse and efforts at reconciliation following a violent episode serve to “woo” the woman back into the relationship.


Committment to Partner

A variety of emotional and psychological factors may make it difficult for some women to leave including: a tendency to put their commitment to the relationship and love for their partner over their own safety and well being; fear of change, of the unknown, of the court process, of losing friends or family connections, etc.; feelings of guilt and responsibility for the abuse and violence; -and- feelings of shame and embarrassment.


Financial Pressures

It is estimated that some women may lose as much as 1/2 to 3/4 of their family income when they separate from a male partner.


Safe, Affordable Housing

Lack of safe, affordable housing makes it difficult for women to relocate their families to a new home, particularly if they require accessible housing or live in a small rural or large urban center.



While significantly less research has been completed in relation to victims of abuse within same-sex relationships and male victims of abuse within heterosexual relationships, it is reasonable to assume that some of these same barriers may compromise their willingness and ability to reach out for help and/or end the relationship.


A wide variety of fact sheets, reports, research articles and training manuals on various aspects of partner abuse are available free of charge through the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence: