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One of the most commonly-asked questions concerning domestic violence is “Why doesn’t she just leave?” The reality is, if the solution was as simple as ‘just leaving’, domestic violence wouldn’t be the epidemic that it is. There are many barriers facing women leaving their partners to find a safer place to call home:
Women can be intimidated by their partners, believing that the abuse will worsen if the abuser finds out she’s trying to leave. This fear is justified: the time of most danger for abused women is when they try to leave. Many cases of domestic violence begin or grow more severe when the victim ends the relationship. Nonphysical abuse such as stalking and threats are likely to increase after they leave. About 57% of dating violence reported is committed by a former partner, and half of homicides against a former partner occur within a couple of months after the relationship ended.
Another reason women have trouble leaving is a fear of leaving everything behind. To leave an abusive relationship would be to give up your home, most of your belongings, and in most cases your job if you have one. Leaving all of this is, understandably, daunting.
Many abused women are also financially dependent on their partners and don’t want to give up their only source of income, especially if they have children. Single women raising children have one of the highest poverty rates in Canada and are 5 times more likely to be poor than women in families. Many women will stay in abusive relationship because they fear homelessness and an inability to support themselves and their children.
An incredibly common reason that women feel they need to stay in abusive relationships is “for the sake of the children.” They want them to grow up with both parents, to keep them in school, or to not disrupt their everyday lives.
Domestic violence does, however, have a strong effect on children. Common long-term effects on kids in violent households include emotional issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric disorders, or behavioural issues such as aggression and delinquent acts. A child raised in an abusive household is more likely to become either a victim or an abuser than one raised in a supportive household. Public opinion on this matter is changing, however: in a recent poll commissioned by Interval House, 94% of Canadians said they don’t believe that a woman should stay in an unhealthy relationship for the children.
Survivors who are newcomers to Canada or don’t speak English as a first language may depend on their partner in multiple ways. For example, they might depend on their partner to translate for them when they talk to other people, and may not have a personal support network in Canada. In addition, they might not know their rights in Canada, or might fear losing their status altogether if their partner sponsored them.
In some cases, unfortunately, women experiencing abuse may not receive support from family and friends. They might be told they are at fault for the abuse, causing them to blame themselves for their partner’s actions and stay in the relationship out of guilt. This type of victim-blaming can also discourage women from leaving their abusers because the lack of support from the people they might turn to for reinforces the belief that there is nowhere for them to turn. Women might internalize these thoughts.
All things considered, it isn’t as easy for a woman to leave an abusive relationship as it may seem at first. There are huge barriers that victims of domestic violence face when trying to make the step to leave and rebuild their lives. That being said, many women do find the courage to find a place like Interval House to help them get back on their feet. If you want to support the women and children at Interval House to make this step, you can help by donating now.