One of the biggest misunderstandings about dating abuse is why a victim would remain victimized. Why don’t they leave? Can’t they just break up with their partner? What’s holding them back?
This line of questioning leads to further misconceptions: they must be weak, they must like the abuse or want it, they‘re stupid for staying, and so on. The subtext can become “they’re not really being abused,” which not only fails to support the victim, but also dismisses the abuse.
In response to a video released this week showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee, author Beverly Gooden began using the hashtag #WhyIStayed on Twitter to illustrate how her own experience in an abusive relationship was far more complex than just leaving.
There are many reasons people stay in abusive relationships, even as they’re trying to escape them. They could be living in fear of what will happen if they leave, especially if their partner has threatened them before, or fear they will retribute another way, like spreading lies or outing them (if it’s a lGBT relationship). They may believe the abuse is normal or not understand what a healthy relationship looks like. Perhaps they’re embarrassed and feel they’ve done something wrong, or have low self-esteem and think they deserve the abuse. It’s also not uncommon for people in relationships that were once happy to hold on, no matter the abuse, because they hope they can change their partner or are still madly in love with them.
For some, cultural or religious pressures keep them in abusive relationships. Many are told that marriage is for life, and divorce is a sin, or that real men have to show their partners “who’s boss.” At school, there may be peer pressure -- if they’re dating someone popular, they may feel no one will believe them or that everyone will hate them if they expose their partner as an abuser. What if they’re pregnant or have children? Or their abuser controls their finances, leaving them with nowhere to go? What if they’re an illegal immigrant, or have a disability?
If you know someone in an abusive relationship, the best thing to do is not ask why they’re still in it, but to be supportive and listen. Your judgment can’t help them, but you being there for them can. What you say during these moments has a huge affect on what they’ll do moving forward. And you can always refer them to one of our trained peer advocates -- call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 -- we’re here for them, too.