Why Doesn't She Just Leave Him? Understanding victims of domestic violence

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Why women stay in abusive & violent relationships, from someone who lived through it...

Sad woman
After moving in with her boyfriend at university, Nikki Howes' relationship turned violent and she became trapped in a cycle of fear and abuse. Here she explains why it's not just as easy as walking out the door....

'In the UK alone 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. I am one of these women.

For two years I stayed in an abusive relationship and suffered both emotional and physical abuse. The violence escalated to the point where I knew if I didn't get out he would kill me.

Society's attitudes towards victims of domestic abuse still place responsibility on the victim. There is something wrong when it is seen as acceptable to we say to victims 'it's your own fault for putting up with it', 'why didn't you just leave' and 'after the first time why didn't you run?' Yet these are all responses I've heard as a survivor which highlight there is a clear lack of understanding about domestic violence and it's victims.

If you have not been the victim of abuse it's easy to be unsympathetic. So why don't women leave abusive relationships? Why didn't I leave? The reality and the barriers women face are complex.

Fear for personal safety
Women are at the greatest risk of homicide at the point of leaving their abusive partner. They may be at risk from additional forms of abuse such as harassment and stalking once they go.

The abuser may also threaten to harm their children or commit suicide if they seek to leave. My abuser would threaten suicide if I left him, this kept me frightened and feeling guilty. Once I did leave I was always looking over my shoulder and eerily he tried to make contact with me several times over the years since it ended. Only now 10 years on am I comfortable in myself enough to not be afraid of him and share my story.

Not knowing where to go for support
Most victims have no support system. Perpetrators will isolate victims from their friends and often their families through intimidation. During my relationship any friends I made became an object his jealousy. I became distanced from my family as I hid the bruises of abuse. I remember lying to my Mum saying I had flu when I really had a black eye, my abuser said if saw her I would 'crack' and tell her.

Lack of self esteem
A victim may believe that the abuse is their fault. A perpetrator is likely to shift responsibility for their abuse onto the victim; 'you made me do it.' They may lead the victim into believing that they are losing their minds by denying the abuse or minimising it.

My abuser told me know one would believe me and would routinely put me down about everything from my intellect to my body shape. I became anxious, uncertain of myself and my abilities and believed that I was worthless.

Hoping things will change
Despite the abuse the victim may love the perpetrator and believe their promises that they will change. This is part of the cycle of abuse, the incident (in my case violence), the reconciliation (the promises he would make that it would never happen again), the period of calm and then the building tension which results in the incident happening again.

What to do if you are being abused
For advice and support with domestic violence please contact the National Domestic Violence free-phone helpline on: 0808 2000 247. Always call 999 in an emergency. Many boroughs have One Stop Shop services for free and confidential advice. They can put you in touch with housing support, legal support and emotional support.'

Nikki Howes is the founder of Hope to Heal Counselling, hope2heal.co.uk

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