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Domestic Violence: Barriers to Leaving

Lack of financial resources:

A person who is being victimized by domestic violence may not have access to money. She may have been prevented from working or if she does work she may not have access to the money. Even if the family has significant financial resources, the abuser may control all of the finances by not allowing access to bank accounts, etc. He may also sabotage any attempts on her part to get or keep a job. For many women who do have an income, it is still difficult to support themselves and their children, due in part to escalating housing costs and childcare.

Not enough shelter resources or other safe places to go:

Because isolation is a type of abuse, the person being victimized may not have supportive friends and family to turn to, or if there is support, it may not be safe to go there. The abuser may have access to weapons and know where the friends and family live. The victim may not know about crisis line phone numbers or supportive community resources. Domestic violence shelters may be full when she calls, and it is difficult to call back everyday to check space. There are very few confidential shelter beds in most areas.

Threats of murder:

Physical violence, threats, and intimidation are present in many abusive relationships. The risk of homicide increases when a woman leaves an abusive relationship. Fear of death or serious injury is a very real thing! An abuser may threaten suicide as well as homicide. A situation like this is especially lethal because someone who is suicidal may not be concerned with consequences of his actions. According to the Washington State Fatality Review Report, "Honoring Their Lives, Learning from Their Deaths" by Margaret Hobart (December 2000), abusers were suicidal in 35% of domestic violence fatalities studied. The report also states that suicidal abusers were more likely to kill multiple victims.

Social stigma:

There are social stigmas to those who are victims of domestic violence, as well as divorce and single parenthood. The shame these stigmas cause may make it difficult for victims to reach out for help. The lack of accurate information about domestic violence coupled with social stigmas leads to victims being blamed for the abuse, which creates additional barriers.
Threats of 'outing' the victim - Homophobia is very prevalent. In same-sex relationships the abusive partner will often threaten to expose his or her partner's sexual orientation to people who don't know, which may cause the victim to lose his or her support system, friends, family, job, etc. Homophobia can be highlighted by an abuser to make the victim think no one will believe him or her, domestic violence agencies will not help, or that the abuse is deserved because the victim is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or trans-gendered.

Religious beliefs:

Many religions can be used to support both liberation from abuse AND control of a husband over his wife, depending on how the religious text is interpreted. An abuser may quote religious text to justify abuse. A victim may be told that she is responsible for keeping the family together and may fear being cast out from her community if she separates or divorces her husband. See Domestic Violence and Religion for more information.

Immigration issues:

An abuser may choose to not file the papers necessary to legalize his partner's immigration status, to withdraw already filed papers, destroy important papers, or threaten to report her to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). If English is not her first language, he might isolate her from people who speak her language, prevent her from learning English, and not allow her to have access to information. If the person being victimized does not speak English, she may not have access to resources in her first language or know where to find those resources to obtain help.

Victim blaming:

A very common dynamic of domestic violence is minimizing the seriousness of the abuse, denying abuse is happening, and blaming the victim for the abuse. Many victims think that the abuse is their own fault; that the abuse is caused by something they are doing to make their partner angry and abusive.

Wanting to keep the family together:

Victims often believe that it is in the children's best interest to keep the family together, particularly when the children are not being physically abused. Many women also fear losing custody and not being able to protect the children.

Society's acceptance:

There are many ways in which our society inadvertently, and sometimes purposefully, teaches people that violence is an appropriate way of dealing with others. Some examples of this include anger, violence, and power and control being romanticized in movies or books, domestic violence portrayed as "a crime of passion" in the newspaper and in the media, and a general belief system that implies that a woman must have done something to deserve the abuse. These and other forms of societal acceptance may make it difficult for a battered woman to leave the relationship because she may believe the societal norms around domestic violence or she may not receive support from friends or family members because they buy in to this belief system.

Email the Domestic Violence Victim Advocate.