Why Do Domestic Violence Victims Stay Silent?
Updated: Jun 18
There is no one specific profile of an abuse victim. Domestic violence crosses all lines of economic status, age, sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, and nationality. Even victims who escape their abuser maintain psychological and emotional scars that last a lifetime. Some victims carry physical scars, as well.
Why Domestic Violence Victims Stay
It is difficult for someone who hasn’t experienced abuse to understand why a victim would stay with an abuser, but the dynamics of the relationship between the abuser and the victim are complex. The psychological and emotional impact on the victim is often difficult to explain. Reasons that it may be hard to break away include:
• Love for the abuser. Abuse isn’t always present at the beginning of a relationship. Most of the time, the victim’s entry into the abusive relationship started with falling in love. The victim just wants the abuse to stop, but not always the relationship.
• Extreme fear. Abusers threaten, intimidate, and overpower their victims. The risk of injury or death increases when the abused partner attempts to leave. Fear for the safety of her children, pets, friends, or family may keep her from fleeing.
• Financial hardship.The abused partner may not have income or credit available to fund an escape. Without financial resources, he or she may feel trapped.
• Physical isolation. Some abusers physically isolate the victim by locking him or her in a room and/or not allowing access to a telephone.
• Feelings of shame. Although it’s easy to say that abuse is never the victim’s fault, many victims feel shame. Embarrassment for allowing the abuse to occur can keep them from seeking help.
• Fear of the unknown. Everyone feels a sense of discomfort when faced with an unknown future. Paralyzing fears of ending up homeless or the abuser stalking or harming the victim is common.
• Damaged self-esteem. Abusers are highly skilled at making the victim feel worthless and dis-empowered. Ongoing abuse damages self-esteem to the point that the victim doesn’t feel capable of leaving. It’s common for the victim to feel that he or she deserves the abuse.
• Fear that authorities won’t hear or believe them. Abusers can be charming, well-respected members of the community. Victims are sometimes afraid that others won’t believe them if they speak up about the abuse.
Domestic violence takes many forms including physical, psychological, emotional, and financial. Most abusive situations involve systematic control committed by one partner against the other.
The Cycle of Abuse
The cycle of abuse can make leaving even more challenging, especially for victims who love their abuser. Abuse usually has three phases:
• Building tension. In the first phase of the cycle there’s an agitated abuser and a victim walking on eggshells.
• Outbreak of behavior. This is the actual abuse. Depending on the situation, it may include physical, psychological, or emotional components. Frequently, it includes all three.
• Honeymoon period. After the outbreak of abuse, the abuser behaves in a loving manner and makes promises of refraining from the behavior in the future. A request for forgiveness may be a part of this phase.
How to Help
Removing the stigma from domestic violence can help victims feel more comfortable coming forward. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, try to provide unconditional friendship without judging.
If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner abuse reach out to a domestic violence advocacy organization such as Survivor's Journey to Peace 1-414-716-6262 or The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233. Advocates are available 24/7/365.