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The most common question asked about woman abuse victims is “why does she stay?”, and with the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags trending on Social Media in the wake of NFL Quarterback, Ray Rice being suspended indefinitely from the NFL after a video was released of him knocking his then girlfriend Janay Rice, out cold in an elevator and then dragging her lifeless body into the hallway, this conversaion has bcome all the more prevalent.

The question itself shows a misunderstanding of the dynamics of violence and reveals a tendency to blame the victim. In doing so, we undermine the complexity of the situation and fail to acknowledge the power and control that the victim is forced to live with. A more appropriate question would be: “why does he abuse her?” or “why can’t he be stopped from hurting his family?” Leaving an abusive relationship is not easy, and there are many barriers that a woman must overcome in order to be able to leave. Women stay because they may not have appropriate resources to leave, not because they want to be abused.

Why does she stay?


Women in an abusive relationship understand that the risk of leaving involves the possibility of retaliation.

Women may believe that:

  • Their abusers will kill them if they leave
  • The violence will increase based on their past experience
  • They will lose their children
  • Their partner is not able to survive alone and may have threatened to commit suicide if she leaves
  • Their abuser may have threatened to harm friends or family members
  • The abuser may harm their pets

The fear is well founded. Statistically, abused women are at increased risk when they are leaving an abusive relationship. Those who have tried to leave may know they are at increased risk of severe violence if they try again. This “separation” violence may include:

  • Stalking, harassment or threats
  • Violent physical attacks for trying to leave
  • Kidnapping the children or holding her hostage
  • Homicide

This week alone 1-2 Canadian women will be murdered by a partner or ex-partner

Lack of Resources

Women need a wide variety of resources to successfully leave an abuser. They may have limited resources to provide for themselves and their children, especially if they have been in an abusive relationship for a long time. He may control all of the finances and she will not have access to family assets. They may need specialized services or assistance to fully heal from the abuse.

Barriers frequently include:
Unaware of services available to abused women

  • Lack of adequate child care
  • Limited job opportunities in their community
  • Limited education or weak experience
  • Negative experiences with police, children’s aid or other agencies within the social service system
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Money or financial resources fortransportation, childcare, employment, food, clothing, housing, healthcare and insurance
  • Difficulty accessing community resources for women living in rural areas
  • Personal resources such as skills needed to support herself and her children
  • Social resources, including support from family and friends
  • Caregiving resources for some older or disabled survivors

Family Responsibilities and values

Abused women, like most people in our community, have a strong desire to hold the family together for the sake of children and to fulfill their parental responsibilities. These values and responsibilities can make it hard for women to separate from an abusive partner. In addition, other family members may put pressure on the survivor to stay in the relationship. The specific beliefs that survivors may hold include:

  • The need for a two parent family
  • The need to be the perfect wife or mother as defined by her community or culture
  • Not wanting to disappoint family members
  • Many older women have been in their relationship for so long that they do not know how to survive on their own.
  • For some a life of abuse is all they have known for decades

Feelings and beliefs

Survivors may have other deep feelings and beliefs that may keep them with their abusers. These may include the following:

  • Not wanting to let go of the dream of “happily ever after”
  • Believing the abusive behavior isn’t really who the abuser is
  • Hoping the abuser will change
  • Feeling commitment and love during the “honeymoon periods” that may occur between abusive events

Emotional impact of abuse

Over time, a survivor’s sense of self can be worn away by abuse. She may lack the confidence to leave because of

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression & anxiety
  • Guilt & shame
  • Self Doubt
  • Concern about independence
  • Loneliness
  • Reduced confidence and/or guilt over failure of relationship

When she is able to leave…

Leaving an abusive relationship is a different experience for each person. Some abusers increase the level of threat or violence, holding the survivor or children hostage, making repeated unwanted phone calls or visits, or threatening to harm the survivor’s family or friends. Some women who are abused leave for the short term and return as the barriers to leaving, already mentioned, are also barriers to staying away. Women may leave and return several times before leaving for good, as leaving is a process.

Gillian’s Place can help women when they are ready...

It takes incredible strength and courage for a woman to leave an abusive relationship. When they are ready, Gillian’s Place can offer hope and support to abused women. Though there are many challenges to leaving an abusive relationship and moving on when a woman is ready, Gillian’s Place will support women in their struggle to overcome abuse. They promise to listen, to identify options and to help women reclaim their lives. All of the services at Gillian’s Place are free and confidential. Some of the services provided to women and children are:

  • Counselling
  • Linking women with resources to help find or train for a job
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Help with applying for financial assistance
  • Help with finding safe, affordable housing
  • Help with sorting out legal problems, such as child custody, child/spousal support and property issues
  • Emotional support for children and teens
  • Immigrant and refugee support

Remember, a woman does not need to stay at Gillian’s Place to access any of their services. Their support line is open to anyone 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. 905-684-8331


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