Domestic Violence: Reasons Why Battered Victims Stay With the Batterers

The most frequently asked question concerning a battering situation is why does the victim stay? While there exists a variety of reasons, it is also very possible the victim may be locked into a cycle of violence. Below are some of the most common reasons why victims stay with the batterers.

  • The victim loves the batterer… the batterer is not always violent.
  • The victim fears the batterer, believing the batterer to be almost “godlike.” Often threats are made against the victim, for example, the batterer will kill the victim if the beatings are reported to anyone. Police, in the victim’s eyes, offer no long-term protection from the batterer.
  • Even if it is a neighbor who reports, the batterer may take it out on the victim. Often when the police come, the victim will not admit the battering.
  • The victim may be economically dependent on the batterer and, not having a marketable job skill, the victim has no realistic alternative to the batterer’s financial support.
  • Socialization creates a powerful inertia in relationships, people feel they must stay in a relationship and are highly resistant to change as a means of problem solving.
  • Socialization and/or religious or cultural beliefs demand that the victim maintain the facade of a good marriage.
  • Often the batterer is the victim’s only psychological support system, having systematically destroyed the victim’s other friendships. Other people also feel uncomfortable around violence and withdraw from it.
  • Learned helplessness. The victim has been taught and believes to be powerless, and therefore views the situation from that perspective.
  • Often the victims stays for the sake of the children “needing a father,” or the batterer may make threats of violence against the children if the victim tries to leave. The batterer frequently threatens to take the children away from the victim if the victim leaves, and the victim believes the batterer.
  • The victim believes law enforcement and judicial authorities in some jurisdictions may not take domestic violence seriously, hence the victim believes the batterer is often not punished or removed from the victim. Yet any attempts by the victim to consult authorities are seen as a threat by the batterer and he/she may beat the victim for that.
  • Sometimes the batterer is otherwise well respected or mild mannered, so the victim’s concerns are not taken seriously. Often the batterer is violent only with the victim and frequently concludes there is something wrong with the victim.
  • The victim may rationalize the beatings, believing that the victim must have “deserved” the “punishment” or that the batterer was just “too drunk” to know what the batterer was doing (beliefs the batterer propagates).
  • The victim may have no idea that services are available and may feel trapped.
  • The battering takes place during a relatively short period of time. Afterwards the batterer may be quite gentle, apologetic, loving, and may promise never to beat the victim again.
  • The victim may be convinced that this beating will be the last.
  • The victim may have lived in a home in which one parent beat the other and/or the children and sees violence as an inevitable part of the way in which couples relate.
  • Often a battered person, motivated by pity and compassion, is convinced that the victim alone can help the batterer with the “problem” (whether it is drinking, “pressure from the outside world”, “victim’s mistakes”, etc).

Situational Factors

  • Economic dependence
  • Fear of greater physical danger to self and children if they attempt to leave
  • Fear of emotional damage to the children
  • Fear of losing custody of the children
  • Lack of alternative housing
  • Lack of jobs skills
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family or friends and lack of information regarding alternatives
  • Fear of involvement in court processes
  • Cultural and religious constraints
  • Fear of retaliation

Emotional Factors

  • Fear of loneliness
  • Insecurity over potential independence and lack of emotional support
  • Guilt about failure of marriage
  • Fear that partner is not able to survive alone
  • Belief that partner will change
  • Ambivalence and fear over making formidable life changes

The Stockholm or “Hostage” Syndrome
Many women feel locked into a “hostage” syndrome and thus continue to remain in an abusive relationship. The victim of domestic violence:

  • and the abuser are bidirectionally bonded
  • is intensely grateful for small kindnesses shown by the abuser
  • denies the abuser’s violence against them, or rationalizes that violence
  • denies their own anger at the abuser
  • is hyper-vigilant to the abuser’s needs and seeks to keep the abuser happy. To do this, the survivor tries to “get inside the abuser’s head”
  • sees the world from the abuser’s perspective, they may not have their own perspective
  • Sees outside authorities trying to win their release (for example, police, parents) as “bad guys” and the abuser as the “good guy”. They see the abuser as the protector
  • finds it difficult to leave the abuser even after their release
  • fears the abuser will come back to get them even after the abuser is dead or in prison
  • shows symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • has a recurrent emotional reaction to a terrifying, uncontrollable or life-threatening event
  • develops symptoms such as nightmares, overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and increased stress in relationships after a person’s sense of safety and security are violated

Symptoms and reactions are common and an important part of initial adjustment and later recovery

Some batterers are life endangering. It is possible to evaluate whether a batterer is likely to kill his partner, other family members, and/or others attempting intervention. The following are indicators often used in making an assessment of a batterer’s potential to kill.

    • Fantasies of Homicide or Suicide – The more the batterer has developed a fantasy about who, how, when and/or where to kill, the more dangerous the batterer may be. The batterer who has previously acted out part of a homicide or suicide fantasy may be invested in killing as a viable “solution” to the abuser’s problem.
    • Weapons – Where a batterer possesses weapons and has used them or has threatened to use them in the past assaults on the battered victim, the children or self, the batterer’s access to those weapons increases the potential for lethal assault.
    • Obsessiveness about Partner or Family – A batterer who is obsessive about their partner, who either idolizes and feels that they cannot live without their partner or believes they are entitled to their partner no matter what because they are their spouse, is more likely to be life-endangering.
    • Centrality of the Battered Woman – If the loss of the battered victim represents or precipitates a total loss of hope for a positive future, a batterer may choose to kill.
    • Rage – The most life endangering rage often erupts when a batterer believes the battered victim is leaving.
    • Threats of Homicide or Suicide – The batterer who has threatened to kill himself/herself, his partner, the children, or her relatives must be considered extremely dangerous.
    • Depression – Where a batterer has been acutely depressed and sees little hope for moving beyond the depression, may be a candidate for homicide and suicide.
    • Drugs or Alcohol Consumption – Consumption of drugs or alcohol when in a state of despair or fury can elevate the risk of lethality.
    • Pet Abuse – Those batterers who assault and mutilate pets are more likely to kill or maim family members.
  • Access to the Battered Victim and/or Family Member – If the batterer cannot find the victim, the batterer cannot kill the victim.