By KIM SHIELDS
Development Coordinator, Denton County Friends of the Family
From the outside looking in, the solution to escaping domestic violence can appear to be so simple. If you’re not feeling safe and happy, then just leave, right?
Wrong. Every story of domestic violence is different, but they have an important thing in common: it is never that simple. There are many barriers that victims face should they try to leave the relationship that may not be obvious to the people outside of the relationship.
We will explore a few of those barriers in this piece, and we want to make sure that if you take anything from this at all, take this: Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault, even if they are currently staying in the relationship.
If someone discloses abuse to you, please do two things. First, please don’t judge them, and make sure they know that the abuse is not their fault. Yes, even if they are wanting to stay. Secondly, give them the DCFOF 24-hour crisis line number 800–572–4031. Please do not tell them that they have to leave immediately or try to take control of the situation in any way, doing so may put them in more danger than you realize.
What are some of the barriers that victims face when they try to leave?
Note this is not a comprehensive list. More barriers than this exist.
The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim is attempting to leave. In fact, more than 75 percent of victims killed by their abusive partners are killed as they are trying to leave or shortly after they have ended the relationship. The danger that goes along with attempting to leave is very real, and victims know it.
About 99 percent of victims of domestic violence are financially abused. This means that the abuser has kept the victim from being able to maintain financial resources to survive on their own.
Some examples could be not allowing the victim to hold a job, not allowing them access to a bank account, or intentionally ruining their credit so they could not qualify for a loan or housing without the abuser.
If the victim feels that they will not be able to financially support themselves and their children on their own, that can feel paralyzing and make it difficult to leave.
If a victim is thinking about leaving the relationship, one of the first things to think about is where they will go. Abusers spend a lot of energy keeping the victim isolated from their friends and families with the intention of making them feel like they have no one else to turn to but the abuser.
Abusers will not allow the victims to call friends and family, not let them out of the house to see them, and/or intentionally cause arguments and rifts between the victim and their support systems. The victim may feel like the support system they once had does not want to hear from them anymore and they may have have a very hard time reaching out to anyone.
Fear of Custody Battles
A big reason that some victims choose to stay in an abusive relationship is fear of what will happen to their children if they leave. If there is no documentation of the abuse, then it can feel like one partner’s word against the other and losing custody of your children to your abuser is a huge risk to take.
When this fear is combined with other barriers, one can start to see the whole picture. If someone has been financially abused, they may not get a good paying job right away, which means they could be living in a small apartment or shelter. It will be hard to make ends meet, which means they may not be able to buy their kids everything that they need.
Due to the constant abuse they have suffered, they may have emotional trauma to work through and may not always seem emotionally stable. When this is compared to the abuser, who has the house, money, stable job, and everything else, who do you think would have a better chance at getting custody of the kids?
As unhealthy as the home may be, that may feel easier to deal with than the thought of losing your children.
Gaslighting, or “crazy-making,” is a form of emotional abuse which literally makes the victim feel like they are mentally or emotionally unstable. It could start with something small, such as hiding a book that the victim is reading or moving a lamp to the other side of the room, and then making the victim out to be forgetful or wrong when they notice these types of changes.
Batterers will tell victims that the lamp was always there, or that they never touched the book, and act like the victim is foolish for thinking otherwise. After a while of this, the victim literally starts to doubt their own sanity.
It starts to feel like they are losing their mind and can’t trust their own instincts about anything. The world feels unsteady and difficult to navigate. So when someone does not trust their own sanity, can they trust that the abuse they thought they were experiencing is real? Or were they just remembering it wrong, like with everything else?
Break-ups are hard for anyone, no matter how dysfunctional the relationship. No matter how unhealthy the relationship became, at some point, they did love this person. It is even harder if they are married to the abuser and/or have children with them. No one wants to get a divorce or end a relationship that once made them happy. That decision can be a very difficult one to make, even when abuse is present.
Do any of these things sound familiar?
If you or someone you know needs help, call our 24-hour crisis line at 940-382-7273 or 800-572-4031.
For more information about Denton County Friends of the Family and its services, please visit their website at www.dcfof.org.