Intimate Partner Violence: “Why Don’t They Just Leave?”

Disclaimer: 95% of intimate partner violence cases involve victimized women and male perpetrators, resulting in this blog post focusing on women. However, anyone can be affected by intimate partner violence and anyone can perpetrate the violence.

Domestic violence – also known as IPV (intimate partner violence) – is a pervasive problem currently facing society. In STM Learning’s Intimate Partner Violence, IPV is defined as “a pattern of coercive behaviors including repeated battering or injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive isolation, deprivation, and intimidation.” 

Those who are affected by IPV face an extensive list of negative consequences, including physical and emotional abuse, but many still find themselves blamed for the abuse they have endured or the abuse they continue to endure.


Complexity in Intimate Partner Violence

One of the most common questions those affected by IPV face is the dreaded “why doesn’t she just leave?” While the obvious answer to ending the abusive relationship is to just end the relationship in general, intimate partner violence is not that simple. 

A major issue with the question “why don’t you just leave?” is that it focuses on what the person affected by IPV is or is not doing, suggesting they are responsible for the situation. Other questions that are far more relevant, such as:

  • Why does the abuser hit their partner?
  • Why doesn’t the abuser just stop?
  • Why doesn’t the abuser get help to improve the situation?

While leaving is generally seen as the obvious answer, it is often the most dangerous time for those affected by IPV. Many abusers continue or even escalate their violent behavior when the relationship ends. Furthermore, according to Intimate Partner Violence, the abuser is more likely to murder the woman if they had left or were in the process of leaving the violent relationship.


Barriers to Leaving

A woman may stay in an abusive relationship for a variety of reasons, and may need to overcome one, all, or a combination of barriers in order to be able to leave the relationship successfully.

Personal Context

When trying to leave a violent relationship, a woman may face several individualized and personal barriers, such as:

  • Personal values (including commitment to the relationship or the marriage, feeling like a failure as a wife/mother, or blaming herself for the violence)
  • Emotional attachment to the relationship or to the abuser
  • Societal values, gender-roles, or cultural emphasis on family unity
  • Psychological impacts of abuse and immobilization/fear

Home Life

At the next level of context, factors from a woman’s home life can act as barriers as well. This includes children, social networks (such as family members and friends), and the batterer.

  • Children – The woman may believe her children need a father figure in their life, or she fears her children would be hurt or killed if she tried to leave. If she is able to leave, she may still face contact with the abuser due to custody agreements or rely on child support.
  • Family & friends – Those affected by IPV are often isolated from their family and friends. Family members may encourage the woman to keep her marriage intact or critique her for ending the relationship.
  • The batterer – Women can find it difficult to completely leave the relationship, especially if they promise to change and manipulate the woman’s emotional attachments. The batterer can also use threatening or isolating behaviors to keep their partner from leaving.

Community & Socioeconomic

A woman’s community and the institutions that surround her can act as barriers to leaving as well. Some institutional obstacles are: police and first responders, the legal system, child protective services, the health care system, and domestic violence shelters or advocacy groups.

A major obstacle to overcome is the economic burden of leaving a relationship and re-establishing a new life. Leaving a violent relationship is an expensive process with housing, childcare, attorney fees, transportation, and more to be considered.

Those who leave the relationship with limited resources are more likely to return to their abuser – especially if the batterer is the one with monetary control. Even if the woman is able to leave and find a job, often it would not pay enough to support her new lifestyle fully. This is especially true if she has children to care for as well.

Learn More

Leaving an abusive relationship is far from simple and has many obstacles to overcome. Instead of asking “why doesn’t she just leave?”, society should take the time to understand the complexity of intimate partner violence.

To learn more about intimate partner violence, check out the full reference book here.

If you have found yourself in a domestic violence or sexual assault situation, please check out the information and resources provided at Helping Survivors of Sexual Abuse & Assault here.

This blog was written by STM Learning’s editorial staff for educational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific medical or legal advice. For expert information on the discussed subjects, please refer to STM Learning’s publications.


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