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Domestic abuse: Why victims don’t just leave

Our Deputy Chief Probation Officer Cynthia Allen discusses why we can’t simply expect victims to leave their abuser, highlighting the importance of our work to protect victims and help reduce future incidents of abuse.

Domestic abuse shows no sign of abating. In the 12 months prior to March 2018, around two million people reported experiencing domestic abuse. The police recorded a 23% increase in domestic abuse in the same year.

We know from our work that over half of women in prison have been in an abusive relationship.

So, why don’t victims leave?

Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

There are many reasons victims of domestic abuse choose to stay in an abusive relationship or feel they are unable to leave.

And domestic abuse doesn’t just affect women. Victims can come from all walks of life. It can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity, religion, income, age, gender, sexuality or social background.

It’s a stark reminder that your neighbour, someone sitting in your office, a person you pass in the street, a friend or family member, can all be victims of domestic abuse.

Every relationship differs, but a common thread within abusive relationships is the range of tactics used by abusers to gain power and control of their victim.

Victims of domestic abuse experience an array of emotions and feelings as a result of the abuse they experience.

“Victims may want the abuse to stop, but not the relationship to end”

One of our partner link workers says: “Victims may want the abuse to stop, but not the relationship to end. Sometimes because of the manipulation they are experiencing they can feel guilty, that they are doing something wrong to cause the abuse. They don’t ask for help because they are embarrassed or ashamed of their situation, fear being judged or stigmatised. Or religious, cultural or other beliefs reinforce staying in a relationship.”

Victims who share children with the abuser can fear for their safety. They may be cut off from their families, and friends. The abuse can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, depression, and helplessness.”

Victims can also be vulnerable, they may experience poor mental or physical health, drug or alcohol problems or debt. They may be under the financial control of their abuser and feel they have nowhere to go, or no ability to get away.”

“They may be unaware there are services that can help them, and others can be distrustful of the criminal justice system due to their past experiences.”

Supporting victims

Through our work, we help victims realise that leaving is a possibility if they want to end their relationship. We draw in the essential support of refugees, women’s centres and others that can give support such as financial advice and counselling. We also provide women whose partner or ex-partner is on our domestic abuse programme, Building Better Relationships, with access to a Partner Link Worker. They work with the victim to put in place a safety plan to help keep them and their children safe.

More importantly, we help victims to develop an awareness of domestic abuse and increase their confidence and self-esteem, giving many the courage to eventually break away from an abusive relationship.

Treating the problem

While we support victims (and rightly so), it is the perpetrator who owns the problem. Unless we change the perpetrator’s behaviour and attitudes, they will continue to offend whether in their current relationship or a new one. And so, the cycle of their offending will carry on.

The programmes we run emphasis self-reflection, self-control and empathy, which helps builds resilience. It gives people the psychological understanding and coping skills to avoid turning to coercion, control and violence again. By using these newfound skills, the perpetrator can choose to end their abuse.

And by taking this dual approach, we can reduce incidents and more importantly prevent future victims.

Are you experiencing domestic abuse?

The following services can provide support:

Women’s Aid helpline:
0808 2000247

Mankind, a confidential helpline for men suffering from abuse:
01822 333 4244

Broken Rainbow Helpline:
0300 999 5428 (LGBT)

Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline:
0808 8010800

Karma Nirvana support for honour-based abuse or arranged marriage:
0800 599 9247

For further reading about why victims don’t simply leave their abusive relationship, see Women’s Aid