• Question: Do you think people are more or less likely to stay in an abusive relationship if there are children? and why?

    Asked by Caitlin to Ben, Sam, Kirsty, Maggi, Rose on 20 Jun 2017.
    • Photo: Rose Turner

      Rose Turner answered on 20 Jun 2017:

      Hi Caitlin, What an interesting question! One thing to consider is that there are different forms that abuse can take. Some forms of abuse can be physical and others can be emotional, mental and even financial. The common aspect is that the abuse has usually developed in such a way that the abused person may not realise that it is happening, or may believe that it is in some way their fault. Alternatively, they may feel too afraid of the abuser to try to leave (perhaps the abuser has threatened them). I know of a woman, lets call her Julie, who made the decision to leave an abusive partner only when she thought their child was at risk (either at risk of witnessing the abuse to her, or of being abused themselves). So in that situation, the opposite thing happened – the mother was so traumatised and isolated by the abuse, her self-esteem was so low and she was afraid of leaving and didn’t know where she would go, that she didn’t leave when it was just her own wellbeing to consider. Instead it was because of her role as carer for the child that eventually resulted in her leaving. In contrast, some people might stay in a relationship for the children, because they have perhaps been made to feel that the children would be at risk in some way if they left, or because they feel unable to be a parent on their own (remember that abused people usually feel confused, controlled and have low self-esteem because that’s what the does, that’s how it works). Research has shown that a key factor in people remaining in abusive relationships is fearing that they won’t be supported if they try to leave (either by family or friends or perhaps work colleagues). Thankfully, abuse in relationships has become much better understood in recent years (though there’s more work to do!), which means that there is much more support available, and there is much less victim-blaming (e.g. asking ‘why did they choose to stay?’ as if they are in some way guilty). If you’re interested in this area, have a look online for charities that work with people who have experienced abuse in relationships where you should find lots more useful info.
      Really good question about an important topic! 🙂

    • Photo: Kirsty Miller

      Kirsty Miller answered on 20 Jun 2017:

      Hi Caitlin,
      Great question! Yes, I think so (that certainly often seems to be the case). Rose has given a great answer below, but I also think one of the reasons it that often people believe that children are ‘better with two parents’. Obviously if both parents are the child’s biological parents this is especially so, but even with step parents, I think often the concern is about breaking up a ‘family’. Indeed, often abusers are very manipulative and damaged and after an episode of abuse will apologise, be upset about their behaviour, and promise never to do it again. Often the person who’s abused will forgive them and take them back – for the sake of the family – and trusting that they will never do it again. Unfortunately it’s a cycle that is quite hard to break…
      I think another big issue is that people in an abusive relationship often fear that if they leave with the child that they will make the abuser more angry and therefore worry that they might try to seek revenge. Like Rose’s great point earlier that people are more concerned about the child than themselves, they may well be more concerned about the consequences for the child if they leave (with the ex-partner perhaps coming to take back the child etc.).
      It’s a very complicated issue (and great question to ask!), and I think there are lots of reasons (as is usually the case!) but I think it’s usually a mixture of these reasons, and our main goal should be to try to show people that there are ways to overcome all these concerns so we can help them to leave abusive relationships.

    • Photo: Sam Carr

      Sam Carr answered on 21 Jun 2017:

      Interesting question Caitlin. I am currently working with a domestic abuse charity in the south west of England. There are so many reasons why people remain in abusive (physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive) relationships.

      On the one hand, there are factors linked to the way a person thinks and feels that keep them “glued” to an abusive relationship. So, “fear” (I’m too scared of the consequences of leaving to leave), “love” (I genuinely do feel that I love the person abusing me, “believing abuse to be normal” (because your life has taught you that’s what happens in close relationships), and “low self-esteem” (you believe the abuse is “your fault” and not somebody else’s).

      On the other hand, there are factors linked to mistrust of authorities and the police – so, some immigrants who may be being abused are reluctant to tell the police because they fear the consequences (i.e., they may be deported). Some people do not trust that the police will actually help them.

      Other times it’s more pragmatic things like having no money or no place to go (which can be especially linked to having children to look after).

      In most cases, it’s a mixture of many of these things.