Why Do They Stay?

A Look At Domestic Violence 

By:  Ansie and Allie 

Spanning centuries and cultures, domestic violence is not a problem new to modern life.  English common law permitted a man to beat his wife as long as the diameter of the stick he used was not wider than the width of his thumb, hence the term “rule of thumb.”   

 Domestic violence does not happen in a vacuum.  It occurs because societal attitudes and values, as well as economic and political realities, give the message that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems and that people have the “right” to control people who are dependent on them or “worth” less than they are.    

“Domestic violence consists of a pattern of coercive behaviors used by a competent adult or adolescent to establish and maintain power and control over another competent adult or adolescent.”[1] The term “cycle of violence” describes the pattern of abuse, which consists of 3 phases: 

1.        Tension building – during this phase the victim tries to be particularly obedient and kind in order to avoid violence.  However, the victim may become so frightened during this phase that he/she attempts to provoke abuse, just to get it over with. 

2.        Acute battering 

3.        Reconciliation, or the “honeymoon phase” – a period of indefinite length when the batterer is contrite and demonstrates loving behavior. 

Generally, the victim may seek intervention during both the tension building and battering phases.  He/she is less likely to seek help during the reconciliation phase when they are typically showered with apologies and assurances that the abuse will never happen again. 

Family and friends of victims of domestic violence often ask why they stay in such horrible situations.  Some of the reasons include: 

Love – domestic violence often occurs in a relationship in which at least one person loves the  other.  The victim wants everything to be all right again and is afraid of losing the other person’s “love.” 

Hope – the victim wants to believe the batterer’s promises made during the “honeymoon” phase, which increase in frequency and decrease in duration as the violence progresses. 

Dependence – the victim may have a sense of emotional and/or financial dependency.  They may feel there are no options but to stay, especially if children are involved. 

Fear – this is perhaps the most powerful factor.  Victims may fear that seeking care or assisting in prosecuting their assailants may escalate the violence.  Unfortunately, their fears are based in fact.  Batterers do often escalate the violence when their partners seek help or attempt separation.  The most dangerous time for the victim is during an attempt to leave a relationship.  Another fear is the loss of children.  Abusers often retaliate by abducting offspring during the early period of separation. 

Learned helplessness – victims may become passive and unable to protect themselves.  They may exhibit symptoms such as self-blame, chronic anxiety, and paralyzing terror at the first sign of danger. 

The person who is living in an abusive relationship is not the only one harmed by the situation.  Children who grow up in homes where domestic violence is present are also victims, whether or not the child has witnessed it directly.  Behaviors often seen in children of battering victims include: 

                General fearfulness

                Exaggerated, constant fears of danger


                Anxieties around separation and loss

                Confusion regarding parental loyalties

                Feelings of powerlessness

                Exaggerated sense of guilt

                Difficulty concentrating

                Difficulty resolving conflicts with siblings and other children 

Here are some things you can do if you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence: 

                Let the victim know that you are aware of the situation (Use discretion)

                Listen to them, believe them, and offer your support

                Have information on local resources available

                Support domestic violence legislation

                Support local shelters and resource centers

                Educate others               

There are various resources available including shelters, legal assistance, and medical care.  Unfortunately, 75% of victims continue in abusive relationships despite intervention efforts made by family, friends, law enforcement, and the medical community. 

It is important to remember that every victim is first a person.  Their victimization is only one part of their lives.  It may have changed their lives in many ways, but it is not the full measure of who they are or who they could be.  A compassionate response to someone who has experienced violence is a response to the whole person, not to a “victim.” 




                This comprehensive website outlines the problem of domestic violence and includes discussions regarding why men batter women, why women stay in abusive relationships, barriers to leaving, predictors of domestic violence, safety planning, legal guidelines, shelters available and more.  Valuable links to other related websites are also included.




                This helpful website offers essential information for battered women.  This site examines various issues related to family violence such as the effect of domestic violence on children, teen relationship abuse, welfare reform, immigration and family violence, and domestic violence in the workplace.

                Also offered is a heart-wrenching children’s art gallery that contains drawings by children who have survived family violence.

                Finally, this website includes a guide for getting help in the USA and has over 150 links to resources around the world where women from other countries can access help.




                Here you will find dozens of articles related to domestic violence, its causes, its victims, and some solutions.




Facts, hotlines, and valuable links to other sites can all be found on this website.   Also included are one woman’s story of her experience with domestic violence and a missing/exploited children’s page where pictures of children who have disappeared are displayed with the hopeful intent that they may some day be found.



From the University of Toronto in Canada, this website takes a comprehensive look at psychological violence and examines its frequency, what it looks like, causes, ways to deal with it, where to go for help, and more. 

[1] EMedicine Journal, July 10 2001, Volume 2, Number 7

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