When They Go Back
by Christina Hays
According to Hotline.org the national average for leaving a violent relationship for good is seven. When I first started to work professionally in the domestic violence field in 2016 the national average was five times attempting to leave before staying out of the relationship permanently. Why do we see this number increasing instead of decreasing? Why do we still ask victims why they stay or return? What conversations can we start having to change the outcome for everyone? These are just a few of the questions that we hear at Crisis Services on a weekly basis.
Let’s start with some reasons that we see the attempts to leave an abusive situation rising. There are many factors to address when preparing to escape abuse. The survivor has to put a plan in place of where to go, what to take, and when to run. Leaving is the most dangerous time in a violent relationship. Intimate partner homicide and familicide take place most frequently when a survivor has just fled or when the survivor has been out of the abusive situation and has regained the confidence of being independent again. This planning takes time and support. Sometimes survivors lack the resources to leave permanently and can only stay with family or friends for a short time. The fact that survivors are recognizing the abuse and making attempts to get to safety should be considered a positive thing. We have seen an increase in survivor/victims understanding verbal, mental, emotional, and financial abuse and attempting to leave before the situation escalates to physical violence. All attempts to be safe from violence can only increase good outcomes.
Why do victim/survivors stay or return? Again, we have to address the entire situation. Sometimes survivors lack the financial means to support themselves and their children. Family and friends may have decided to stop helping because they see the survivor keep going back and getting hurt again. Expectations to keep families together and children begging to see their other parent put survivors in a situation where they think that they are making the right choice for their children. Victim/survivors often report missing the person that they love and wanting to believe that they can be the person that they were before the abuse occurred. Change is hard, and it can be easier to return to what feels normal. Abusive partners convince their victims that they are the problem, and the abuse taking place is their fault.
How can we help someone we care about get out of an abusive and toxic relationship cycle? Recognizing the red flags and warning signs that someone you know is being abused is the first step. Invite them over or show up with a cup of coffee to talk. Assess to see if you are alone and the environment is a safe space to talk freely. Ask open ended questions about how they are doing and point out the areas that have you concerned. Encourage them to talk with you without fear of judgement, criticism, or attack. Remind this person who they used to be and how much you miss seeing them happy and healthy. Link the survivor to resources like a domestic violence program for more information or help. Show them articles, statistics, and power and control wheel to help educate them on victimization. More importantly do your best to never give up on them. Whether they leave right away or it takes them years survivors need patience and support. They have done nothing wrong, and they need to be encouraged and not blamed for the violence in their relationship.
If you are someone you know needs help planning to escape from abuse or encourage someone to escape abuse, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. We have trained crisis counselors waiting to talk with anyone who needs help. We can be reached locally at 256-574-5826 or at our 24/7 HELPline at 256-716-1000. You do not have to face it alone.