Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Coverpage of Striving for Justice Toolkit


Summary of important points from this section:

  • Battering usually begins with the use of verbal and emotional abuse tactics to establish power and control and can be so subtle that the other person doesn’t even recognize this.
  • The physical violence may not even begin until the abused partner decides to leave OR there may not be any physical abuse until the person becomes truly committed to the relationship (becoming monogamous, moving in together, engagement, marriage, or having a child).
  • It is common for a person who has just experienced the first incident of physical violence to respond with disbelief and/or denial and feel responsibility, shame and/or embarrassment.
  • As violence increases in severity and frequency, survivors may become more afraid of their safety, but often times they will internalize the problem feeling guilt and failure the longer they are in the violent relationship.
  • Other common responses to the trauma of domestic violence include: feeling hopelessness or worthlessness; nightmares; becoming jumpy; lack of emotion; becoming isolated; suicidal ideation; suicide attempts; using alcohol or other drugs as a means to numb the pain; post-traumatic stress disorder; depression; and other health-related complaints such as headaches or migraines, musculoskeletal issues, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, eating disorders, and chronic pain.
  • A survivor’s decision to leave a violent relationship increases the danger of severe injury or death for the survivor. Batterers escalate their violence when a woman tries to leave, starts to show signs of independence, or has already left (because he is then realizes he is losing power and control).
  • Almost all battered women try to leave at some point, but face many barriers in doing so.
  • Some personal barriers to leaving an abusive relationship include: the presence of hope and love, emotional abuse, fear of sexual violence, the abuser hurting pets, deliberate and systematic isolation from the survivor’s support system, being held prisoner in their home, feelings of loneliness and grief, fear of losing the children, believing their assailant (even when untrue), and fear of dying.
  • Some systemic barriers to leaving an abusive relationship include the cost of the justice system, sometimes no place for survivors to go, believing what most people in our society think about battered women, sexism, and institutions that are sometimes helpless or unwilling to offer women protection or assistance, and gender socialization.
  • Women of color face additional barriers based on the intersections of race and gender when leaving a domestic violent relationship. Likewise, lesbians and gay men face additional barriers. People with physical and/or mental disabilities also have additional obstacles to overcome when trying to gain their independence from their batterer.
  • Instead of asking “Why does she stay?” we should be asking “Why does he/she beat their partner?”