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“Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” Pt 3: Myths About Victims


This week, After Trauma will feature a 3 part series on intimate partner violence. Each post will cover one of the three actors in domestic violence: the abuser, the victim/survivor and society. Today’s column focuses on the victim/survivor.

The stereotypical domestic violence victim: the abused woman who for some unfathomable reason just won’t leave.

There are two myths in that profile. One is that many victims are men.  The other is that most women (85%) in an abusive relationship do leave, or at least try (sorry, guys, no stats for you). However, physical abuse is usually part of a more complex pattern of behaviors and interactions and it is important to understand how these play out in any abusive relationship, stereotypical or not. Psychological aggression is, unfortunately a very common for people of all genders and the signs don’t always feel obvious when one is in the middle of it.

Psychological Aggression

Psychological aggression is split into two alliterative categories: emotional aggression and coercive control.

Emotional aggression includes things that we often think of as bullying: being called names, being humiliated, being told no one else wants them, being told they’re a failure or a loser. As a therapist, I can’t help but notice that this also bears an unfortunate resemblance to the monologue in a lot of people’s heads. Think of how easy it is to believe someone who says this to you if it’s something you are already saying to yourself.

Coercive control consists of behaviors most people think of when they think of an abusive relationship: keeping someone from seeing friends and family, tracking whereabouts, threatening to harm or harming a pet or loved one, threatening to take someone’s children, keeping someone from having their own money or leaving the house.

Not surprisingly, people in the U.S. experience emotional aggression more frequently overall. Also not surprising for readers of the previous post is that nearly the same percentage of men (48.8%) and women (48.4%) report having experienced psychological aggression from an intimate partner, according to 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence (NIPSV) Report. Women, however, report having experience more types of the aggression than men, and are more likely to be impacted by intimate partner violence.

What are these impacts?

What is crucial to consider is that the impacts that were measures also serve as barriers to leaving: being fearful or concerned about safety due to a partner’s behavior, missing work or school (or leaving altogether), experiencing mental health symptoms, having to receive medical attention due to injuries, or becoming pregnant after a partner interferes with birth control or assaults them. The NIPSV Report found that 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men reported that they experienced one of these impacts due to their intimate partner’s behavior in their lives.

So we have the slippery slope: self-criticism and name calling, to a trusted person giving voice to these hideous beliefs, to constriction of involvement with the outside world that can offer relief and perspective, to threats of harm or loss if they leave.

So really, it says a lot of people’s resiliency that despite all of these obstacle, many people do leave. But this article would be missing something if I didn’t talk about those that never will.

Homicide victims

Men made up 70% of IPV homicide perpetrators, and women made up 64% of IPV homicide victims (U.S. Dept. of Justice). Men are more likely to be murdered overall, so even though they make up almost a third (36.3%) of IPV homicide victims, only 5% of male homicide victims were killed by their intimate partner. Basically, men are a lot more likely to be killed by someone other than their partner, and male homicide is a big problem. Almost half of murdered women (45%), however, were the victims of their partner, which is one reason that so much attention is focused on helping women escape potentially fatal relationships.

Warning signs

After extensive research on intimate partner homicides, Jacqueline Campbell developed a Danger Assessment tool that is still in use today. Here is a list of things that are correlated with intimate partner homicide:

  • being threatened with a gun
  • being threatened with murder
  • partner is drunk most days or every day
  • being choked or nearly strangled
  • partner is violently and constantly jealous

Whether or not these signs are present, if you are concerned about your or a loved one’s intimate partner relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline (1−800−799−7233) or visit their website ( If you are in another country, here is a list of international resources.

“Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” Pt 3: Myths About Victims

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2019). “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” Pt 3: Myths About Victims. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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