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Difficult decisions: Factors involved in the process of women leaving an abusive relationship

Barbara Kay Stanton, University of Massachusetts Amherst


It is estimated that anywhere from 600,000 to 3 million women are abused by intimate partners and former partners in the United States every year. The emotional and physical effects of this violence can be devastating. While services to assist women are enhanced, the abuse has increased over the past twenty years. Approximately 50% to 68% will return to their abusive partners after attempting to leave. Several studies have examined the reasons women stay in abusive relationships, but relatively few have focused on the process women go through in an effort to leave their abusers permanently. This study obtained interview data from ten women who left their abusive relationships and nine women who remain with abusive partners. Using qualitative analysis, seven themes emerged from the research. Those themes included (1) all the women had hope the relationship would work; (2) there was no set pattern in how the abuse occurred or when the women recognized that they were being abused; (3) other people knew about the abuse; (4) some women took steps to end the abuse while others did not and women who utilized existing systems had varied results; (5) support from family, friends, and professionals is important for a permanent ending; (6) there is no commonality in the reason or event that caused or would cause a woman to leave; and (7) the women experienced negative effects whether they left or stayed in the relationship. This information can assist professionals who work in the field of domestic violence to enhance their understanding of what women are experiencing in an effort to achieve safety and provide further areas of research.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social work|Womens studies|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Stanton, Barbara Kay, "Difficult decisions: Factors involved in the process of women leaving an abusive relationship" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068594.