Her ex-husband had been relentlessly stalking her. And I could prove it. The evidence – incriminating text messages, police reports and threatening voicemails – was unequivocal. She was afraid. Her temporary restraining order, issued weeks prior, was working and he was finally leaving her alone. Yet, a few days before the permanent restraining order hearing, she dismissed the case. Sadly, this was not unusual or surprising.
Dismissals like this, despite the presence of domestic violence, happen with regularity. After working on over 1,000 restraining order cases, the many justifications behind these dismissals have come into focus, and five reasons stand out among the rest. When read together, they deliver a powerful commentary on why it is so difficult for domestic violence victims to permanently leave an abusive relationship.
#1 Reconciliation: Strangers do not perpetrate domestic violence; loved ones do. When you are abused by someone you love, and who professes to love you, leaving permanently can be the hardest step. Especially when that person repeatedly promises to change following each abusive incident, a pattern known as the ‘Cycle of Violence.’ Telling a victim exactly what they want to hear – that they are loved and the abuse will stop – is like promising food to the hungry. It pulls them back into the abusive relationship, until the trust is shattered once again by the next incident.
#2 Children: The kids miss the other parent. The other parent misses the children. Pressure mounts on the victim to acquiesce and guilt sets in. Being a single parent is also challenging and exhausting, especially when the victim lacks a support system of family and friends (not uncommon as they are frequently isolated). The draw to return and “be a family again” can be strong.
#3 Lack of Support: The importance of domestic violence victims having a strong support system is critical, yet the people they rely upon most don’t always support the decision to leave. Religion, culture, family dynamics, finances and more may motivate their belief that a couple should reconcile. Often, the family members and friends of the restrained party also apply pressure to dismiss. A lack of financial support, a byproduct of financial abuse, can make it difficult for victims to survive on their own.
#4 Legal Delays: Restraining order cases may be delayed from moving forward for a variety of legal reasons. Chief among them is the inability to properly serve or notify the restrained party, which is generally a legal requirement. Delays can last months or even a year. Repeated trips to court, only to have nothing resolved, can take a toll and weaken a victim’s resolve to move forward.
#5 Victim Blaming And (A Lack Of) Accountability: It is rare for the restrained party to take accountability for their actions. Instead, the abuse is denied and the blame is shifted to the victim: “You did this to me by filing the restraining order.” “You are tearing our family apart.” “I’ve got nowhere else to go.” “I’m homeless because of you.” “I’m going to lose my job because of this.” Abuse is never the victim’s fault.
Adam Dodge (@adamrdodge) is the Legal Director for Laura’s House and writes on a variety of domestic violence topics. Domestic violence affects more than 10 million people—and their loved ones—each year. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.