The word 'empowerment' derives from the concept of 'power to' exercise options in one's own best interest. It is not about well-wishers and family making sure the right thing happens by any means possible. Rather it is about a survivor being part of her own change in outlook by struggling with her actual options. For those who would be supportive, empowerment means letting survivors make their own decisions. Empowerment does not mean pretending to agree, only supporting the person. It also means confronting the victim role. Even those who have in fact been victimized are hurt when they take the stance of helplessness.

Part of empowering survivors is taking their desires seriously. The issue that separates survivors and well-wishers most strongly is 'not leaving.'

Survivors, like all people want to be safe. Outsiders often look at the decision to stay and somehow doubt this. It is as if to the outsiders, the primary aggressor having demonstrated the capacity to harm shows that safety is impossible. But survivors want to be safe because their partner chooses not to harm them not only because their partner is incapable of harming them.

Classism may contribute. Many professionals in the helping professions come from privileged classes where physical aggression is rarely used, because other means of power are available. Survivors may come from dis-privileged groups in which physical aggression is more accepted as a occasional necessity. This is not to condone violence, but to illustrate a different view. Also, the hardship of being alone for someone traumatized is often under-estimated.

When the fight against domestic violence was new, it was more 'edgy' and advocates were from the community and centered their work around the wishes of survivors. As domestic violence interventions have become standard, advocacy has moved largely into mainstream institutions, such as the legal system. One side effect has been the re-imposition of social expectations, such as leaving the relationship immediately, onto survivors. This is dis-empowering.