The prevalence of domestic abuse against women has been estimated as high as one in four. The risk is particularly high for women who are younger, economically dependent, unemployed and with children. Research about the factors that maintain situations of abuse has generally focused separately on the coping strategies of women, barriers to leaving the relationship and the perpetrators' means of abuse. In this study we used a community psychology perspective to seek a broader understanding of what maintains situations of abuse, in order to suggest interventions in a rural County in the North of England. Twelve women who had experienced domestic abuse and had used voluntary sector services agreed to be interviewed about their experiences and the resources and strategies available to them. Using grounded theory we generated four themes: (1) Commonalities and contradictions in the experience of abuse; (2) living with abuse; (3) the response of systems reinforced or challenged the abuse and (4) dealing with abuse beyond the relationship. These findings illustrate how situations of domestic abuse can be prolonged by limited options available to victims for support and protection, and a lack of active public acknowledgement that domestic abuse is unacceptable. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.