Domestic abuse – how to respond
Last week we looked at some of the statistics around the prevalence of domestic abuse, and saw that it can be very hard to spot. If we will humble ourselves enough to believe that it could be happening even within our churches, there are signs we can look out for and things we can do to help.
We don’t have space here to fully outline the signs to look out for. They are covered in some detail in this resource booklet.
So how can the church respond and “do justice” for survivors of domestic abuse?
- Understand the scope of the problem
In a recent survey that asked what constituted domestic abuse, 60% of responders indicated that there was no abuse if there was no physical violence. This would therefore exclude verbal, psychological and financial abuse.
The accepted definition used by the government is that abuse is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional.” And to that list I would add spiritual.
Therefore, to do justice we need to recognise three things:
- The scope and variety of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional, spiritual.
- The aim of abuse is to control someone else and force their will.
- The abuse repeats as a cycle, commonly described as honeymoon, build up (or set up), explosion then honeymoon again.
This cycle of abuse ties a woman* to her abuser during the honeymoon period and cowers her spirit during the explosion, over and over again.
This flattening of a victim’s will is reflected in the estimate that a woman* will only report physical abuse to the police after 35 separate incidents of violence.
Even after seeking help, the act of ‘just leaving’ an abuser can be a complex tangle of psychological, emotional, financial and family issues that need to be carefully unpicked in order to keep the victim and her* family safe.
- Believe the victim and make safe decisions
We saw last week that due to this cycle, and the manipulation of abusers, it can be very hard for victims to be believed when they do try to tell someone. We can do justice first by believing victims and listening to their stories.
Unfortunately, some of the advice given by the Church is misdirected and at worse dangerous. Although it has taken significant courage to expose an abusive partner the advice a woman* gets is often to go back to the partner, submit, forgive and win him round by being a good Christian woman for the sake of the marriage and children. Of course marriages are worth fighting for and saving, but this advice fails to recognise that abuse is about a cycle of control and .
The Apostle Paul is often quoted to the victim. She is told “wives, submit to your husband, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Yet this advice fails to recognise that the relationship has disintegrated at the point when her husband failed to “love [his] wife as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Let’s not be like King David who did nothing for his daughter Tamar after she was raped (2 Samuel 13). The Church can help safeguard women through understanding, recognition and appropriate action.
Further help and resources
Restored is a Christian charity with the aim of ending all violence against women. Our website has resources for churches that will help you recognise domestic abuse and deal safely and compassionately with victims and survivors.
We have a Bible study series for individuals or groups that raises awareness of the subject among men. And we have produced a Handbook For Survivors, a reference work for abused women and those working with them which can be sent on request.
Finally I would encourage the vast majority of good and concerned Christian Men to engage with this hidden blot in our society and become a First Man Standing.
Let’s all be part of the solution.
Peter Willson is Co-ordinator for First Man Standing, a ministry of Restored Relationships.
If you have experienced domestic violence and don’t know what to do, or would like assistance with training for church leaders, members or men’s groups, please contact us.
* The vast majority of abuse worldwide is partner initiated and male on female. Restored recognises that domestic abuse is devastating for all victims of domestic abuse whether women or men, straight or gay. The causes of violence against men differ from those against women, require a different skill set and an expertise that Restored is regretfully unable to provide. If you are a man affected by domestic abuse Restored can direct you to an appropriate organisation if you need help.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by guest contributors are those of the author. Although broadly in keeping with the objectives of Jubilee+, the views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Jubilee+ team and directors and/or other contributors to this site.