Culture & Ethics

When Home Isn’t Safe

Recent quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic leaves many people vulnerable to suffering abuse when isolated in a dangerous situation at home.

Many abuse survivor advocates and professionals are expecting that child abuse, intimate partner abuse, and sexual assault will increase during the pandemic because of the increased isolation. Most abusers are parents, siblings, intimate partners, or acquaintances and they now have much more access to victims. Additionally, the victims may no longer have faith leaders, school teachers, co-workers, friends, neighbors, or mandated reporters readily available to help or detect signs of abuse. Also, survivors now have less access to medical and mental health care.

 

Prevalence

The statistics on child abuse, sexual assault, and intimate partner abuse are jarring. One in five children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday; 34% of assailants are family members and 58% are acquaintances, while only 7% of perpetrators are strangers to the child.  One in four woman and one in six men have been or will, be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Young women between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault. One in four women and one in 20 men will experience intimate partner abuse. Nearly 75% of Americans personally know someone who is a survivor of intimate partner abuse.

 

Compassionate, Practical, and Informed

As sobering as the statistics are, they don’t begin to speak to the darkness and grief experienced by survivors. Because abuse causes physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain, survivors need advocates who are prepared to respond and care in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed.

 

Listen and Believe

Clergy and church members need to be vigilant to check-in and provide accountability to potential, alleged, or known perpetrators, as well as encourage those who may feel threatened.  The power of listening to and believing survivors cannot be underestimated. Research has proven that “the only social reaction related to better adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others” (Sarah E. Ullman in Psychology of Women Quarterly 20, 1996).

 

Safety Plan

If someone is experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse, they can create a personalized safety plan that will guide them if they find themselves (and their children) in an emergency. The safety plan will help even if they are not ready to leave.  Planning before leaving increases the likelihood that survivors will stay safe. Such a document needs to be kept in safe hands, so it is extremely important to decide who will have it and where it will be stored.

 

Words of Hope

Survivors especially need to hear this message: God responds to their pain, and their story does not end with abuse. Their life was intended for more than shame, guilt, despair, pain, and denial. Abuse does not define them or have the last word on their identity. Yes, it is part of their story. But the message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace.

 

Survivors needs to hear words of hope:

What happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame. You did not deserve it. You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. Nobody had the right to violate you. You are not responsible for what happened to you. You are not damaged goods. You were supposed to be treated with dignity and respect. You were the victim of assault and it was wrong. You were sinned against. Despite all the pain, healing can happen and there is hope.

Grace is available because Jesus went through the valley of the shadow of death and rose from death. The gospel engages our life with all its pain, shame, rejection, lostness, sin, and death. So now, to your pain, the gospel says, “You will be healed.” To your shame, the gospel says, “You can now come to God in confidence.” To your rejection, the gospel says, “You are accepted!” To your lostness, the gospel says, “You are found and I won’t ever let you go.” To your sin, the gospel says, “You are forgiven and God declares you pure and righteous.” To your death, the gospel says, “You once were dead, but now you are alive.”

-From Rid of My Disgrace, by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb.

 

Resources

Here are practical resources and tips that could be useful for those supporting those vulnerable:

 

In addition to these resources, here are the numbers and websites providing help:

 

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Call: 1-800-799-7233

TTY: 1-800-787-3224

thehotline.org

 

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Call: 1-800-656-4673

https://www.rainn.org

 

National Child Abuse Hotline

Call: 10800-422-4453

childhelp.org/hotline/

childhelp.org/childhelp-hotline/

 

If you are a leader in ministry, there are people close to you that are currently suffering abuse. Part of God’s mission for the church is to proclaim his healing and to seek justice for everyone it encounters. The deepest message of the ministry of Jesus, the entire Bible, and the ministry of the church, is the grace of God to all of us because we are all broken people in a broken world.  Grace and mercy are most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness.

What Is a Girl Worth?

What Is a Girl Worth?

In What is a Girl Worth?, Rachel Denhollander exposes the truth about her perpetrator, Larry Nassar, and the institution that covered it up, USA Gymnastic.

While it takes lots of courage, strength, and vulnerability for a survivor to tell their story of sexual assault, it takes even more to report that crime and sin to the legal authorities and the church. Rachel’s story reveals why so many sexual assault survivors do not report the sin and crime perpetrated against them.

Reporting

With regard to the reporting or sexual assault, there are two major issues to consider—false-reporting and under-reporting.  While under-reporting is a major concern, false reporting is not. Actually, false reports are quite rare.  The figure often used by sexual violence experts for estimating falsified reports is two percent, which is a lower rate than other crimes.

Given the horrific nature of sexual assault and the shame it brings to survivors, it is not shocking that it is one of most underreported crime. The fear of intrusive and re-victimizing court procedures prevents many survivors from reporting their assaults.  Most survivors choose not to report their assaults. According to the FBI, sexual assault is “one of the most under-reported cries due primarily to fear and/or embarrassment on the part of the victim.”

Under-reporting is because of the unique shame, fear, and embarrassment that sexual assault victims experience. All of this is then compounded by a victim-blaming culture in which survivors are often said to be “allowing it” (by not resisting strongly enough) or “asking for it” (by dressing too provocatively, going out alone too late at night, or drinking). The victim-blaming impulse shows up frequently when a story of sexual assault appear in the news or is disclosed in a church.

Rachels tells about the victim-blaming she experienced directly and sometimes more subtly. This takes place in numerous ways.  A major way this can be done is by asking suspicious questions: “Why did you wait so long to tell anyone” or “How did you let them happen to you?” or “Couldn’t you have done something to avoid it?”

Rachel’s story is very familiar to other survivors who have been asked suspicious questions or have been ignored or avoided once they’ve dared to report what had been done to them.

Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault demonstrates that our culture holds prejudices and negative views of survivors. Thus, survivors suffer from the trauma of the assault itself as well as the effects of negative stereotypes. The result is that after an assault, victims feel socially derogated and blamed, which can prolong and intensify the psychological and emotions distress of survivors.

Because sexual assault victimization is stigmatized in American society, many suffer silently, which intensifies a victim’s distress and disgrace. There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. One rationale is that this provides nonvictims with a false sense of security if they can place blame on victims, rather than on perpetrators. Negative reactions to sexual assault victims, such as attributing blame or responsibility to the victim, generally have been found to be greater for assaults by an acquaintance and supposedly “non-resisting” victims.

Blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only erroneous, but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Research has proven that victims who are believed and listened to by others adjust better than those who are not. Victims that experience negative social reactions have poorer adjustment.

Many survivors know how unlikely they will succeed in their quest for justice if they do report sexual assault. The statistics from the Department of Justice are staggering. Only 4.6% of reports lead to an arrest and less than 1% of cases are referred to prosecutors. Only .5% of reported sexual assaults will lead to a felony conviction or incarceration. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. Even if a perpetrator serves jail time, the frequently serve ridiculously short sentences.  Therefore, survivors feel little incentive to report from the criminal justice system and feel every reason not to report from this same system and victim-blaming culture. For many survivors, corruption, laziness, and/or lack of investigative ability makes reporting not worth the trauma.

In addition to being grateful for Rachel’s description of the difficulty of reporting, I appreciate What is a Girl Worth?because it serves as a testimony to trauma, tells the truth about perpetrators, and serves as a warning to institutions.

Trauma

An important part of Rachel’s story is the trauma she suffered. It is very difficult to read about the heart-wrenching evil that Nassar and others perpetrated against Rachel. Seeing darkness that up-close will affect most readers. It should. I recommend that survivors be attentive to their own emotions, healing, and trauma if they consider reading the book.

The only thing more staggering than the number of occurrences of sexual assault is the acute damage done to the survivor. The effects are physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Sexual assault causes harmful psychological effects that are more severe than effects of other crimes. Abuse survivors experience the second highest prevalence rate for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—only exceeded by survivors of war. The best word to describe abuse is “traumatic.” “Trauma” is a state of being negatively overwhelmed. It is the experience of terror, loss of control, of helplessness during a stressful event.

Perpetrators

Rachel describes well the intentionality and manipulation of Larry Nassar as he perpetrated against young girls under his medical care. These girls and families trusted him and his response was to reinforce their trust only to violate it and assume the benefit of the doubt when accusations mounted against him. Perpetrators devastate lives, sin against God and their victims, commit crimes, violate trust, deceive, and blame their victims.

Like Larry Nassar, most child sexual offenders, are known by their victims. Only 10% of child sexual offenders abuse children they do not know.  Like Larry Nassar, most offenders have many victims. Those who sexually victimize children likely have victimized dozens of even hundreds of other children during their lifetime. Like Larry Nassar, many offenders offend with other child and even adults in the room. According to one study, 54.9% of child molesters offended when another child was present and 23.9% offended when another adult was present.

Institutions

Rachel tells how USA Gymnastics protected Larry Nassar and covered-up the abuse done to her and many other girls. It was systematic institutional suppression of anything that might threatened to derail them from their goals. And this is done at the expense of young girls’ lives—bodies, minds, and souls.

Regardless of the institution—USA Gymnastic, churches, schools, business, families, tend to rally around the accused, minimize the offense or cover it up completely, blame the victims, avoid transparency, mock justice, and cause survivors to feel that their only option is to suffer alone in silence and shame because nobody will believe them.

For churches, consider what Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Churches must recognize that they need to be proactive in keeping children safe and to be communities of hope, healing, and good news to those that have suffered sexual assault. Failure to do so will result in additional cases of abuse, and in lifetimes of agonizing physical, emotional, and spiritual damage. God calls his people to be agents of good news and tell people that Jesus responds to their pain and past. We get to remind survivors that their story does not end with the assault; that their life was intended for more than shame, guilt, despair, pain, and denial; that the assault does not define them or have the last word on their identity.

Not the Final Word

Sexual assault is part of Rachel’s story, and it is an important part of her story, but she is very clear that it is not the final word of her story and it does not define her.

Evil and abuse are not the final word. They are not capable of creating or ultimately defining reality.  That is only God’s prerogative.  However, evil and violence can pervert, distort and destroy.  They are parasitic on the original good of God’s creation. In this way evil serves as the backdrop on the stage where God’s redemption shines with even greater brilliance and pronounced drama. What evil uses to destroy, God uses to expose, excise, and then heal.

Both What is a Girls Worth? and How Much Is a Little Girl With?, the children’s book she also wrote, offer hope, healing, and worth as our individual stories are brought into God’s larger story of dignity, value, rescue, healing, wholeness, redemption, and shalom. God redeems what has been destroyed and to their sense of disgrace, God joyfully applies his mercy and grace.  Rachael captures this message well in How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?:

“No one has the power to change what God’s done,

And He says you’re worth everything, even His Son.

Worth all the pain, worth great sacrifice,

Worth leaving heaven, worth giving His life.”

 

The Justice Calling

The Justice Calling

The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance is a comprehensive biblical theology of justice that is practically engaging. Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson bring together their deep study of scripture and their direct engagement with human trafficking and slavery, their scholarship and their activism.

To give you a glimpse of the book, here are two brief excerpts that reflect its theological richness:

“The source of justice in the midst of even the most heinous injustice in our world is Jesus Christ. God’s very character is one of justice, and he has given us Jesus as the manifestation of his justice both now and for eternity. God is the one who reveals the justice calling upon our lives, because God is the source of justice.

I have been on a journey to discover justice rooted in Jesus, to know this call that comes first from God, and to navigate the brokenness of this world with biblical hope as my sure-footed guide. Justice rooted in Jesus broke open for me the possibility and promise of persevering hope—the possibility that I could shed my paralysis and actually move forward one small step at a time because there is a God who is and will be victorious over injustice. And while God certainly could and does act on his own, God beckons us to join him, calling us into his family to be part of his work of redemption and healing through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” (pages 3-4)

“In the light of Christ, we come to see that we are all poor, wretched, helpless, and utterly dependent on God’s saving grace to rescue us. Outside the grace of God, we are incapable of getting right with God, others, ourselves, and the rest of the created world. As slaves to sin, we find it impossible to be holy, to act justly, and to love mercy, but thanks be to God that Jesus Christ came to this earth to find the lost and free the enslaved. Through Christ’s righteousness we can become righteous and be restored to right relationships. Because of this grace, we can live the way of life God intended for his holy people, the way of justice and righteousness, the way of shalom.” (page 28)

I appreciate how Bethany and Kristen explore the convergence of justice and spirit formation. This excerpt from an interview with them capture this well:

You speak about this idea of moving into the darkness, how would you encourage someone who longs to do so but is paralyzed by fear?

Bethany: I think there is a temptation to despair or even to be apathetic and draw back and embrace cynicism rather than believing anything can change or holding onto hope. What we learn from the prophets, especially Habakkuk, is that we can contend with God. We can argue, wine, ask questions of God, and we can know that He sees everything we see in a far more specific and complete scale than we ever could. He invites us to bring our questions to him and to wrestle with him. Just the act of questioning, rather than an affront to God—even if we are angry, is still us coming to God. And God longs for you to talk to him and tell him all the details, to leave nothing spared of what weighs on you and to let him enter into it with you. There is a beauty that he brings from even the most devastating ashes.

Throughout the book, justice work is defined as being long and hard, what would you say to someone who is burnt out from justice work?

Kristen: We know that burn out is very common for those who long to see justice in this world. That’s a big reason we wanted to write this book–to explore what it would take to seek justice as people with deep roots that are sustained and nurtured by the living waters of Jesus Christ. We believe that what we do is supposed to flow from who we are – so that our work of justice, ideally, flows from the grace we have been given in and through Jesus Christ that enables us to become God’s children. This same savior, Jesus Christ, is the one responsible for reconciling all things (Col 1:20).  We are invited to share God’s ongoing commitment to reconciliation and justice, but this work ultimately depends upon God, not us. We hope that by looking deeply at God’s commitment to justice and righteousness throughout the whole story of Scripture and by being reminded of the centrality of Jesus Christ for the reconciliation of all things, you might find strength to continue on in the journey. We hope that the practices of Sabbath, lament, worship, and Eucharist might be ways the Spirit can revive you as you are reminded of the beauty of God’s vision for the world along with your own identity in Christ and your reliance on him for all things.

Click to download a free sampler of Chapter 1.

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A Letter to Parents About Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

A Letter to Parents About Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Dear Parent or Caregiver,

We wrote God Made All of Me as a tool so you can explain to your children that God made their body. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.

The message children need to hear is: “God made all of you. Every part of your body is good, and some parts are private. He made the parts of your body that other people see every day, and he made your private parts. Every part is good because God made every part and called them all good.”

Our goal is to help you in protecting your child from sexual abuse. We wrote Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Sexual Assault Victims because it is an important and prevalent issue. One in four women and one in six men have been or will be assaulted in their lifetime. Heartbreakingly, many of the victims of this epidemic are children: 15% of those assaulted are under age 12, and 29% are between ages 12 to 17. Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

We want parents and caregivers to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm the child you love and want to protect. While we know that actions by adults can be more effective than expecting children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, children still need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and confidence their parents and caregivers will support them.

Education is important in prevention against inappropriate sexual behavior or contact. By teaching children about their body and discussing appropriate and inappropriate touch, you are helping them understand their ability to say No to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt or trick them.

Please consider taking the time to read this book and talk to your child about it.

Best,

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

GMMcoverGet our children’s book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

 

Infographic for God Made All of Me

Infographic for God Made All of Me

Child sexual abuse is more prevalent than most people think and the offenders are usually people parents and the children know, not strangers.

The good news is that parents are not helpless. As a matter of fact, incorporating parents into prevention efforts makes child safety training most effective.

GMAOM Infographic lg

Download JPG

Download PDF

Purchase God Made All of Me

Here are the citations for the infographic:

  • “About one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused during childhood.” —National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Programs for Children, 2011.
  • “A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than by a stranger.” —Roland C. Summit, “The Child Abuse Accommodation Syndrome,” Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 7, 1983: 182; and Jon R. Conte, ed., Critical issues in Child Sexual Abuse (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications), 122.
  • “Most victims of child sexual abuse know their attacker; 34% of assailants were family members, 58% were acquaintances, and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.” —US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (2000), see Table 6 on page 10.
  • “Incorporating parents into prevention efforts makes child safety training most effective.” —National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Programs for Children, 2011.
  • “Involvement by parents is crucial because 65% of social workers, 53% of doctors and 58% of physician assistants do not report all suspected cases of child maltreatment. Several studies document that even medical professionals often miss cases of child abuse or fail to report suspicions.” —Steven Delaronde et al, Opinions Among Mandated Reporters Toward Child Maltreatment Reporting Policies, 25 Child Abuse & Neglect 81, 88 (2000); David Finkelhor, Is Child Abuse Overreported? 48 Public Welfare 22, 25 (1990); E.G. Flaherty, et al, Pediatrician Characteristics Associated with Child Abuse Identification and Reporting: Results from a National Survey of Pediatricians, 11(4) Child Maltreatment 361 (2006); E.G. Flaherty, et al, From Suspicion of Physical Abuse to Reporting: Primary Care Clinician Decision-Making, 122  Pediatrics 611 (2008); and V.l. Gunn, et al, Factors Affecting Pediatricians’ Reporting of Suspected Child Maltreatment, 5(2) Ambulatory Pediatrics 96 (2005).
  • “Personal safety education involves simply telling children that the parts of their body covered by bathing suits are not supposed to be touched by others and, when they are, they should tell someone. If the person they tell doesn’t believe them, they should keep on telling until they are believed. In addition to teaching the children personal safety, it is important to provide instruction to the parents so that they can reinforce these lessons at home and will know how to respond if a child makes a disclosure. Many teach fire safety, school crossing safety, or even swimming safety and yet bristle at the thought of personal safety designed to empower children to protect themselves against offenders.” —Victor I. Vieth, “Suffering the Children: Developing Effective Church Policies on Child Maltreatment,” Jacob’s Hope (Vol. 2, Issue 1, June 2011).
9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse

9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse

We are asked lots: “What are some practical things parents can do to protect their children from sexual abuse?” We ended our children’s book, God Made All of Me, with a note to parents and caregivers answering this question. Here are the 9 practical things you can do to protect children.

1. Explain to your child that God made their body. An explanation can look something like, “Every part of your body is good, and some parts of your body are private.”

2. Teach proper names of private body parts.
It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. Explain to your child that “some places on your body should never be touched by other people—except when you need help in the bathroom, or are getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor.” You can do this with young children during bath time or have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.” The bathing suit analogy can be a bit misleading because it fails to mention that other parts of the body can be touched inappropriately (like mouth, legs, neck, arms), but it is a good start for little ones to under- stand the concept of private parts.

3. Invite your child’s communication.
Let your child know they can tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable (even areas not covered by the bathing suit)—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them. Assure your child they will not be in trouble if they tell you they’ve been touched inappropriately—rather, you will be proud of them for telling you and will help them through the situation.

4. Talk about touches.
Be clear with adults and children about the difference between touch that is OK and touch that is inappropriate. To your child say something like: “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s OK. Let me know if anyone—family member, friend, or anyone else—touches you or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Teach little ones how to say “Stop,” “All done,” and “No more.” You can reiterate this by stopping immediately when your child expresses that they are all done with the hugging or tickling. Your reaction is noteworthy for them as it demonstrates they have control over their bodies and desires.

If there are extended family members who may have a hard time understanding your family boundaries, you can explain that you are helping your children understand their ability to say no to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt them. For example, if your child does not want to kiss Grandpa, let them give a high five or handshake instead.

5. Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions. Without thinking, we sometimes ask a child some- thing along the lines of, “I’m sad, can I have a hug?” While this may be innocent in intent, it sets the child up to feel responsible for your emotions and state of being: “Mom is sad . . . I need to cheer her up.” If someone wanted to abuse a child they might use similar language to have the child “help” them feel better and the child might rationalize it as acceptable if this is something they do innocently with you.

6. Throw out the word “secret.”
Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise. Surprises are joyful and generate excitement, because in just a little while something will be unveiled that will bring great delight. Secrets, in contrast, cause isolation and exclusion. When it becomes customary to keep secrets with just one individual, children are more susceptible to abuse. Perpetrators frequently ask their victims to keep things secret just between them.

7. Clarify rules for playing “doctor.”
Playing doctor can turn body parts into a game. If children want to play doctor, you can redirect this game by suggesting using dolls and stuffed animals as patients instead of their own body. This way they can still use their doctor tools, but to fix and take care of their toys. It may take some time for them to make the shift, but just remind them gently that we don’t play games, like doctor, with our bodies. If you find your child exploring his or her own body with another child, calmly address the situation and set clear boundaries by saying, “It looks like you and your friend are comparing your bodies. Put on your clothes. And remember, even though it feels good to take our clothes off, we keep our clothes on when playing.” [Dialogue from Stop It Now! tip sheet: http://www.stopitnow.org/talking_to_kids]

8. Identify whom to trust.
Talk with your kids about whom you and they trust. Then give them permission to talk with these trust- worthy adults whenever they feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused about someone’s behavior toward them.

9. Report suspected abuse immediately.
You’ve read these steps, now consider yourself an advocate against childhood sexual abuse. Report anything you know or suspect might be sexual abuse. If you don’t, it’s possible no one else will.

GMMcoverGet our new children’s book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

 

*This post summarizes some portions from two Stop It Now! Tip sheets: “Don’t Wait: Everyday Actions to Keep Kids Safe” (http://www.stopitnow.org/dont_wait_everyday_prevention) and “Talking to Children and Teens” (http://www.stopitnow.org/talking_to_kids).

After Domestic Violence, Why Should a Christian Wife Call the Police, Not a Pastor, First?

After Domestic Violence, Why Should a Christian Wife Call the Police, Not a Pastor, First?

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today (Jan/Feb 2015).

Following an act of violent abuse, a Christian wife should first turn to the police. We definitely support calling her pastor, too, but only after calling the police.

“Violent abuse” refers to physical assault or battering, which is a crime. The police have the power to protect victims from physical attack. And victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and any children involved.

The police are the best first responders because they understand that an act of violence is a crime. They understand that without proper intervention, this crime will most likely occur again. It is rare for pastors and their churches to have relationships with a domestic violence shelter, the police, or the public health department. What a Christian wife needs after an act of violent abuse is immediate intervention, emergency shelter, medical care, and legal support.

About one in four American women experiences violence from her partner at some point in her adult life, according to credible national surveys. And research shows that Christian women stay far longer in the abusive context and withstand far more severe abuse than non-Christian women.

One researcher states, “A woman is hit an average of 35 times before she calls the police, and she will leave her abuser 5 or 6 times before she leaves for good.” Psychologist Lenore Walker writes, “Women with strong religious backgrounds often are less likely to believe that violence against them is wrong.” Abused women who are Christians may try to understand their suffering by believing it is “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life.” Yet we believe this runs contrary to the biblical image of a kind, merciful, and loving God who promises to be present to us in our suffering.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey concluded that women who reported their abuse to authorities were far less likely to be assaulted again than women who submitted to the abuse and did not contact the authorities. Specifically, the survey found that 41 percent of wives who did not report their abusive husbands to the police were attacked again within 6 months. By contrast, only 15 percent of abused wives who reported the abuse to authorities were assaulted again.

The justice system is not an absolute guarantee. But if an abused wife is honest and upfront about the danger her abuser poses, the police can be a key to safety. If she takes that first step, the police can offer her resources—including people to talk to and make plans with—that can make all the other steps easier. They’ve done it before. An abused wife is not alone.

How Pastors Can Best Help Victims of Domestic Abuse

How Pastors Can Best Help Victims of Domestic Abuse

This article originally appeared in Leadership Journal (Spring 2015).

At least one in four women is a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime. And research shows that Christian women stay far longer in abusive situations and in more severe abuse than their non-Christian counterparts.

My wife, Lindsey, served as a case manager at a domestic violence shelter, and together we provide crisis intervention to victims of abuse. As we’ve conducted training to service providers and churches, we’ve found that pastors want to help those being hurt by domestic violence, but they don’t always know how.

Ministers can offer immense help and support. Those suffering domestic abuse need care on various levels—practical, spiritual, emotional—from pastors. Responding effectively and referring victims to advocacy services results in fewer violence-related injuries and saves lives. Here are some of the most common questions we receive from ministers.

What is domestic abuse?

In our book, Is It My Fault? Lindsey and I define domestic abuse as “a pattern of coercive or controlling behavior used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner.” This definition is the consensus of psychologists, lawmakers, and experts in the field.

Is abuse dangerous if it is not physical violence?

Yes. Domestic abuse can take many forms—willful intimidation, physical assault, sexual assault, battery, stalking, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse, and isolation. Threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself.

Should I encourage a victim to call the police and report physical abuse, or should we deal with it as a spiritual issue?

A victim should first turn to the police when violent abuse has occurred. Pastors have much to contribute, but after the police have been called.

“Violent abuse” refers to using physical force in a way that injures or endangers someone. Physical assault or battery is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect victims from physical attack. And victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and their children.

The police are able to respond quickly to her situation 24/7 and will know where she can seek immediate assistance in the community. The police are informed of medical and emergency housing options and can help facilitate safe travel to those places for her and her children.

The police are the best first responders because an act of violence is a crime, potentially life threatening, and should be addressed immediately. Without proper intervention, this crime will most likely escalate and occur again. The police receive training on how to intervene in domestic assault situations and are prepared to keep the victim and themselves safe in the process.

What might an abused woman think about God and the hope for deliverance?

Abused women who are Christians often rationalize their suffering as being “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life” or “God’s way of teaching me a lesson.” But enabling one person’s cruelty to another is not the will of a just and loving God.

Pastors can say something like this:

“God knows and sees your suffering. He cares for you so much that he wants you safe and delivered from threat and violence. If you have children, he wants them safe too. And beyond physical safety, God wants you to heal from the many ways you’ve been wounded.

“Your suffering does not mean that God has forsaken you. Rather, God is on the move in response to prayers for deliverance. Not only that, but he equips us to move ourselves. The Psalms show us that while David prayed to God for deliverance, he also took the necessary measures to get to a safe place away from the violence. David prayed, but he also wisely fled and removed himself from the threat of violence.

“While we cannot always observe this deliverance immediately, God will, no doubt, provide a way of escape.

“In a world where you have suffered from the one closest to you, the greatest promise we can offer is the assurance of God’s loving and watchful presence. And he will give you the strength you need to do what’s next.

“As you discern what your next step is, remember that there are resources available to you. You don’t have to remain silent anymore. Tell a friend, a family member, the authorities, a pastor, or ministry leader.

“Please understand: Jesus responds to your pain. Your story does not end with abuse and violence. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, fear, and confusion. The abuse does not define you or your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story.”

What can I say to a woman who is convinced the abuse is her fault?

“There is no action, thought, or sin you could have done to make you deserving of violence. You do not deserve this. And it is not your fault.

“You did not ask for this. You are not worthless. You don’t have to pretend nothing happened. You are not damaged goods or ‘getting what you deserve.’ You are created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, love, and respect. Instead you were the victim of abuse and violence, and it was wrong. You were sinned against.”

When should I encourage a woman to leave an abusive situation?

In general, whenever she and/or the children are being abused or feel they’re in any kind of danger.

Make a safety plan, which outlines what steps to take if they are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse from a partner, spouse, or family member. A safety plan helps her know what to do if/when she decides to leave or finds herself (and/or children) in an emergency.

Since it’s such a sensitive document, tell her to be careful when creating, printing, or completing a safety plan. Consider who will have access to it and where it will be stored.

Leaving is a critical step for a woman in an abusive relationship, but it is also dangerous. There is an on-going risk even after leaving. Over 75 percent of separated women suffer abuse after they have left their partners.

Does the Bible require a woman to stay in a marriage that’s abusive?

Abuse twists God’s good intention of marriage. The Bible condemns domestic violence, and proclaims God’s judgment on abusers. The psalmist, for example, declares God’s hatred of abuse in no uncertain terms: “the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion” (Ps. 11:5).

No person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Marriage is a covenant. When a husband chooses to be abusive, he breaks that covenant.

If his wife chooses to separate, she is making public his breaking of the covenant, and this does not go against what the Bible says about divorce. It is the abuser who must be confronted about breaking the marriage covenant.

As Ron Clark writes, “Victims need to know that leaving is well within their rights as a child of God.”

If I suspect a woman is being abused, how do I approach her?

Find a time to meet with just her. Tell her you have noticed certain things and are concerned about her safety and well-being. Explain what you see and why you think it might mean she is being abused. Women in abusive situations often don’t identify it as abuse. She might think this is normal.

Ask her what she needs and how the church can care for her. Be prepared to offer a few options. Does she need emergency shelter, medical care, or legal support? (Have a list of domestic violence shelters with legal advocates.)

Let her know she isn’t alone, doesn’t have to make a decision today, and that you are there for her when she is ready to get help.

You can call a local domestic violence shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for specific things to ask or not say and get some practical things to offer if she opens up.

What are possible signs of abuse?

Possible signs of an abusive relationship

  • Partner belittles, controls, or threatens her, or exhibits violent behavior.
  • Partner talks over her or for her. She is reluctant to speak.
  • Partner makes disparaging comments about her.
  • Partner is in contact with her excessively. Rarely leaves her unaccompanied.
  • Partner presents her as unreasonable and himself as victim of her unreasonable behavior.
  • She is more and more isolated. Withdrawn. Stops talking about her partner.
  • Has unexplained injuries or blames herself for them.
  • May appear fearful, jumpy, or over careful in her partner’s company.
  • May have no access to money.

Her children may call her names and ignore her. Or they may be clingy, not wanting to leave her.

Why We Wrote A Children’s Book

Why We Wrote A Children’s Book

GMMcoverGet our new children’s book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

 

We wrote God Made All of Me as a tool so you can explain to your children that God made their body. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.

God Made All of Me is a simply-told, beautifully-illustrated story to help parents talk with both boys and girls about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes. Our goal is to help you in protecting your child from sexual abuse.

Why is this book important?

Most victims of child sexual assault know their attacker. According to the U.S. Department of Justice,  34.2 percent of assailants were family members, 58.7 percent were acquaintances, and only 7 percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10 percent of victims are age three and under, 28 percent are between ages four and seven, 26 percent are between ages eight and eleven, and 36 percent are twelve and older.

What do parents need to know about child sexual abuse offenders?

Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates that a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim.

Most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious and some studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.

Dr. Anna Salter, a sexual offender treatment provider, says it is important for parents and child-serving organizations such as churches to avoid “high risk situations.” This is because “we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency” and thus “must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to our children.”

Victor Vieth, senior director and founder of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, writes: “Many youth organizations have prevented the abuse of children in their care simply by limiting the access of potential offenders to boys and girls. Child abusers count on privacy to avoid detection of their criminal behavior. When churches or other faith institutions remove this privacy it becomes more difficult for the offender to succeed.”

Why is it so important to teach personal safety to children?

Victor Vieth explains: “Personal safety education involves simply telling children that the parts of their body covered by bathing suits are not supposed to be touched by others and, when they are, they should tell someone. If the person they tell doesn’t believe them, they should keep on telling until they are believed. In addition to teaching the children personal safety, it is important to provide instruction to the parents so that they can reinforce these lessons at home and will know how to respond if a child makes a disclosure. Many teach fire safety, school crossing safety, or even swimming safety and yet bristle at the thought of personal safety designed to empower children to protect themselves against offenders.”

Why is it so important to Christian to be educated about the issue?

Dr. Anna Salter, a sexual offender treatment provider, writes: “If children can be silenced and the average person is easy to fool, many offenders report that religious people are even easier to fool than most people.”

Salter quotes a convicted child molester: “I consider church people easy to fool . . . they have a trust that comes from being Christians . . . They tend to be better folks all around. And they seem to want to believe in the good that exists in all people . . . I think they want to believe in people. And because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words.”

Child molesters are skilled at deception because, in part, they have considerable practice at lying to their families, their victims, their friends, and to themselves. Anna Salter describes the abilities of molesters to lie convincingly in this way: “You are never going to run into a child molester who is not a practiced liar, even if he is not a natural one.”

Not only are child molesters skilled at lying to pastors and parishioners alike, they are often proud of their abilities to fool the leaders and members of their congregations.

“Many child molesters,” writes Victor Vieth, “put a great deal of time and thought into selecting the children they will violate. There are two reasons for this. First, sex offenders often look for the easiest target. Second, sex offenders often look for the child or children least likely to be believed should he or she disclose the abuse.” An offender convicted of sexually abusing children at church was asked how he selected his victims. He icily responded:

“First of all you start the grooming process from day one…the children that you’re interested in…You find a child you might be attracted to…You maybe look at a kid that doesn’t have a father image at home, or a father that cares about them…If you’ve got a group of 25 kids, you might find 9 that are appealing…then you start looking at their family backgrounds. You find out all you can…which ones are the most accessible…you get it down to one that is the easiest target, and that’s the one you do.”

Based on her experience with child sexual abusers, Anna Salter concludes: “Child molesters are very professional at what they do and they do a good job at it.”

Because of this reality, parents need to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm their child.

GMMcover

Get out new children’s book God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.