Domestic Violence

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.

The Church and Women at Risk

The Church and Women at Risk

Lindsey, my wife, wrote this article—“The Church and Women at Risk”— for the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This article is relevant for October being designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The entire article can be downloaded, but here is an excerpt:

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful witness for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God, and by tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many victims who reach out to churches in times of need receive blame, disbelief, suspicious questions, bad advice, platitudes, and shallow theology instead of care and compassion. Rather than pat answers, victims need practical victim advocacy full of biblical and theological depth.

Churches have a great opportunity to offer victims of violence love, safety, patience, and counseling. Caring for and responding to women at risk is an opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to the epidemic of violence against women is a way the church can follow the charge of James to practice “pure religion” ( James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women.

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Ray Rice’s Domestic Abuse Saga: Why Not Leave Him?

Ray Rice’s Domestic Abuse Saga: Why Not Leave Him?

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today.

Questioning the victim takes focus away from the real problem: the abuse.

Football fans turned their attention to the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, after TMZ released a video of Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator. The league ultimately suspended him indefinitely, and the team terminated his contract.

After the incident back in February, Rice was charged with assault, and video from outside the elevator showed him dragging her unconscious body. Without the hard evidence of his attack, though, he had initially only been suspended two games.

This high-profile case provides an opportunity for us to consider our response to domestic violence, which can often seem too little, too late.

Ray Rice’s now-wife Janay Palmer Rice, who did not press charges, says her husband’s punishment and the media attention over the case feels like a horrible nightmare. She hates having “to relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day.”

Like many survivors of domestic abuse, deep down, she may be asking, “Is it my fault?” They assume they did something to spur their abusers on, that they were too passive or too demanding, or that they are somehow to blame for the abuse.

Yet, research on domestic violence reveals that a woman’s behavior actually has no bearing on the abuse. Psychologists Neil Jacobson and John Gottman say it plainly: “There was nothing battered women could do to stop the abuse except get out of the relationship.”

Unfortunately, victims not only blame themselves, but are also blamed by the perpetrator and society. Social psychology researchers have found that we hold prejudices against domestic violence victims. These negative stereotypes make victims feel socially derogated, which can prolong their substantial psychological and emotional distress.

The common question of “If it’s so bad, why don’t you leave?” can further this sense of stigma and victimization, since it often puts the responsibility on the victim, the one experiencing abuse. Countless people have directed that question at Janay Palmer Rice, who married Ray Rice in June and is still with him. The hashtag #WhyIStayed has been trending in response.

This is an important question; however, focusing on the abuser’s behavior—rather than the woman’s response to his behavior—is crucial for survivors to overcome any feelings of guilt for what has happened to them. Our hope is that people will instead begin asking, “Why does he choose to abuse?”

While characteristics vary from person to person, all abusers share one thing in common: they choose to abuse deliberately. They may blame their behavior on their partners, an abusive childhood, stress, alcohol problems, their cultural background, financial problems, or their personalities.

Others aid in this false claim by assuming violence and abuse only happen because the abuser isn’t able to control his behavior. Others believe abusers do what they do because they were abused as a child, or that their behavior is dictated by mental illness. Certainly childhood issues, alcohol, drugs, mental issues, and other health problems may be factors of domestic abuse, but they are not the cause.

The truth is, the only reason an abuser abuses is because he chooses to. Abusers are able to control their behavior—they do it all the time. Just look at how they behave when they are not around their victims.

We know that certain factors intensify an abuser’s desire to abuse, but none of those factors cause abuse. Abusers abuse for one reason: because they want to. Yet, there are no acceptable reasons for a partner to abuse another in an intimate relationship.

That means the abuser is the only one to blame. Of course, he does not want anyone to see it this way. Men who abuse share some common characteristics—and one of these characteristics is to blame-shift. They want others to believe that woman is fault or at least shares some responsibility for the abuse she is receiving. But this is not true.

As Christians react to the pain and suffering of women who are abused, we should meditate on God’s love and care for women revealed on the Bible. But God’s love should do more than just make us feel better—it should lead us to imitate His care for those hurting, take action against evil toward the vulnerable, and pray for God’s peace and salvation to cover the earth.

Those suffering abuse need to know that God sees their suffering and that God cares about them and hears their cries and prayers. He cares for them so much that He wants them safe and delivered from threat and violence. But even beyond physical safety, God wants them to heal from the many ways they’ve been hurt and wounded.

We believe that the deepest message of the ministry of Jesus and the Bible is the grace of God to all of us because we are all broken people in a broken world. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness.

 

To Those Suffering Domestic Abuse

If you are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse from a partner, spouse, family member, etc., you can create a personalized safety plan.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You do not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.”

But you are created in the image of God. You should be treated with dignity, love, and respect, but instead you are or were the victim of abuse and violence, and it was wrong. You were sinned against.

God knows and sees you in your experience of violence and abuse, He loves you through it all, and He greatly desires your safety and protection.
God has not forgotten you. He grieves with you. And we hope that knowing this will embolden you to be honest with both Him and others, and know that it is courageous—not shameful—to reach out for support.

God says to you clearly, it is not your fault. You were made for more than this. And it is His great desire to see you safe, healed, and made whole.

Does the Bible Say Women Should Suffer Abuse and Violence?

Does the Bible Say Women Should Suffer Abuse and Violence?

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The Bible does not say that a woman must stay in an abusive marriage.

Tragically, at least one in four women experiences abuse from her partner at some point in her adult life. And tragically, that rate is no different in Christian homes. In fact, research shows that Christian women stay longer and suffer more severe abuse than their non-Christian counterparts. Biblical interpretation on the topic of divorce and separation can cause confusion and allow violence and abuse to continue.

Lindsey and I wrote this article for The Journal of Biblical Counseling. It is written both to the women who experience domestic violence and to those who know of the situation and can offer help: ministers, family, and friends.

For more on domestic abuse, check out Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

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Making A Safety Plan

Making A Safety Plan

DOWNLOAD “MAKING A SAFETY PLAN”

If you are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse from a partner, spouse, family member, etc., you can create a personalized safety plan. If you are supporting someone in an abusive relationship, you can help them make a safety plan.

In our book, Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence, Lindsey and I include “Making a Safety Plan” as an appendix.

A personalized safety plan will help you know what to do if/when you decide to leave or find yourself (and children) in an emergency.

You can create this safety plan even if you are not ready to leave.

There are some important things that need to be considered. Evidence shows that planning before leaving is really important and is more likely to help the women stay away.

Please ensure that safety is considered when creating, printing, and/or completing this document. Considering who will have access to it and where it will be stored are extremely important.

DOWNLOAD “MAKING A SAFETY PLAN”

Is it My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence

Is It My Fault? is a message of hope and healing to victims who know too well the depths of destruction and the overwhelming reality of domestic violence. This book addresses the abysmal issue of domestic violence with the powerful and transforming biblical message of grace and redemption. It deals with this devastating problem and sin honestly and directly without hiding its prevalence today.

Release of Is it My Fault?

Release of Is it My Fault?

Lindsey and I wrote a book about domestic violence that releases today: Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

The number of occurrences of domestic violence in the United States is staggering: at least one in four women become victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.

Is It My Fault? was written for those suffering domestic abuse—typically women—and serves as a resource on healing from the emotional pain resulting from domestic violence by giving a clear understanding of what the Bible says about violence against women.  Combining the authors’ theological training with straightforward and practical advice, the book addresses questions like:  What does the Bible say about women?  What does the Bible say about God delivering victims?  Does the Bible say I should suffer abuse and violence?

Is It My Fault? points readers toward the consistent thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments emphasizing God’s love, compassion, and mercy, while opposing cruelty, violence, and abuse.  In light of this, the authors state that there is simply no justification for abuse. Importantly, the book helps women take critical next steps to identify whether they are currently in an abusive relationship, how to get help immediately and how to make a safety plan.

“Our hope is that this book will encourage you to believe that God knows and sees your suffering, and that God cares about you and hears your cries and prayers.  He cares for you so much that He wants you safe from threat and violence.  If you have children, He wants them safe, too.  But even beyond physical safety, God wants you to heal from the many ways you’ve been hurt and wounded.”

Is it My Fault? also serves as a valuable resource for pastors, ministry leaders, friends, and family, providing guidance on how to care for victims of domestic violence.

Are You Prepared to Minister to Those Suffering Domestic Violence?

Are You Prepared to Minister to Those Suffering Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is extremely prevalent and damaging, but frequently hidden.

Intimate partner violence is pervasive in U.S. society. One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Nearly three out of four of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Questions

These statistics don’t begin to reveal the darkness and grief experienced by the women themselves. Those suffering domestic violence are in the midst of a whirlwind of emotions and have serious and important questions. Here are some of the most frequent questions we’ve been asked:

  • Does the grace of God apply to me?
  • What does the Bible say about women?
  • What does the Bible say about violence against women?
  • What does the Bible say about God delivering victims?
  • Does the Bible say I should suffer abuse and violence?

My wife, Lindsey, and I wrote Is It My Fault? for those suffering domestic violence to answer these questions and to offer accessible, gospel-based help, hope, and healing.

Those suffering abuse need to know that God sees their suffering and that God cares about them and hears their cries and prayers. He cares for them so much that He wants them safe and delivered from threat and violence. But even beyond physical safety, God wants them to heal from the many ways they’ve been hurt and wounded.

Healing In Community

Because the healing process is best aided in the context of community, Is It My Fault? is also for the family, friends, clergy, and ministry staff who want to love and support victims of abuse.

Many people want to help those in their family or circle of friends who are being hurt by domestic violence, but they don’t always know how. They are often overwhelmed by the seriousness of the situation and feel helpless to lend adequate support. But here, they couldn’t be more wrong. Friends, family, and ministry members can offer immense help and support to victims of abuse.

The alternate effect of this, of course, is that some “help”—if misapplied—can actually hurt. Unfortunately, many ministry leaders are woefully under-equipped to deal with domestic violence. Platitudes, prying questions, and shallow “biblical” answers, for example, do more harm than good for a victim who feels stuck in a desperate situation. In fact, many victims believe clergy have the most potential to help them, when in reality they are too often the least helpful and sometimes even harmful.

If you are a leader in ministry, statistics tell us there are people under your care 
that have suffered—or are currently suffering—from domestic violence. This is particularly tragic because part of God’s mission for the church is to proclaim God’s healing and to seek justice for everyone it encounters. And this book is to help equip you in doing just that for women in abusive situations. It is also a resource to give to women being abused as well as their support network of friends and family.

We believe that the deepest message of the ministry of Jesus and the Bible is the grace of God to all of us because we are all broken people in a broken world. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness.

“Your Story Does Not End With Abuse”

Those suffering domestic violence need the good news of the grace of God applied to the effects of the abuse. Our hope is that ministry leaders clearly communicate and care for them with this message:

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

In Jesus, the God who delivers us from evil also offers us a path to healing. And it’s time to let this truth transform the shape of our own stories and how we minister to others.

10 Practical Ways to Care

If you are a loved one, friend, or minister serving a woman suffering domestic abuse, here are some suggestions on how to best care for her.

1. Let her know the abuse was not her fault. Communicate clearly: “You do not deserve abuse. And the it is never your fault.”

2. Listen. Don’t judge or blame them for the abuse. Research has proven that victims tend to have an easier adjustment when they are believed and listened to by others.

3. Don’t minimize or deny what happened. The fact that the abuse was not physical doesn’t make it any less painful, and it doesn’t make it any less wrong. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, they can run very deep, and they are not to be minimized. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.

4. Reassure her that she is cared for and loved.

5. Encourage her to talk about the abuse with an advocate, pastor, mental health professional, law enforcement officer, another victim, or a trusted friend.

6. Encourage her to seek medical attention if needed.

7. Fight on her behalf against the lies that the abuse was her fault, that she is to blame, that she is a failure, or that she deserved abuse because she is a bad wife, mother, girlfriend, woman, or Christian.

8. Take care of yourself. As a support person, you need to be healthy in your caregiving role.

9. Avoid placating statements as an attempt to make her feel better.

10. Take time to notice where she is in the healing process and do not rush her through it. Help her keep moving through it at a pace comfortable to her rather than trying to force progression to a different stage immediately.