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.