Domestic Abuse

Why The Church Must Learn to Recognize and Respond to Domestic Abuse. (The following article was co-written with therapist Tony Rankin and originally appeared in the July 2007 edition of HomeLife Magazine.)

The names have been changed. Unfortunately, the story is truer and more widespread than the church realizes. At the time, Patti Baker was 34 years old and had been married for 11 years. She was a stay-at-home mom with two children, Madison, 7, and Jacob, 5, and was heavily involved in PTA at Madison’s school. Patti had a good sense of humor and was always willing to help when someone in her Sunday school class was hurting. She was the epitome of what everybody her age wanted to be … but they didn’t know her secret.

Patti’s loving personality was a front to hide her private pain. Her husband, Tom, a leader in the church, was abusive. Nobody would ever have suspected it, but he’d been that way since two months into their marriage. Nobody realized what Patti endured at home: verbal attacks at least four times a week, frequent unwanted sexual and aggressive touches, occasional periods of being trapped in her own home because her husband blocked the doorways when he raged. Every now and then, he hit Patti. Patti was abused but silenced by fear. She worried that nobody at church would believe her. At times she even felt like she deserved the mistreatment.

ALARMING STATISTICS

The impact of domestic violence in today’s culture is staggering. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Family Violence Prevention Fund tell us 25 percent of women and 8 percent of men have been physically or sexually abused by their partner; as many as 3 million women per year arc assaulted by their partner. And the percentages for the Christian community are no better. The health of today’s family, which directly impacts the health of the church, is dependent on the church taking the initiative to make a significant impact on abuse and domestic violence. To do so, we must first learn to recognize abuse and then convince victims to seek help.

THE FIRST STEP

Recognizing abuse is as simple as knowing what to look for and being aware of the clustering of behaviors. No one behavior necessarily is a predictor of abuse, but seeing a number of the behaviors simultaneously may be an indicator that mistreatment is occurring. {Check out the sidebar “Abuse Signals.”) You’re more likely to notice signs of emotional and verbal abuse. The symptoms are not necessarily going to be black-and-blue marks, but the person being abused is going to look as if they’ve experienced some kind of trauma.

Most Christians are afraid to deal with abuse. But the church, of all places, is where honesty and compassion should meet. Ask the tough questions. Go out on a limb and let someone know you care and are willing to walk through whatever, whenever.

THE NEXT STEP

Most hurting people will not initially contact a professional or licensed therapist. Caring and compassionate lay Christians have the chance to make an impact. Don’t play therapist, but follow these simple guidelines:

  • Listen. Listen to the other person express pain, hurt, confusion, words, and non-verbal expressions of loss, fear, or agony. Seek to learn what’s really going on.
  • Talk. When a hurting person shares a problem with you, she or he is probably waiting for a response. Avoid clichés. Respond honestly (“I know what you’re going through” if you really do, or “That sounds painful”). Offer appropriate suggestions.
  • Ask about their feelings. Phrases such as “Tell me how you feel” or “Tell me what makes you feel sad/happy” are easy places to start.
  • Show that you care. Do something for the individual. Ask what she or he needs, or say, “To show you how much I care for you, I want to…”
  • Know when to refer. You can’t fix it all – no minister or therapist can either. Don’t make the situation worse by being a know-it-all. Research local professionals or agencies that specialize in helping abused families.
  • A POSITIVE ENDING

    Patti is now 38 years old, and her children are doing well at school. In fact, they’re laughing more and feel safer than ever. Patti no longer worries about not always making the right move or saying the perfect thing at home. She has learned about boundaries, unconditional love, freedom from the oppression of abuse, and that her friends really do matter and care. Patti feels a new appreciation for friendships and understands love better than ever. She owes it all to her best friend at church who was brave enough to say, “Patti, because I care, I want to ask you a tough question.”

    ABUSE SIGNALS: Verbal

    • Name-calling
    • Ridicule and sarcasm
    • Blaming
    • Demeaning (“You’re a pig!”)
    • Belittling (“You’re zero”)
    • Berating
    • Minimizing
    • Judging
    • Threatening
    • No-fault apologies
    • Hostile responses
    • Ranting or monopolizing airspace so others have to yell louder or interrupt in order to speak

    ABUSE SIGNALS: Emotional

    • Breaking promises
    • Abandonment
    • Silence without explanation
    • Showing favoritism to another
    • Demonstrating low expectations
    • Being unavailable or withdrawn
    • Enabling or rescuing
    • Neglecting or ignoring
    • Withholding affection
    • Treating child as a peer or confidant
    • Facial expressions: sneering, staring, glaring, rolling eyes, threatening

    ABUSE SIGNALS: Physical

    • Frightening or harming
    • Hitting with a fist or object
    • Scratching, slapping, or pushing
    • Kicking or tripping
    • Throwing an object
    • Breaking an object of value
    • Unwelcome touch
    • Behaving or driving
    • Dangerously
    • Hurting animals
    • Blocking an exit
    • Slamming doors
    • Hitting doors tables or walls
    • Neglecting or ignoring

    ABUSE SIGNALS: Sexual

    • Staring or making
    • Suggestive Comments
    • Asking a child to look at or pose for pornographic pictures
    • Fondling or touching private parts
    • Rape or forced intercourse

    FOR HELP

    Your local YWCA is a great place to ask for domestic violence information and assistance. See also:
    The National Domestic Violence Hotline – (800)799-7233 www.ndvh.org
    The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – www.ncadv.org

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