Saturday, October 20, 2012

We Can't Ignore Domestic Violence (Advocating for the Vulnerable, Part #6)


Dear friends,

It's happened again, another horrifying and tragic episode of domestic violence in our community, leaving several dead and one critically injured.  In the Orlando area alone, eleven people in the past several weeks have been killed because of domestic violence.  We read these so often in the news that it's easy to become numb and then turn the channel, turn the page, click the next link to think about something a little more cheerful.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But even if it wasn't, we need to...

Stop.

Think.

Act.

You might assume that domestic violence does not affect you or anyone you personally know. You are probably wrong.

First, think of the ripple effect in society. When families are torn up by domestic violence, there is a cost: lost education and income opportunities for both the victim and abuser, on-going medical needs from injuries and psychiatric disorders, increased substance abuse, impact of the possible death of a parent (usually a mother), necessary government intervention, potential homelessness, children who grow up to perpetuate the vicious cycle and increase crime rates and more.

Think of these sobering statistics:
  
  • 1 in 4 women report being the victim of abuse by a spouse/boyfriend in their lifetime. (United States statistics)
  • More than three women per day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • Women suffer 2,000,000 injuries per year from domestic violence.

Still, that seems so “other” to many of us. 

Sure, it raises our taxes.

Sure, we need more police officers. 

Pity the poor families out there.

You know, the ones who don't know how to get along. 

Oh well.

Stop and think again.

Unless you are a hermit, someone you personally know is probably the victim of domestic violence. Perhaps someone in your church or Christian organization. And you could be completely oblivious because it's not something a victim really likes to advertise. It is humiliating. There is a stigma, especially among Christians. There is a fear of reprisal from the abuser if anyone finds out. There is a fear of having to single parent, with all of the emotional, logistical and financial ramifications. It's hard to rock the boat, to risk upsetting things even more than they already are. It's easier to deny, minimize, try harder to make it work.

You might wonder how a Christian family could be affected by domestic violence. I think the desire for control over others (often with the sincere intent of having a “godly” family at all costs) and the inability to control anger are two prime factors. This is compounded by the fact that many Christian women feel like it is their duty to submit to whatever their husbands say or do (as long as the wife is not personally sinning), and so they continue to enable abusive behavior. They may reason that their husbands are otherwise decent, hardworking members of society, and they don't want to damage their reputations in the church or community. Many Christian men insist it is their right as the leader of the family to assert their “God-given” authority and enforce whatever they wish to say or do. The wife may think, “He is controlling and verbally abusive, but he's never physically hurt me,” but if that goes unchecked, it can easily slide into physical abuse. Or she may think, “Well, he pushed me and I got hurt, but that was an accident. He's never tried to beat me up.” It's still physical abuse. If it happens once, it may be an accident that you can get past. But if it continues to happen, it is a pattern that needs to be interrupted. 

In some cases, domestic violence against the wife occurs when she tries to intervene when her husband gets out of control while “disciplining” the children. In many Christian circles, especially among conservative home educators, there is a fear of both government intervention and professional counseling/therapy. There is also an emphasis on Christian marriages staying together at all costs “until death do us part” – which sometimes it does when one spouse murders the other. Whatever the reasons, whatever the extent, these extremely unhealthy dynamics are something for a qualified, professional counselor to explore. (Pastors can help, but some of them are just not equipped. In so many cases, a wife is told to just go home and pray for her husband, forgive, stop being so bitter, submit more, give him more sex, keep the house cleaner, get the kids under control, and try harder not to make him angry. This is total crap! Seriously? Blaming the victim just won't cut it anymore.)

I am no expert on domestic violence, but I do personally know several families who have been affected and I have been involved in intervening/supporting in a few cases. Several of my friends and fellow bloggers have also been directly and regularly involved in counseling women in abusive situations, especially in Christian families.  I appreciate their input about this topic which has enabled me to write this article, which I had already been planning for my series on Advocating for the Vulnerable.  I've been asking around and gathering my information for a while. I can't write a comprehensive or scholarly article, but I can ask you to stop, think, read some more.

Recognizing Domestic Violence:

The symptoms: unexplained injuries, fear, depression, anxiety, self-loathing, distrust, isolation, avoidance, overly passive or overly aggressive behavior

The kinds of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc.

The repeating cycles and patterns of abuse:

(1) violent incident
(2) guilt/excuses/remorse/reconciliation
(3) calm/normality
(4) tension/escalation

The psychological tactics of abuse: dominance, intimidation, threats, denial, blame, isolation, inappropriate rules, belittling, shaming



If you are the victim of domestic violence, PLEASE don't go it alone. Get help. If you have children, they are at risk too. You can't shield them forever. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for them. Start by confiding in a trusted friend, family member, or pastor. If that doesn't work, try another one until someone will listen and help. You don't have to advertise it to everyone. You can get help discretely. If you are in danger, find a safe place to stay, or, if possible and if safe, insist that the abuser leave the home. You might not think you can handle being separated from your abuser, but you can! You might not trust government intervention, such as from the police or social services, but it may be just what you need.

If you know a victim of domestic violence, offer help. Don't turn a blind eye. You might not already know what to do. Start researching. Compile of list of resources, such as hotlines, web sites, safe houses or social services, that your friend can use. I have listed many of these below. Arrange a safe place for them to stay for as long as necessary. And don't forget to listen without minimizing or invalidating or excusing their concerns.


Web Sites and On-Line Articles:

Please note that I am providing these for your information. I do not endorse everything you will find at these sites. Important: If you are a victim of domestic violence and you are using a computer to gather information or gain on-line support, please be sure to use an incognito web browser or erase your history as you browse. Please also be aware that your abuser may be tracking your web viewing with software designed for this purpose. If that is a risk, use a computer that your abuser cannot track, such as one at a friend's house or public library. Click here for more information on How to Cover Your Tracks.)

Phone Numbers:
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800)799-7233
  • USA Domestic Abuse Hotline: (800)999-SAFE

Books:
"Love that is coerced is not real, and neither is submission that is coerced.  Personal dominance, dictatorships in marriage and other forms of mind control that are camouflaged by religion are all unbiblical.  No religion or denomination has permission from Scripture to control a woman.  Some try hard, but they have to violate Scripture in the process.  The biblical truth is that no human being is justified coming between you and God.  In the end of time, when it is your turn to stand before God, you will face Him alone." Elisabeth Julin in Submission Is Not Silence 

Central Florida Resources:

  • SafeHouse of Seminole: A confidential shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children, includes counseling, practical support, legal help, etc. www.safehouseofseminole.org
  • Harbor House (Orange County): Shelter for victims of domestic violence, includes counseling, practical support, legal help, etc. www.harborhousefl.com
  • Kids House of Seminole Children's Advocacy Center: Help for families dealing with child abuse; friendly, non-threatening atmosphere,  includes counseling, support, information on resources, referrals for substance abuse treatment, etc. www.kidshouse.org
I did not fully address child abuse in this article on domestic violence. I have already done this at: Child Discipline or Child Abuse?


New follow up article in April 2014: Bonding and Bondage in Abusive Relationships


I hope that this article and links have equipped you to open your eyes and take a stand against domestic violence.  Let me know if you need help taking the next step.

For peace and justice,

Virginia Knowles