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...




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.

I have created a domestic violence resource page on this blog that has a complete list of links; I will attempt to add to it as I find more helpful resources.  Some of the links from that page are below.

Other domestic violence articles on this blog:

    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.)

    Basic Information for Victims and Survivors 

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

    "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.
    • Harbor House (Orange County): Shelter for victims of domestic violence, includes counseling, practical support, legal help, etc.
    • 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.
    I did not fully address child abuse in this article on domestic violence. I have already done this at: Child Discipline or Child Abuse?

    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


    1. hank you for this article! Wow I can't believe it covered so much!!It was so complete and accurate! More people need to be aware and educate themselves. If you suspect someone is the victim of violence Don't just ignore it because you don't want to get involved! I was living in it for too long like 16 years! The few times I did try to reach out to others the abuser had them fooled and I was just told things like oh just read you bible more and submit. If a person does reach out it is a tremendous and brave step they have made. If someone comes to you as a victim take them seriously and help in any way you can!!! If you are a victim get out if not for yourself, then do it for your kids. Every county has a women shelter, free counseling, they will go to court with you and be there for you. They will help you with everything! Stay in hiding and don't go back or agree to meet them no matter what they say! They most dangerous time is after you leave because they have lost control. God kept myself and my kids alive and healed us from the scars of abuse and PSTD but my kids will never be the same! The earlier you can get them out the better. My daughter now 20 is using her experience to reach out to others!

      October 20, 2012 6:52 PM

    2. Hi Virginia: It's interesting that your post came up when I searched Sovereign Grace and spousal abuse. I just did a post on reports of spousal abuse in SGM churches. So sad :(

    3. Julie Anne, I didn't even mention SGM in this post, but I know that spousal abuse -- along with the more notorious sexual abuse of children -- is an issue in that movement of churches of which I am a former member.

      Here is the link to your post for my readers' benefit:

      Thanks for everything you have done and the stand you have taken against abusive church leadership. I was rooting for you to be exonerated in the lawsuit against you, and I'm thrilled that you won your case!

    4. Wonderful information. Thank you!

    5. When a marriage is ending with gigantic money loss, it is very sad. Some women have very unfortunate when they almost loose their life for no reason. I was pleased recently to read about one association created by Deborah Alessi and her husband helping women whose life has been destroyed by one last devastating punch/kick…

    6. Thank you for this very comprehensive article drawing my and my reader's attention to a very real problem. I'm glad you linked up with my Marriage Monday post!

    7. I am loving your blog. thank you! I was one of those told by my pastor ( from my hotel room with my baby twins) "go home and submit" no follow up, no nothing. I know it was wrong now... . the truth is, until like maybe 5 or 6 years back no one was sticking up for abused wives in my Christian community , not until I started listen to Mark Driscol ( love him or not) had I even heard that the emotional torment and violent behavior was NOT OK. and to call the police and leave when needed. thank you for this blog it's going to help deprogram the crap we have been force-fed in the pews. But please let me say that in my life, Jesus has been more then faithful to continue to teach me what love is and what love requires. I am sorry I was lost for so long but He's leading me in all truths and that one I learned the hard way. I know sometimes we are called to suffer ,to know what that means and what when to flee, all big not easy things to answer. one last note: I think the christian community is so busy idolizing marriage that they have further lost the ability to really love. thanks again :)

      1. You are so welcome! I'm glad this article is still helping people. I plan to publish an interview with some DV survivors soon about how people responded to them.

    8. Do you mind if I use this post on my blog - adding some Australia figures as well. It needs to be discussed and it needs to be made aware of in the Christian community - even if no one ever reads my DV blog posts - perhaps too afraid to face the truth :(