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Domestic Violence

by Bob Davidson, Director USA Family Life Chaplain Training Program

Why Does It Happen? And How Can It Be Stopped?

Sally reported that she grew up in a well-ordered, strict Christian home. Her father was very disappointed that she, his oldest child, was not a boy. He required her to do heavy chores on the farm.

When Sally was 19 she was raped by a Christian young man who also came from a very strict home. She became pregnant. Furious, her father kicked and abused her, and encouraged her siblings to do likewise. Once he pinched her earlobes with a pair of pliers because she did not hear him calling her. Her mother tried to shield her from the abuse, but to no avail.

Sally is now a grown woman with children. She does not understand how her father, an active Christian and a leader in the church, could have abused her. Although she attends church, the memories of her father overshadow any concept of a loving God.

Pam worked in a Christian institution for almost 30 years. During most of those years she was battered by her Christian husband. She sought help from the church members, but they would not believe her "stories." She eventually confided in her pastor.

He encouraged her to stay in the relationship for "the Lord’s sake." When she told the story, her arm was in a cast. Her husband was still abusing her.

Why didn’t she leave? She did not want to bring shame upon her church or be shunned by church members. Having a very meager retirement income of her own, she does not think that she could live on her own.

The Facts:

In 1991 the report "Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America" was presented by the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Data collected from across the nation showed, for the first time ever, the terrifying extent of violence in homes every single week of the year.

According to police reports, at least 21,000 domestic crimes against women took place every week. Nearly 20 percent of all aggravated assaults occured in the home. Overall a total of 1.1 million assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, and rapes against women were reported to the police in 1991. Unreported crimes may be more than three times that number.

While male battering exists, approximately 95 to 99 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women. Because men are stronger than most women, they can inflict a great deal more harm. And until quite recently, the law has always been on their side. Old English law permitted husbands as head of the household to "discipline" their wives with sticks no broader than their thumbs (the Rule of Thumb). While laws and religious beliefs have changed, old attitudes and myths remain. Over half the women killed in Canada are murdered by their husbands, or boyfriends.

Children often suffer in the cross fire of violence between their parents. A major study of more than 900 children at battered women’s shelters found that close to 70 percent of the children were victims of physical abuse or neglect. The male batter most often abused the children. In about one quarter of the cases both parents abused the children. Only in a few instances did the mother alone abuse the children.

One study asserts that "wife beating results in more injuries than require medical treatment than rape, auto accidents, and muggings combined. Each year more than 1,000 women (or about four women per day) are killed by their husbands or partners.

Wife abuse can take many forms. Physical abuse (assault, including sexual assault) is obvious. Many women also suffer emotional and psychological abuse that is just as devastating and terrifying. Abuse can be found in any home, any income or eduational level, any culture or age group.

We Are Not Exempt:

Unfortunately, Christian and spirit filled homes are not exempt. Many abusers do not think it wrong to "coerce them into submission." But Christian homes must address abuse for what it is: a crime, a sin. No Christian principle and no correct exegesis of Scripture condones abuse.

Many well-meaning people tell abused women to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), for "as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:24). They urge these women to "do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you" (Matt. 5:44).

An abuse women reasons, "If the abuse continues, does this mean God is not hearing my prayers? Is something wrong with me because I can’t endure? Am I a good Christian? Jew? Moslem?"

Incorrect Views:

Of God: Some Christians stay in abusive relationships fearing that they will incure the wrath of God "break the marriage covenant" by leaving. They don't want to be "lost". Although they may be in danger of losing their lives, they feel they must be prepared to die at the hands of their husbands, and hope this "sacrifice" will be accepted by God.

Other victims see God as a stern judge who seeks retribution for their sins and as a controlling Father who expects total obedience. Unconsciously they place responsibility for their abuse on God, not the abuser. This allows them to forgive perpetrators "seventy times seven".

Of themselves: Some victims blame themselves for the abuse. They feel they must be doing something wrong for which they deserve punishment. When we offer counsel to abused women (or men) and children, it is imperative that positive, correct views of marriage be clarified. A truly Christian marriage means a mutual respect and mutual giving that recognize the full equality of husband and wife.

Why Do Men Batter?

Physical dominance. One reason men batter is because they can. By battering they maintain power and control in a relationship. They also batter because their abuse is not confronted clearly as "violence against women".
Status: Historically a man has been viewed as "the breadwinner," "the king of the castle," and "the head of the home." Some men derive prestige, power, and status from ordering their homes according to their will.
Negative views of women. "Through history man, through pride, ignorance, or moral perversion, has treated woman as being greatly inferior. " Women have been required to "learn in silence with all subjection" (1 Tim. 2:11), not only in society but also in church (1 Cor. 14:34). They have been told to "reverence" their husbands (Eph. 5:33). When these texts are used by a man who seeks dominance over a woman or his children, abuse is likely to occur.

Cultural influences. Traditional gender roles and stereotypes contribute to domestic violence.
Lack of accountability. Men batter because they are rarely held accountable for abuse. When questions do arise, batterers excuse their actions by shifting the blame with comments like "I needed to teach her a lesson." When people sympathize with him, the door is open for justifying the abuse.

Additional reasons. Battering also occurs because laws to protect victims are not well enforced, resources to help victims are scanty, and many service providers do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence. Also in most cultures there is a subtle dehumanization of women: men tend to see females as objects created for their pleasures. Many Churches and other institutions tend not to view physical violence toward women a criminal act.
Not all abusers necessarily come from abusive families. In one batterer's program, for example, it was found that 30 percent of participants came from non-violent homes. But witnessing domestic violence as a child has been identified as one of the most common risk factors for becoming a batter in adulthood.

The Cycle:

Tensions build as the man attacks his partner verbally, she tries to placate him. When the tension becomes unbearable, physical violence erupts. After the beating, the tension eases as every partner tries to please the other. The man often appears very loving and attentive, buying her gifts, promising it will never happen again. At the time he means it.

For the women it feels good to be loved and needed so intensely. Now she feels responsible for making him feel better, for making the relationship work. So she denies or minimizes the incident: "It could be worse." She blames herself for provoking it: "If only I were a better wife." She finds excuses for him: "He’s unhappy at work. He’s not himself when he drinks. The kids get on his nerves."

But it’s NOT her fault and there is not excuse for spouse assault. What is particularly disturbing is the fact that the longer the abuse goes on, the worse it gets. The honeymoon period gets shorter. The beatings become more frequent, more severe. There comes a point when a battered women is in danger of her life.

Lenore Walker in "The Battered Woman," 1979 gives the following diagram:


Why Don't Women Leave?

The question is asked again and again: "Why don't battered women leave? A better question to ask is "Why do women stay?"

To avoid more violence. A battered woman is afraid to leave because this often triggers more violence.
Research indicates that a woman who leaves the abuser is at 75 percent greater risk of being killed by her barterer that a woman who stays. The barterer may threaten to kill the children and/or other family members. He may vow to follow her wherever she goes and kill her.

Shame. An abused woman is ashamed to leave. She is pressured by society, and often by her church, to keep the family together "at all costs."

Lack of support. Victims frequently do not feel supported or understood because nobody believes them: "You must be exaggerating." "You were asking for it." "Anyway, it can’t be all that bad". It can be very bad. And it can happen to anyone. An abused woman is often isolated. Her husband may have kept her away from family and friends. She is often financially dependent on her abuser.

Love. Though battered, a woman may genuinely love her husband. She says, hoping that a magic moment will arrive when he will change.

Fear of sinning. Victims who are Christians fear that by leaving they do "something wrong."

How To Get Help

Families caught in domestic violence need to seek help from professionals who are knowledgeable about the dynamics of domestic violence.

Steps for victims. Even if a domestic violence incident occurs only once, do not minimize the action. The likelihood of violence occurring again is extremely high.

First, an abused woman should find safety for herself and her children. Phone 911 when an incident occurs, or contact the Crisis Line at 503-469-8620 for counseling and referral.

Second, she and the children need counseling. She should be open to grow in self-esteem, self-development, and assertiveness.

Third, she needs to understand that she is not responsible for the abuser's actions. No matter how she changes her actions or tries to please him, he will not change until he wants to change.

Fourth, she must recognize that she does not deserve to be abused. She is made in God's image and is worthy of respect and honor.

Steps for abusers. The abuser must also be open to counseling. He or she must be willing to explore the issues that trigger an abusive response. Abusers must admit that they are solely responsible for their actions and are the only ones who can change this behavior. They must be willing to learn new ways to deal with feelings of anger and resentment.

Abusers must recognize that abusive behavior is criminal and subject to discipline. Abusive behavior is learned and can be unlearned.

Our Responsibility to Stop Abuse

We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and hope that domestic violence will go away. Abuse is stopped only by intervention.

All abusers, no matter how prominent or powerful, no matter how wealthy or highly educated, must be held accountable. We must work together to help victims and perpetrators find safety and healing from these abusive relationships. In so doing we will be fulfilling our mission: "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).

Does domestic violence exist in Christian homes? Yes. But with God's help and skilled intervention, abuse can be stopped. We can live abundant lives.





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