When we hear about domestic violence, it is tempting to think: “That hasn’t happened to anyone I know!”
However, according to “What Every Congregation Needs to Know about Domestic Violence” (published by the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle), domestic violence occurs in at least 28 percent of all marriages in North America.
Battering is the single largest cause of injury to women in the United States. Some 95 percent of domestic violence victims are women. These statistics include both women who are members of a congregation and those who are not.
Abuse is behavior that intimidates and controls the abused partner to establish and maintain authority. It can range from constant put-downs, dismissals or ridicule, to controlling behaviors and pathological jealousy.
It includes such behaviors as intimidating gestures, controlling family income, treating another family member like a servant, shoving, beating and threatening to take away children.
Abusive behavior includes denial, minimizing and blaming the abused partner for the actions perpetrated by the abuser. What can you and your congregation do to assist families struggling with domestic violence?
- Be honest about naming abuse for what it is. Help families move beyond denial and acknowledge the devastating impact of the abuse on all family members.
- Avoid blaming the victim. No one deserves to be beaten. Abusers are responsible for ending the violence.
- Recognize that it is difficult for a battered woman to leave her abuser. Economic factors, fear of retribution to herself and her children, physical exhaustion and psychological trauma all contribute to the reasons why women stay with an abusive partner. The threat of death is real. Women are more likely to be victims of homicide when they separate from their husbands.
- If you know a woman being abused, listen to her and believe her. Tell her that the abuse is not her fault and is not God’s will for her. Refer her to local domestic violence agencies. Help her find a shelter and resources for legal assistance and counseling. Help her think through a plan of action for her safety.
- If you or your children are being abused, trust your instincts and seek help from a domestic violence program in your community. Recognize that the abuse is not your fault. Talk in confidence to someone you trust. Set up a plan of action to assure your safety.
- If you know someone who is abusing his partner and children, talk to him about the devastating impact of his behavior on his family and tell him that he is committing a crime.
- Encourage your congregation to address domestic violence. Speak out against domestic violence from the pulpit. Include general petitions for survivors of domestic violence in your public prayers.
- Designate a time for educating the congregation and invite staff from a local domestic violence program to make presentations at an adult forum. Offer pre-marriage counseling dealing with equality, conflict, violence and communication.