I have a confession: I only recently started thinking about domestic violence because UBA is hosting an event this September. Sure, I’m decisively against it, but domestic violence isn't a thing I think about most days. As I sifted through stories and waded through the numbers, though, my cold heart melted, and I was confronted with my own ugly indifference. I was struck by the reality that these stories and statistics are more than just something to research. They are real men, women, and children. They are image-bearers forced to maneuver incredibly difficult situations, and I’m ashamed to say it was just another cause for me to look into.
I fear that my apathy is fairly commonplace in our churches, too. If you remind us, we might care about issues like domestic violence, but we really just don’t think about it most of the time. In fact, if I may speak for Millennials and probably several other generations, we like to distract ourselves away from thinking about hard things at all. We’d much rather think about the “already” of redemption and ignore all that is still not yet fully redeemed.
So, here we are with a few statistics and some information about domestic violence. Though we have to fight to keep and protect a soft heart these days, I pray we will do just that. May this not be just another article for either of us.
When I lived overseas in the developing world, I was well aware of the rampant abuse in my friends’ homes. My pastor’s wife spoke quietly of its prevalence while gazing at the window of her neighbor, who was a prominent church member. Husbands discussed the need to “discipline” their wives so they’d know the difference in right and wrong. Sometimes “wrong” was as simple as a burned meal or daring to go to church when you were from a Muslim household.
When abuse is tolerated in family and society, it tends to permeate throughout other relationships, as well. I saw mothers who were very permissive with their children up to age five or six. After that point, however, they suddenly became very aggressive if a child disobeyed. I was shocked as my gentle, soft-spoken friend dragged her son across the yard and threw him onto the sidewalk for throwing sand. In their culture, a father came home to abuse his wife, and she, in turn, let out her frustration on the kids. It was a way of life, and Christians there, like me, had to fight the tendency to get used to it.
As citizens of Heaven, there is a long list of commonplace things that we should never allow ourselves to get used to, and abuse should be very high on that list. Be it a West African village, inner-city apartments, or suburban neighborhoods, no one should have to fear those they live with.
To begin confronting domestic violence, though, we first have to know what it is. Domestic violence includes physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, stalking, withholding necessary finances, and even spiritual exploitation.
Unfortunately, many people in abusive relationships ignore, minimize, or explain away abuse. Especially if a person has experienced sexual assault, they may feel frightened, angry, ashamed, hopeless, and/or numb. They may even blame themselves. If you or someone you know is in this situation, these are normal responses, and you are not alone.
As church leaders and members of our community, we need to be able to recognize the warning signs of abuse. Though red flags are not conclusive, we should follow up on any suspicions we may have. Often in these cases, several different people have seen glimpses of the issue but never pursued it further. Sometimes, patterns of abuse never comes to light until after an extremely dramatic event has occurred.
Abusers tend to be very jealous, controlling, and have unrealistic expectations of those they abuse. They blame others for their problems, are unpredictable, and tend to be hypersensitive. Often the relationship develops quickly, and the abuser pressures their partner to commit very quickly by getting married or moving in together. Abusers may be cruel to animals or children, say things that are meant to be degrading, or “playfully” use force. Other big red flags are a history of abuse, the tendency to strike or break objects, or the use of force during arguments. These are not normal or healthy behaviors.
For more information, Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Houston Area Women’s Center have helpful, detailed resources. They will be sending guest speakers to the conference in September.
So, now that we know, what do we do?
Ask more questions. If you see children with marks, lethargy, destructive behavior, or usual mood swings, it is good to pursue the issue. Even if there are explanations, make sure all loose ends are tied. When you carefully explain your concern for a person and their family, most people will respond well and want to be helpful.
Contact the right people:
The police department’s family violence unit will connect you with a counselor: (713) 308-1100
Bridge over Troubled Waters’ 24-hr domestic violence hotline: (713) 473-2801
Houston Area Women’s Center’s 24-hr sexual abuse hotline: (713) 528-RAPE (7273)
Come to our seminar on domestic violence and abuse. It’s Sept 20, 9am-12pm at Ecclecia Houston (1100 Elder St, Houston, Texas 77007). Far more than just giving you facts, we will be dialoguing about how the church may be the catalyst to stop the cycle of domestic violence. We hope to make it extremely practical and see how God chooses to use His people through it.