Monday, July 13, 2020

When Victims are Discriminated Against by Those They Turn to for Help

  I know what it feels like to be abused and be more afraid of the reaction I might get from those I would ask for help than I was of the abuser. 
   That fear almost cost me my life. 
   I hear the same from other victims and survivors, and studies confirm that fear is widespread and justified. 
   There are more similarities between Christian and non-Christian victims of abuse than differences, but one difference is the reason many Christian women do not "just leave."
   "Abused Christian women are more likely to remain in or return to unsafe relationships, citing religious beliefs to support avoidance of ‘family break-ups’ despite abuse." But what if a woman is killed by her abusive husband? Wouldn't that break up a family? 
   Violent abusers are dangerous people. They are dangerous not only to their wives but also to their children. A shocking number of children are murdered by fathers who are wife-beaters.   Additionally, domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for law enforcement. 
   Despite these well documented facts, the danger to victims is routinely minimized by those who Christian women are most likely to turn to for help--the leadership of their churches and law enforcement. 
   Still today, bias against abused and battered women is real and prevalent. I experienced it first-hand in my own case some two decades ago and more recently in 2019 and 2020, while advocating for others. The bias comes from Christians, Christian leadership, and from law enforcement. "Because of the bias, survivors largely do not get the help they need or simply don’t call the police at all assuming they won’t get help." 
   This is simply unacceptable.  
  Compassionate and knowledgeable Christian response to domestic violence involves more than simply advising women to get themselves and their children out of the danger-zone.  It may involve encouraging a woman to report the abuse. It involves holding abusers accountable both spiritually and legally--church discipline if they are professing Christians and if assault and battery is involved, arrest and prosecution. 
   Christian women are often taught that wifely submission and patiently enduring abuse are godly attributes. Those who are taught this in church and some having heard it their entire lives, are often reluctant to get on the wrong side of God by having abusive husbands arrested. 
   Strong beliefs about gender roles can be deeply ingrained in the psyche's of both abuser and abused, so here are a few ways we can stop being part of the problem of domestic abuse and domestic violence and become part of the solution:
  •  Do not discriminate against victims by shaming them for their choices of who they married or whether they choose to stay or not to stay in their abusive situation. 
  • Do not discriminate by making your help conditional on promises to "never to go back." 
  • Do realize that economics may play a part in a victim's decision on whether or not to report the abuse or leave, especially if the victim is a stay-at-home-mom with no income of her own. 
  • Know what resources in your area are available to her. 
  • If possible, render tangible aid to her and her family. 
  • Know that she will experience sometimes overwhelming fear. 
   Her abuser wields strong emotional control over her. And if she has chosen to leave her home, understand that fear and strong feelings of displacement (most especially the first few weeks) will work against her resolve not to return to her abuser. 
   These are just a few reasons victims need strong emotional support during a confusing and frightening time. Take care not to re-victimize by discriminating against victims of abuse. 
   That is also abuse.
  Learning to respond compassionately and knowledgeably to domestic violence makes us part of the solution in ending discrimination against victims of domestic violence. 

Insights into Christian response to domestic violence will benefit those experiencing abuse as well as those they are most likely to turn to for help. This book provides clear scriptural direction, straight answers, and some tough challenges from one who has been there but is there no longer. 

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