Right now, our vision as a church is to see over 10,000 stories of transformation. Recently, we have had a number of moving stories about individuals coming out of domesitc violence situations. These are people who once felt isolated, hopeless, and helpless. Now they feel cared for and looked after. These stories provide hope for anyone affected by domestic violence.
Domestic violence (sometimes referred to as ‘family violence’ or ‘interpersonal violence’) is defined as “a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviours that frighten, intimidate, terrorise, exploit, manipulate, blame, injure, or wound a person.”
It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 women is a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime. There were 65,000 police reports of domestic violence in Victoria last year (almost double those reported in 2010). In Australia, the police deal with a domestic violence matter every 2 minutes. It can happen to anyone, regardless of your background.
“Violent abuse” refers to “using physical violence in a way that injures or endangers someone.” Physical assault or battery is a crime, as well as serveal other forms of domestic violence, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the authority and power to protect victims from physical attack. The victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and their children.
Domestic abuse is dangerous in ALL its forms (not just physical violence) - including willful intimidation, sexual assault, stalking, verbal or emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse and isolation. Physical violence is sometimes easier to recover from than psychological or emotional injuries that cause a person to feel worthless. Threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself.
As a pastor, I need to confess that the Church, in general, hasn't always handled this issue well. We have often failed to believe that it can happen in Christian homes. There has been erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home, as well as misunderstandings about forgiveness and repentance. This has often created a culture of silence and acceptance. Here at CityLife, we are committed to doing a better job at helping to prevent domestic violence, confronting it when it does occur, and offering help to those involved – both the victim and the perpetrator.
Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived amongst us, so that we can have life, and life to the full! Any sort of abuse or violence hurts the heart of God. It is the very opposite of his sacrificial love. Abuse twists God’s good intention for marriage, the family and human relationships. God’s Word contains clear declarations against any form of physical or verbal abuse, including that of spouses or children. Psalm 11:5. “Those who love violence, God hates with a passion.” Instead, we are called to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another.
If you are being abused, you need to know that abuse is not God’s will or part of God’s plan for your life. Enabling one person’s cruelty to another is not the will of a just and loving God. You don’t have to remain silent anymore. Please tell a friend, a family member, a pastor or ministry leader, or the authorities. You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. You are the victim of abuse and violence and it is wrong. You were created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, love and respect You do not need to put up with it. It is not acceptable. If you don’t feel safe, please seek professional help in making a safety plan for yourself and the children. This may include leaving the situation or obtaining an intervention order. No person is expected to continue in an abusive environment.
If you are the one causing the abuse, you need to know that it is never okay to hurt or threaten to hurt anyone. Please get some professional help. Talk to someone you trust. Get some accountability.
Domestic/family violence causes great damage in people’s lives. It has to stop. For anyone affected by domestic violence, we have counselors and pastors trained to be able to help you and offer support and strategies for you to move forward. Please call and ask for help.
Father, you love us as your children and your desire is that our homes, our families, be places of love, care and encouragement – not places where we experience fear or abuse. I pray for wisdom and courage for those affected by domestic violence. Help them to take a step towards freedom today. For those caught in a cycle of abusing others, I pray that you would convict them and bring about change in their life. For us as a church, may we be a community of faith characterized by loving relationships. In Jesus name. Amen.
See also: Say "No" to Domestic Violence
Some Common Myths (Source: Response to Domestic Violence – Domestic Violence Handbook for Clergy and Pastoral Workers)
1. ‘A woman can easily leave an abusive relationship,’ or, ‘if she stays or goes back, it can’t be that bad,’ or ‘She must be to blame in some way.’
Fact: Many factors make it difficult to leave, including:
- The children love the perpetrator.
- Guilt about depriving the children of the other parent.
- Financial reasons – no money or uncertainty about supports and resources; fear of poverty.
- Pressure from family, friends, church to stay.
- Feeling paralysed and helpless, fearful of making decisions –these are effects of abuse.
- Loneliness, fear of change.
- Still loving the perpetrator and hoping he/she will change.
- Fear of how perpetrator will react - threats of finding and harming her and/or children/pets, threats of suicide if she leaves.
- Stigma of being single parent , or judged as a ‘bad mother’.
- Fear of not being believed.
- Fear there is nowhere safe to go.
- Fear of losing home/belongings/community.
- Knowing, or suspecting she is being stalked.
- Belief she won’t be able to cope on her own.
- Guilt that she has hit back in some way, and is therefore ‘just as bad as him.’
2. ‘Violence does not affect the children’
Fact: Witnessing family violence, or knowing it occurs, is traumatic and impacts on a young person’s social, psychological and spiritual development. It can impair ability to learn and function normally.
3. ‘The victim must have done something to bring the abuse on herself – he would not abuse her for no reason.’
Fact: there are no reasons to justify abuse. Use of violence is a choice with the clear intention to exert power and control. It is never appropriate.
4. ‘Only physical violence is serious or harmful.’
Fact: All types of violence are at least as destructive as physical violence. They make a woman feel worthless, confused, and erode her ability, skills and sanity. Victims often report physical violence is the easier to recover from; that psychological and emotional injuries take much longer to heal.
5. ‘Men who use violence are unsuccessful, low achievers and unable to cope with the world.’
Fact: Many men who use violence are high-functioning and successful. Poverty, alcohol and drug abuse all add to stress but violence affects all socio-economic groups, ages and cultures. Perpetrators are often charming, successful, and very manipulative.
6. ‘Regret or remorse means the perpetrator has changed or will change.’
Fact: Remorse or guilt and promises to change are often part of the abuse cycle and do not signify a commitment to change or take responsibility for the use of violence.
7. ‘If the victim hits back, or tries to defend herself by pushing, pinching, hitting, it is not really abuse’ or ‘They are as bad as each other.’
Fact: Women hit back or try to defend themselves for many reasons, including:
- To minimise the physical injuries by provoking the perpetrator to hit or abuse before they get really angry, or to get it ‘over and done with.’
8. ‘Violence is an accepted part of some cultures.’
Fact: Violence against women and children is a crime; a violation of basic human rights and never acceptable.
9. ‘The relationship will improve – everyone has rough patches.’
Fact: Violence does not go away. If ignored the abuse usually escalates.
10. ‘The perpetrator just gets so frustrated/angry/anxious/depressed/ or is under so much pressure, he cannot help it.’
Fact: The problem is how the perpetrator deals with the pressure/frustration, not the pressure/frustration itself. Using violence is a choice –if it were not, the perpetrator would be violent towards everyone.
11. ‘Violence is a relationship or communication issue.’
Fact: Violence is a power and control issue, never a communication or relationship issue.
12. ‘Family violence is a private matter – outsiders should not interfere.’
Fact: Everyone has a right to live in safety and be free from violence and abuse, both inside and outside the home.
13. ‘Alcohol or drug abuse is to blame for family violence.’
Fact: Alcohol is often blamed for family violence; however alcohol is an excuse, not a cause. Violence and abuse occurs without alcohol, and many people get drunk without becoming violent. Either way, the perpetrator is responsible for their behaviour.
14. ‘People who use violence are mentally ill.’
Fact: The majority of perpetrators are not suffering from a mental illness. Most perpetrators confine their violence to the privacy of their home and direct it towards a particular person. They often attack parts of the victim’s body where injuries will not be visible. The ability to use restraint and forethought is not consistent with mental illness. Many perpetrators plan the abusive episode. This is evident where the perpetrator removes or hides the victim’s phone/car keys/purse prior to abusing her. Some perpetrators do have personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder; however this is not an impediment to making choices about behaviour.
Some Common Unhelpful Responses
- Do not ask: “What did you do or say to provoke the abuser?” The victim is never to blame.
- Do not suggest to the victim they should try harder not to make the perpetrator angry, nor suggest the victim try to be a better wife/husband. This is disempowering and places responsibility for change on the victim.
- Do not use scriptures related to submission, forgiveness, faith or any other topic to pressure the victim to stay in an abusive relationship.
- Do not ask: “Why do you stay?” Leaving an abusive relationship is often dangerous and very difficult, emotionally and practically.
- Do not suggest the woman return if she has left a violent relationship. Do not tell the perpetrator to return home if he has left. Safety is the critical priority.
- Do not ask for proof of abuse. This is disempowering for the victim and she/he will likely feel you do not believe or support her/him.
- Never recommend relationship counselling. Until the abuser takes responsibility for his/her behaviour, and the violence stops, no other relationship issues can be addressed. Violence is not a relationship or ‘communication’ issue.
- Do not attempt to mediate a couple or challenge the abusive partner. This can place you and the victim at serious risk. It will further disempower the victim, and will not change the perpetrator’s behaviour.
- Do not assume, if the victim has a pattern of leaving and returning, that helping and offering supports is a waste of time. It often takes several attempts to leave the final time. The victim is under significant pressures, and the perpetrator is likely to be threatening or manipulating her.
Some Helpful Responses
- If someone discloses they are being abused, the best response is to believe them. Make safety a first priority. Offer support. Don’t tell them what to do. Support them to seek professional help.
- It can often be difficult to discern between ‘normal’ conflict and family violence. If one partner is afraid, feels controlled, humiliated, is afraid for the welfare of children or pets, it is most likely family violence is a factor in the relationship. The victim may be very quiet and compliant, even self-blaming.
- It is easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. Be aware that victims often empathise with the perpetrator’s feelings opinions or reactions and will blame themselves; perpetrators tend to blame their victims, and can present as the ‘victim’ in the relationship. They often manipulate to get people such as police, counsellors or pastors to agree or collude with their viewpoint. They can be charming and plausible. To the untrained, it can be confusing to know who is the real abuser, or dominant aggressor. It is best to refer for professional help.
- Police - 000
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Men’s referral Service 1300 766 491
- Immigrant women’s Domestic Violence Service 8413 6800
- Women’s Domestic Violence and Crisis Service 24 hours 1800 015 188
- Family Violence Crisis Service 8am-11pm 7 days 9792 1205
- Family Violence Outreach Service Casey/Cardinia 9703 0044
- Family Violence Outreach Service Dandenong 9791 6111
- Eastern Domestic Violence Outreach Service (EDVOS) 9259 4200
- Knox Community Health Service 9757 9756
- CityLife Community Care 9871 8900
- Safe Steps Family Violence Response Service 1800 015 188
- Elizabeth Hoffman House Aboriginal Women’s service 9482 5744 or 1800 796 112 (support line)
- Berry Street Northern Family and Domestic Violence Service 9450 4700