If you were hoping for a cheery blog to welcome in the new term, close this page now! This is a horrible subject but one that I’ve learnt a little about over the past few years, enough to know that I know almost nothing. And yet the little I have picked up was from excellent sources, whether experienced or well-trained, or both, so it felt full of wisdom. As well as other much more raw feelings.
The subject is domestic abuse: women who are treated abusively by their husbands, partners.
This is especially fresh because of a talk I watched in the last week. Didn’t go along with a lot of it, but she said some really important stuff to a group of church leaders and planters, such as:
There are women who are being abused in all your churches.
Do you know them? If not, it is because they are afraid to tell you.
In this woman’s context, leadership of churches is predominantly male, with any female leaders excluded from “senior leadership”. She claimed that women will not approach a male leader because they expect not to be believed, or to be assumed to be exaggerating, being hysterical. Women’s Aid training stresses that what is known as “disclosure” happens slowly, if the woman’s trust grows in the person she has spoken to.
So the first key point is: If someone speaks to you about being treated abusively, believe her. Assume she is telling you only a little of what has happened. Take her seriously. That, all by itself, is a very supportive experience.
Next, and this may be the most important message for missional types: Abuse is about controlling someone else, so any response should not take control from the woman, it should restore control to her. In other words, our response is not to FIX it for her, or make a plan where we get to be the rescuer. She is the one who best knows the dynamics of her situation, and its risks. She is the one to decide her response in her own time. It may be possible to help her think through options, understand that there are options, including legal ones, and protections available.
It is a fact (the stats for which I don’t remember) that a woman in an abusive relationship is most at risk of being murdered or end up in casualty after she discloses, and he discovers that. The last thing we want to precipitate.
So what can we do? Listen to her, believe her, if at all possible put her in touch with others who have had similar experiences who will offer understanding, wisdom, support and care. Do not spread it; that feels like betrayal and increases the risk of danger. Your job is to protect her, first and foremost, and believe her. And thank God, he listens to us when we call.
The last thing to say is that many women do not want to leave their husband/partner and home. They may still love him. That choice is to be respected.