Offering hope to domestic abuse victims
From an FIEC podcast
We all have different pictures in our minds when it comes to domestic abuse, but it has a wide scope in terms of definition and victims. What do churches need to consider when it comes to domestic abuse, and how can they walk alongside and help victims best?
In a podcast, Elinor Magowan and Rachel Sloan (FIEC Directors for Women's Ministry) were joined by Helen Thorne, author of Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers, to discuss the issue and suggest how the church can be a community of hope for sufferers. Here are some extracts.
It's important to bear in mind when we're thinking about domestic abuse:
Men and women can be victims.
It's a hidden crime - you cannot walk into church or walk around your community and spot the abuser. There's very few signs and symptoms.
An abuser might actually be someone that you like and respect and that is something that we have to grapple with in churches.
God is most honoured when dark things are brought into the light rather than covered up - the gospel mustn't be brought into disrepute.
If we are being Christ-like we are going to feel passionate and want to do something about it. We need to be very familiar with our safeguarding policies and procedures because this is a complex area, and we want to be working collaboratively with the experts rather than making decisions by ourselves. If abuse is disclosed, you don't just wander around and confront the abuser - that would always be a dangerous thing to do.
Marriage counselling is a really bad idea in an abusive situation because people will just take what is said in that counselling situation and one will use it against the other.
If you've got someone in your congregation fleeing abuse, the congregation must not put stuff on social media.
These are just a few things that spring to mind. We want our churches to be communities of hope - places where the right kind of support can be given. We need to grow in understanding and grow in talking about it so making it something where someone is free to share, knows who to talk to as well - a safe person.
A community of hope is one where there is openness, there is realism that this could be happening and there's clear procedures that are in place and people know what to do through training. Women are the most likely to be victims, so this is an area for women in ministry - women in the church who are gifted and equipped. We need to equip women in our churches to know how to deal with it, not only if it is happening in the church but also if their friends or neighbours are experiencing this as well.
One of the most difficult to handle aspects of working and walking alongside people who have been abused is that sense of 'Why didn't I notice it beforehand?" The reality is, most of the time, it's so well hidden that almost no one could have noticed it. There can be some signs:
Obviously there can be some unexplained injuries but people that abuse are very good at only causing bruises where they can't be seen.
There can be a sense that someone that is being abused is very quick to apologize.
They often have a very low self-image, think of themselves as worthless, be quite compliant, obedient, and panic maybe if they do something that they consider to be wrong.
You'll often find that people will be good at praying for others but not good at praying for themselves because they don't feel that they're worthy of any prayer.
You might find that they cannot be spontaneous because the restrictions on them are so big that they can't just pop around or have you round - everything will need to be planned.
You might find that they are very, very, well-presented - never, never, anything out of place because they are covering up so much.
There are no hard and fast rules. Everyone is so very different but if you suspect anything, the first thing to do is always pray because we need God's wisdom, help and strength in times like this. Log your suspicions with your safeguarding officer who can look at the wider picture because maybe somebody else has logged something.
You could go to that person and ask how things are and the chances are they're not going to tell you on that first conversation, But the fact that you've started opening up a conversation has shown that you genuinely want to know how they're doing is something they might respond to later. You could drip feed little bits of information e.g., book read, podcast listened to, to show this person that you are aware of domestic abuse, and you are compassionate towards those that are being abused.
You're very unlikely to make any decisions by yourself e.g., talk to safeguarding. It all needs to be done very collaboratively. Give the people that can make the decisions information and make the decisions together and of course wherever possible, involve the person that is potentially being abused as well, because what we don't want to be is the next person that controls them by making decisions for them.
If there are children involved, we do have to get help. Studies have shown that children in a domestic abuse environment, even if they've not been physically harmed themselves, have massive emotional struggles as a result of just being in that controlling environment. So, it's really important that the children get help.
The 35-minute podcast is structured as follows:
00:00 - Introduction
01:43 - Definition of domestic abuse
03:42 - Can we be naive about domestic abuse in church?
05:46 - Why did you write a book on domestic abuse?
08:28 - What do we need to consider in churches about domestic abuse
11:37 - Church as a community of hope
14:29 - Why focus on women in particular?
16:37 - Advice if domestic abuse is suspected
21:27 - Advice when a disclosure is made
25:14 - Walking alongside sufferers
30:37 - Advice for pastors
Watch it here:
The audio podcast can be downloaded from here.
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