The pain and power struggles between men and women in unhealthy romantic relationships can surface in a variety of violent ways: harsh words or manipulative behavior that assault victims’ minds, physical attacks such as slaps or squeezes that hurt but don’t cause serious injuries and more aggressive violence such as kicks, punches and attacks with weapons that result in bruises, broken bones or even death. Sometimes the violence includes sexual abuse, such as assault and rape.
Domestic Violence is a pervasive problem in the United States. Each year, approximately 960,000 domestic violence incidents take place between Americans, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 85 percent of the victims are women; 15 percent are men. More than six million children witness violence taking place between their parents and other adults in their homes every year.
Yet despite the prevalence of domestic violence, only 25 percent of the incidents in 2013 were reported to the police, the study shows. When such crimes go unreported, the violence can continue for years or until people are killed. On average, the study reveals, three women and one man will be murdered in the United States every day by their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends. About 75 percent of the time, victims are murdered either while they’re in the process of trying to leave their abusive partners or after leaving, according to the Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys, which also says that abused women make an average of seven attempts to leave their abusive partners before they finally are able to do so.
While it seems obvious to people who want to help domestic violence victims that leaving abusive relationships is a good idea, those who are caught in the dangerous web of such violence often choose to stay. Why? The reasons are complex…
Fear of what could happen if they try to leave is a significant issue for domestic violence victims. They may be afraid of being harmed or killed or they may fear that their abusers will carry out suicide threats after the relationship ends. Victims who are parents also may fear losing their children if they try to leave.
Sometimes wishful thinking plays a role in keeping victims stuck in domestic violence. Many victims love the romantic partners who abuse them, and abusers may apologize and act lovingly in between violent incidents, so the people who suffer abuse often want to believe that their partner will eventually change.
If victims are financially dependent on the people who abuse them (such as stay-at-home moms married to abusive husbands), or if they’ve become isolated from family and friends (as many are, since abusers tend to try to control their partners using isolation) they often worry that they won’t have the economic or emotional resources they need to support themselves and their families if they leave.
Since the experience of going through domestic violence can shatter victims’ self-confidence, they may eventually come to feel as if they simply don’t deserve to be treated better in a romantic relationship—so they won’t bother trying to leave the one they already have. Or, they may feel so worthless and ashamed that they don’t think they could ever attract the love of a healthy romantic partner.
Misguided spiritual beliefs may also lead victims to stay in violent romantic relationships. They may believe that in order to faithfully obey God’s call to forgive those who hurt them, they must reconcile with the people who abuse them—even though reconciliation isn’t necessary to forgive, and reconciling is unwise when abusers haven’t repented and changed. If victims are married, they may believe that since God designed marriage to be a lifelong relationship, they should stay married no matter what—even when they’re being abused. Sometimes they interpret the biblical call to sub-mission in marriage as a command to do whatever their spouse demands—even though God never intends for people to submit to sinful behavior like abuse.
Understanding these reasons for staying can help you fight frustration in your efforts to help people you know who are caught in domestic violence situations. If you remind yourself of how challenging it can be for people to leave and acknowledge the reality that some will never leave—you can avoid the temptation to give up your efforts to help, and approach each situation with grace. By being patient and nonjudgmental with victims, you can earn their trust, which will put you in the right position for God to work through you to bring real change to victims’ lives.
While you may not see those you care about leave their abusive situations, you can still do a lot to help them right where they are, especially if you rely on God to guide you in the process. So the next time you’re in contact with someone who’s suffering domestic violence, tell the person honestly that you’re concerned about her or his safety and want to do whatever you can to help. But also assure the victim that you will respect any request to keep information that she or he shares confidential. Make sure the person knows that she or he can risk being completely open and honest with you about the situation.
Then make yourself available to listen whenever the person you’re hoping to help chooses to share thoughts and feelings with you. The gift of listening is precious to someone who is dealing with pressures of navigating domestic violence. After listening, refrain from judging and instead promise to pray about whatever the person has shared with you. Finally, offer to help in any practical ways that might make the victim’s life easier, such as providing a meal, childcare or transportation when needed.
Domestic violence victims desperately need to know that they can safely open up to a caring person about they’re going through. With God’s help, you can be that person for someone!
For the number to Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelters in the United States, Click Here.
By Whitney Hopler