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Published Date: November 3, 2015

Published Date: November 3, 2015

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Domestic Abuse Is Our Business: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a two part series on why the issue of domestic abuse is relevant to all people. Check out Part 2

Do you remember the day you realized that our world is a grimmer place than you once thought it was?  Do you recall when you realized, for the very first time, that not everyone has food to eat every day? Can you picture the painful moment when you discovered that “prince charming” was not always all that, well, charming? Do you remember the day you woke up a little bit heavier in your soul than you were when you went to sleep?

I do. I remember when I first become acquainted with that heaviness. This is the heaviness that inevitably comes with the realization of your own privilege—that the world is not fair and you are not the only one in it.

My moment came in my fifth grade English class. I remember being assigned The Diary of Anne Frank and having no idea who Anne Frank was. A small part of me genuinely wishes I could go back to those days, before the heaviness, before her dark eyes woke me in the middle of the night, before her voice called out to me across generations and miles, before I became intimately familiar with her half smile in the portrait, and before I knew of her painful, heartbreaking, and powerful life.

But the damage was done or rather, the truth had been told. My twelve year-old self was awakened to the heartache in this world. And like many young people, I wanted to do something about it. It seemed to me that my ignorance of her life and the horrors of the Holocaust was an insult—disrespectful to all she stood for. To put it simply, I wanted justice for Anne Frank.

It was that same feeling—that hunger for justice—that rose to the surface of my soul seven years later. A family member, we’ll call her Stephanie, shared her story of ongoing abuse at the hands of her ex-husband. Until then, her reality had been painstakingly hidden from my innocent young eyes. Her story and the heaviness that came with it were not yet a part of my young world. Stephanie’s testimony was of violence, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and perhaps most damaging, isolating silence.

I learned that Stephanie had a long history of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in her life. One of her abusers was her ex-husband. She endured his abuse for years without telling anyone, because he was extremely well-known in the church and community. He was a successful medical practitioner, an endearing father, and on the outside, a joyful and doting husband. What was going on at home, however, was anything but charming.

Domestic abuse affects women of all backgrounds in all walks of life. We do not have the luxury of removing ourselves from the global epidemic of gender-based violence.

Stephanie shared one horrific incident that stands out in my memory. She arrived home to find her husband watching pornography. Outraged that he had been caught, he tied her to the bed, raped her violently, and held a dry cleaner bag over her head in an attempt to suffocate her. After the assault, he calmly untied her and she went to the bathroom to clean up.

“You’re okay,” he laughed. “I would never actually hurt you.”

Stephanie left him and filed charges, wishing that she had some sort of physical scar as proof of his ongoing abuse. Turning to law enforcement, Stephanie found no help there. At that time in Tennessee, it was not possible to “prove” rape between two married people. And without any scars, no one could tell she had been brutalized at all. All she could do was run.

Flash forward a few years. Stephanie and her children were happy and safe. Stephanie was active in a church choir. She was living with her boyfriend, and was constantly asked by church members why she would not re-marry. But after suffering traumatizing abuse in two marriages, the thought of being legally tied to any man quite literally sent her into a panic.

Stephanie’s painful and complicated reality was not a part of the church’s understanding of domestic violence.

One day at choir practice, the choir director asked members to do one thing:

“We were asked to evaluate our lives,” Stephanie said to me. “If there was anything that might hinder us from being a witness or anything that anyone might even perceive as a sin, we were told that we should quit choir.”

So she did.

In the meantime, her abuser was told he could not attend her church. This was the only real support Stephanie experienced at the time. But her abuser still received sympathy and was sent to counseling.

“I felt like the bad guy instead of the victim,” she shared. “He was given sympathy and counseling and I was the bad guy. People could not believe I would press charges. Besides, who was I anyway? The “nobody” that he married and no one knew, only knew of.”

Stephanie was just someone the church knew of.

Why is talking about domestic violence so difficult? Why do we feel awkward listening to someone talk about their experience with domestic violence? Why do we often find it so hard to engage meaningfully with this issue in our communities?

If you’re like me, someone who has never been abused, I might have an answer for you. It might be because you’ve been privileged enough to think that it’s not your problem. I think a lot of us see domestic violence this way—distant, irrelevant, not close to our bodies and therefore, our hearts.

It is our call and mission as Christians to respond to this epidemic of domestic violence. It is our responsibility to bear up under the weight of this trauma in our communities. 

How wrong we are.

Here are some facts from the Hartford Institute of Religion Research,,, and the Huffington Post:

318.9 million people live in the U.S. More than forty percent of Americans go to church. In the South, that statistic jumps to sixty-eight percent. One in every four women in the U.S. will be abused at some point in their lives. It is conservatively estimated that between 2 and 4 million women are considered “battered” each year in the United States. Two thousand of those women die every year. Nineteen to thirty percent of women coming into the ER with physical injuries are there because they have been abused.

While there is no typical victim of domestic violence, there are certain characteristics that make women more susceptible to being abused and those are: being single, separated, or divorced, having poor self-esteem, or being pregnant. The number of women who were murdered by current or ex male partners between 2001 and 2012 was nearly double that of American troops killed in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq during that same time. To read more alarming statistics, click here.

Take a deep breath. I know that was a lot. After reading that, you probably feel a little bit like I did during my fifth grade English class. Those numbers should absolutely rock you. But then again, are any of us really that surprised?

Maybe you think this doesn’t really apply to you because while the issue alarms you, you believe that you do not know anyone who has experienced anything like this.

It honestly hurts me to say this to you. You. Are. Wrong.

Domestic abuse affects women of all backgrounds in all walks of life. We do not have the luxury of removing ourselves from the global epidemic of gender-based violence. Statistically speaking, there is likely at least one woman sitting in the very same pew as you week to week in church who has been or is currently being abused. It is your problem. Why? Because those suffering abuse need trustworthy allies and real support. It is our call and mission as Christians to respond to this epidemic of domestic violence. It is our responsibility to bear up under the weight of this trauma in our communities. 

This is a forum for conversation and learning. Please keep dialogue constructive and engage respectfully with those who have different perspectives. We also encourage you to share our articles on Facebook and Twitter. We need your help to spread the message of gender equality. 

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