This is Part 2 in a two-part series on the ten myths we often believe about domestic abuse and the reality checks that prove them wrong. Here are the second five myths. Check out Part 1 and the first half of the list. #DVAM (Domestic Violence Awareness Month)
Abuse is the choice of a person, usually a man statistically (but not exclusively), to undermine the personhood of his partner, girlfriend, wife.1 This may include putting her down and devaluing her, isolating and controlling her, making her feel she is going mad, scaring and intimidating her, using her children against her, lying to her and possibly having affairs, exhausting her through making her do all the housework or all of the paid work, raping her, and hurting her physically in any way. This is not an exhaustive list.
In the church, the issue of abuse is further complicated by some Christians’ justification of abuse and collusion with abusers through blaming victims, the abuser’s childhood or health and job status, and perhaps most dangerously, the Bible.
We need to become self-aware as a community of the biases in the church’s predominant ideology of abuse and its tendency to justify and excuse abuse. Here is the second half of “Ten Myths About Domestic Abuse You Didn’t Know You Believed.”
Myth 6: “In a relationship, it’s never only one person’s fault.”
Abuse is not a relationship issue and abuse is solely one person’s fault. When we consider the person being subjected to abuse as partially to blame, we are “victim blaming.”
It can be more comfortable to believe that she wound him up/made him do it/nagged him, because then we can reduce his culpability and feel better. We can imagine that “he’s really not that bad” and therefore the world isn’t “that bad,” because people are “only” dealing with their situation the best way they can.
The disturbing truth is this: abusive men choose to abuse. They are calculated and controlling. They intentionally hurt their partner emotionally, psychologically, physically, and/or sexually.
And as covered in Part 1, these men may be our brothers, friends, pastors, and worst of all, our husbands. They are not distant, “those men” types, they are in our lives and so is the issue of domestic violence. We must respond accordingly.
Myth 7: “When people think they’re suffering abuse, they’re likely mistaken.”
This is a very dangerous myth. Rarely do people self-identify as being subjected to abuse. The process of accepting that someone we love is choosing to hurt us is very painful. Many people never get to that point of acknowledgment alone.
So, we must validate and listen to people if they are disclosing abuse. The trauma of not being believed can wound people deeply and keep them trapped in a dangerous situation.
By the time someone begins to talk about what is being done to them, it has usually become impossible to live with. What we are told initially will usually be just the tip of the iceberg. Nobody jumps into the icy cold, life-changing pool of disclosure without first putting a toe in the water to see what the response will be.
And if the response is: “Are you sure you got it right? Maybe you misunderstood. He’s not that sort of man, maybe he was just having a bad day,” then that person is unlikely to talk about it again for a long time.
Myth 8: “It’s a private matter.”
As covered in Part 1, twenty-five percent of women will have partners who abuse them. That’s not a private matter, that’s 1/8 of the population being intentionally damaged.
In the UK, the national cost to the state of men abusing their partners is £3.1 billion ($4.79 billion) and the cost to employers is £1.3 billion ($2.01 billion).
This is not a private matter. It is a public matter. It affects all of our lives and refusing to engage with the issue of abuse is to be part of the problem.
Myth 9: “Well, we can’t be seen as supporting divorce.”
Often, Christians feel that supporting a woman leaving her abusive marriage is somehow condoning divorce in all situations. Many Christians buy into the legalistic lie that this woman and the abuse she is being subjected to are somehow less important than ensuring we are seen to uphold the sanctity of marriage.
It is not the woman who leaves an abusive partner who is destroying the sanctity of marriage. Rather, it is her husband who is destroying the sanctity of marriage every time he abuses her. We should be advocating for a Gospel that sets people free, not sacrificing women on the altar of “valuing the sanctity of marriage.”
Myth 10: “Just because he’s hurt her doesn’t make him a bad father.”
In the UK, domestic abuse is a recognized formed of child abuse. Whether the children are in the house or not when an incident happens, huge damage is done to them by a father who is abusive, controlling, and manipulative to their mother.
Abusive men very often use children as a tool to further control and hurt their partner, turning the children into informants against their mother, threatening to hurt the children if she doesn’t do what he wants, and encouraging the children to undermine and degrade their mum.
A good father respects, values, and honors the mother of the children. Evidence has found that ongoing contact between children and a father who has abused their mother can be severely detrimental to the children’s development.
Abuse is a serious issue that directly affects the Christian community. It’s time to dispel the myths and address the issue of abuse among Christians.
1. Men can be abused and abuse of anyone is wrong. However, domestic abuse is also a gendered issue and talking about it using the majority experience is part of how we end abuse towards all people.