Not everyone is safer at home.
In the U.S. more than 10 million people are victims of intimate partner physical violence each year—an average of 20 people per minute.
1 in 3 women is a domestic violence survivor.
1 in 3 men is a domestic violence survivor.
Those statistics are hard to read, aren’t they? Especially when it sinks in that those are people, not numbers. Heartbreakingly, the problem is even larger. You see, those stats are only about intimate partner domestic violence. They don’t include the details about all the other types of abuse and neglect that happen to children, teenagers (within their families and in their dating relationships), the middle-aged, and the elderly.
That’s because abuse isn’t only about hitting. Some victims are restrained and forced to do drugs or have sex. Elderly family members are neglected, unfed, and forced to sit in unchanged incontinence products. Emotional abuse doesn’t leave visible bruises either. It ranges from yelling, which is the easiest to spot, to saying hurtful things that come off as funny and then saying, “I was joking.” There’s a Bible book called Proverbs that takes this just as seriously: “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” (26:18-19).
For people who believe in Jesus, it might be easy to hear these numbers, grieve about these situations, and then talk about how bad “the world” is—all while closing our eyes to the truth that church isn’t some protective bubble where no evil can get in and no one suffers from the world’s problems. In reality, victims and their abusers are walking right through your church doors. These people, who are part of your spiritual family, are the ones who would shock you. Your mental picture of abuse might not include the family who walks in together with smiles on their faces, the ones with the nice house and the well-behaved kids, the ones who serve on your church’s leadership teams, the one who is the life of the party.
It’s easy to feel helpless, isn’t it, when you pause and realize that many of these problems are hidden? But you can take some steps now to act before you know where abuse is happening.
- Pray for God to give you eyes that see beyond the surface. Ask him to lead you to people who need you. Ask him to develop your character now so that people will be led to trust you. Ask him to use you as his answer when you pray the words of Psalm 82:3,4: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
- Ask people if they are okay. As you see people whose personalities have slowly changed, who may seem hopeless, reach out to them. Let them know you’ve noticed a quiet change in them.
- Be patient. For many, the fear of coming forward is overwhelming because they know they might not be believed, that the abuser will turn the tables and portray themselves as the victim. Years of being told they are helpless and worthless have left them feeling powerless.
But then what do you do when God answers your prayers and connects you to someone who has been abused? Michelle Markgraf, Director of Family Support Services at Kingdom Workers, a Christian nonprofit that partners with churches and communities to serve people, offers three tips.
- Believe them. “It’s the most powerful thing you can do,” she says. Even if their story doesn’t make sense—and it probably won’t—believe them. If they muster up the courage to tell you, it’s actually been swirling around in their brain for a long time. “They have given you a gift,” she reminds us. “Tell them, ‘Thank you for sharing this and entrusting me.’”
- Ask, “How can I help you?” Then do that safely. “There’s no simple answer,” she says. Simply help them, however it might look to them.
- Remember it is “not our place to fix it, but to walk alongside them,” she says. This will be a long journey because most victims leave and return to their abuser an average of seven times before leaving for good.
P.S. One of my personal go-to passages is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Usually I think of that when it comes to doing the feel-good good deeds—volunteering at food pantries, making a meal for a friend who had a baby, donating to Teacher Appreciation Week. Sometimes, however, the good deeds God has prepared for us to do won’t be easy. It means we will walk alongside the broken, the hurting, the victims—even, and especially, when it’s messy. You may lose your reputation or your friends or “respect” of others who judge your actions. Do it anyway.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who has had the statistics and information for this post simmering for almost a year. With the recent spike in domestic violence calls, these stats might actually be lower than current reality and the need for believers to help will be greater.