Seatbelts, Cigarettes…and Abuse

In his talk for Awaken 2017, my husband made the comment that he wants to accomplish for abuse what we’ve seen happen within very recent memory for seatbelts and cigarettes. Once upon a time, cigarette smoking was not just socially acceptable, it said you were savvy, upscale, classy, elegant.  There was also a time when nobody wore seatbelts in the car, EVER. And then suddenly — it almost looks like overnight in retrospect — everybody knows smoking kills you, and we buckle up first when we climb in. Today, the wave of disapproval I encounter when I don’t have my 70 pound child strapped into a five-point harness is almost palpable. That’s some serious progress.

I was pondering this phenomenon this morning. In reference to abuse, what exactly would this global change of social expectations look like? Here are my ideas. I would love to see all of these things happen within the next twenty years. I am writing with a church audience in mind, because these are my people, and this is where I think the changes should start.

 

With regard to Child Sexual Abuse:


  • Children would be taught from birth as a matter of course about bodily autonomy and consent.
  • Every educator and children’s ministry worker would expect to be under scrutiny, and would invite and welcome that scrutiny. Not because we think they’re bad people, not because we want suspicion to be the norm, but because our norm especially where our children are concerned should be to trust but verify
  • Every Christian teenager would go through TWO studies on boundaries in healthy relationship — one  sponsored by school, and another sponsored by church.
  • Every crime or suspected crime against a child would be reported as a matter of course. People would understand that safety measures to protect the accused are built into our legal system, and that individuals outside the system are not responsible for exercising “healthy skepticism” or “assuming the best” when a crime is being alleged.
  • All children would know that healthy play happens with doors open, lights on, and people around. Private places, secret places, and dark places are unsafe places.
  • Social sleepovers and time with friends in general would receive much more parental attention. Houses of relatives and friends CAN be safe, but we should not assume so.
  • Churches and schools would universally implement child safety policies and education along these lines, and would prioritize the education of their youth ministry workers about bodily autonomy, consent, and the power and responsibility that are incumbent on them as spiritual leaders.

With regard to Domestic Violence:

 

These are my ideas and my hope for the future. I would love to hear from you. What can you add?

 

Awaken Idaho 2017

I had the great privilege of working on the planning committee for this conference this past weekend, and wow, what an experience. The speakers were so, so good, and the way the church (leadership and staff of Real Life on the Palouse, courageous tellers of their own stories, and friends) pulled together to make this event possible surpassed even my most optimistic hopes. So many thanks go to so many people, I wouldn’t even know where to start, but let’s just say God was in it, so our thanks definitely go to Him. The conference in its entirety is now available at the link below. Please share freely — this is more than four hours of exceptionally good info for counselors, survivors, and churches. Let’s keep this conversation going, shall we?

Awaken Idaho 2017

In Advocacy: Begin with Belief

To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and with the capacity for evil in human nature. To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the events are natural disasters or “acts of God,” those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim. But when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.

from Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman

 

 

(photo credit goes to Peter Roise Photography)

 

Douglas Wilson of Christ Church Moscow has recently blogged against the best practices concept that when we hear allegations of mistreatment or crimes against women and children, we should begin with belief. According to him, beginning with belief is exactly what we must not do.

Let’s break this down a little.

 

Why begin with belief?

  • Because of the power imbalance inherent in an abusive relationship. When one of my kids comes crying into the kitchen and claims her brother hit her on the head, I do not begin with belief, but with investigation. I reserve judgment, call the other child, and ask for his side of the story; but this is exactly what we must not do when dealing with allegations of abuse. Why the difference? Because an abusive relationship always involves a significant power imbalance, and any attempt to interact within or bring healing to the situation must begin by taking that imbalance into account. Abuse has a range of meaning, but in the vocabulary of advocacy, it speaks of the systematic misuse, entrapment, or domination of another person. Abuse of this kind silences the voice of the person who is being abused, it cuts her off from saving relationships, and it removes her power, or her ability to act. You see this dynamic when a husband is pervasively dominating his wife, when a parent systematically oppresses a son or daughter, and any time an adult relative or friend, a counselor, a coach, a caregiver, or a significantly older sibling preys sexually upon a child.  Wherever one person holds a position of privilege, strength, authority, seniority, or greater knowledge, and uses it to take advantage of someone smaller, weaker, and less able in the world, you have abuse. Where you are dealing with allegations of abuse, your first priority must not be to flush out the whole truth of the situation to your own satisfaction, but to preserve the safety and return the voice of the victim.
  • Because disclosure is costly for the victim. Women who speak up about their husband’s mistreatment, and children who disclose sexual abuse at the hand of a parent, sibling, relative, or friend, are putting a lot on the line. They risk losing relationships, the affection and approval of friends and family, and the lives they are familiar with. The choice to disclose abuse is not an easy one: it typically comes from a place of desperation, and we need to begin by honoring that likelihood. Diane Langberg, a Christian trauma counselor with many years of experience, has said this: “Keep in mind that it is extremely rare for an alleged victim to lie about child sexual abuse. It is a fair assessment of the body of research on lying to say that most people lie on a regular basis. However, numerous studies have documented that it is rare for children or adults to lie about abuse. When victims to lie, they tend to lie to protect their offender, not to get him or her into trouble.”

 

What is belief? 

Belief is serious and careful listening. It is willingness to hear, ask probing questions, and act on the basis of what we learn. When we begin with belief, we assume for the moment that what a child is saying about having been sexually assaulted, or what a woman is telling us about the way her husband mistreats her, is statistically very likely to be true. When we begin with belief, that will lead us to do certain things:

  • We will act immediately to offer safety to the woman or child in question. If there is severe or systematic abuse in the home, our first priority must be to provide options that support the safety of the victim. We need to deliver a message that we are there unconditionally to support and help as needed–whether by talking about safety plans, providing financial assistance, or even merely offering a safe, supportive space in which to discuss the situation.
  • We will encourage reporting to the proper legal authorities. Sexual abuse of a child is a felony in all fifty states, and any caregiver who suspects it is required to report it. Domestic abuse should often be reported as a crime, as well.
  • We will NOT try to get “the other side of the story.” Often appropriate in counseling, in an abuse scenario, because of the exposure it entails to the victim, this would be a serious breach of trust. When we have been trusted with sensitive information in an abuse scenario, our first priority has to be the safety of the weaker party. Furthermore, if a crime is being alleged, it needs to be investigated by the appropriate people. Running to check with an alleged child predator or wife-beater about the truth of the allegations can create any amount of harm for the victim, and may constitute obstruction of justice. Investigation is not the role of the church, the counselor, or the advocate.

 

What about “Innocent until Proven Guilty”?

Isn’t what I have said at odds with some of our most dearly held principles as a church and as a nation — that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty? Tim Fall has written an wonderful blog post about this topic here; but the short answer is no. The legal system exists for precisely this reason. It is in court that an accused person has opportunity to clear his name of false allegations.

While some do take the position that the role of the church is to sit with authority as a judge between parties in a dispute, I am coming more and more to believe that the role of the church is very different. The role of the church is not to sit as the impartial judge between parties; it is not to provide spiritual comfort and acceptance alike to sufferers and to those who afflict them; and it is not to fill the role of the father confessor, until it has successfully exposed the sins of all parties involved. The role of the church is to follow Jesus in defending the weak and underprivileged, in standing against the wicked, and in lifting the burdens from the backs of the oppressed. We need to do better.

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31)

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82)

O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10)

 

 

Psalm 82 Initiative

Hello everyone. Today I am excited to introduce a new ministry organization to you — one that I believe has the potential to significantly improve how the Christian church supports victims of domestic violence. My husband, Peter, and I learned about the Psalm 82 Initiative recently through Naghmeh Abedini, who has over the past year become a very vocal and high-profile advocate for women caught in abusive marriages, and who has consulted about her own case with founder Thomas Pryde. read more…

Looking for Patterns

“Destructive behaviors and attitudes can sometimes be difficult to describe succinctly. That’s why an emotionally destructive marriage is not usually diagnosed by looking at a single episode of sinful behavior (which we’re all capable of), but rather repetitive attitudes and behaviors that result in tearing someone down or inhibiting her growth. This behavior is usually accompanied by a lack of awareness, a lack of responsibility, and a lack of change.”

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, by Leslie Vernick

Worthless Apologies

“It doesn’t matter how heartfelt an apology your partner makes to you if later he takes it back. And he doesn’t have to come out and say, “I don’t feel sorry anymore about what I did” or “I didn’t really mean it when I apologized.” He can retract an apology in any of the following ways:

  • Saying later that you shouldn’t be so upset about what he did and that you should be over it by now (and it’s even worse if he says this in an angry, impatient, or judgmental tone)
  • Saying later that he felt pressured into making an apology “because you wouldn’t leave me alone about it” or similar words
  • Repeating the behavior that he apologized for, and then acting like that shouldn’t bother you
  • Blaming you now for what he did in the incident that he had apologized for (for example, if he goes back to saying that you drove him into cheating on you, or if he says that you are the cause of his legal problems because you “had him arrested” for abusing you)
  • Saying “I’m constantly having to apologize to you!” as if somehow it’s your fault that he keeps treating you so badly

    There are good reasons why his apologies don’t affect you much anymore, and why you trust him less and less over time. He keeps knocking all the meaning out of his apologies, and then pitying himself when he sees that saying “sorry” has stopped working.”

    Daily Wisdom For Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft

Standing with Victims is Costly

To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and with the capacity for evil in human nature. To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the events are natural disasters or “acts of God,” those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim.

But when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.

Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman

Bad Church Community Response

“Sometimes reality gets turned on its head, so that wrong becomes right and decency becomes cruelty. I have, sadly, known women who experienced this kind of inversion within their church, temple, or mosque. The twisting of reality begins when the woman takes the leap to tell people that her partner rips her to shreds verbally, or that he pushes her around physically, or that he degrades her sexually.

To her shock, some people react as if the source of the ugliness were in her instead of the abusive man. She starts to get whispered about, people stop smiling and stop reaching out to her, and she feels the atmosphere around her turn to disapproval and rejection. And instead of supporting her, the community rallies around the abuser, viewing him as the victim of a vicious, falsely accusing woman.

I hope this never happens to you. But if it does, it becomes deeply important for you to battle against isolation; when a whole community turns on you, you can feel as if you’re suddenly living on the moon. Reach out for help. Try not to internalize the message that you are bad; you’ve done nothing wrong. Your spiritual community should be there for you, and they are the ones who are behaving badly. Fortunately there are spiritual communities that come through for abused women. I hope you are able to find one soon. In the meantime, draw on resources and keep yourself connected.”

Daily Wisdom For Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft

The Problem with Porn

“I believe in positive human sexuality. Sex is a natural and pleasurable part of life as long as both partners feel safe and respected. There is nothing shameful about naked bodies. So why am I so concerned about pornography and its effects? Pornography is a school of sexuality; in fact, it’s the main place Americans get their information about sex (to the tune of $10 billion per year). And what is it teaching us?

“Love and respect are irrelevant to sex, which is just a body function.”

“Women exist for men’s sexual use, without needs or feelings of their own.”

“Women should like whatever practices men want to engage in, no matter how demeaning or depersonalizing.”

“The more women look like little girls or teenagers, the sexier they are; in other words, men should desire sex with underage females.”

My concern is that pornography promotes a kind of sexuality that is exploitative, has violent undertones, and glorifies offending against children. A huge percentage of women have told researchers that they have been pressured by partners into participation in unwanted sexual practices that the man saw in pornography. In short, pornography is the opposite of a sexually liberating force.

You may not share my reactions, so let me zero in on the points that I think matter most in practical terms: If you are bothered by your partner’s use of pornography, you have every right to be. Your objections do not make you uptight, repressed, frigid, or whatever else he may say. And he should never pressure you to do things he has seen in pornography. If you use pornography yourself, explore carefully whether your participation is voluntary and how it is affecting your self-esteem. If you use it together with your partner, take a careful look at how it’s affecting the dynamics of your relationship…. Anything that leaves you feeling demeaned or controlled is the antithesis of true sexuality.”

Daily Wisdom For Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft

Can’t Win

“Some men have a powerful ability to extinguish the sexual energy of a relationship. Then they blame the woman for it. The man’s jealousy and possessiveness are often the root of the problem. He wants you to be sexy and attractive, but only for him. So he criticizes you if you go out in public looking good. (“What are you going out dressed like that for? You got the hots for some guy?”) Perhaps he starts to call you degrading names for making yourself alluring. The result is that you feel like you’d better not dress up around him. But later he turns it all around and says that you never make yourself sexy anymore.

You can’t win, because he wants other people to be impressed by how attractive you are, but he doesn’t want them to look at you. He doesn’t want you to dress up, but he wants you to be dressy when he sees you. He doesn’t want you to desire sex if he’s not in the mood, but he wants you to always be in the mood. The reason you can’t make any sense out of all this is that it makes no sense.

For you to feel sexual, you have to feel appealing to him. (In other words, in order to feel attracted you have to feel attractive.) And to feel appealing to him, you have to feel attractive in general—in other words, attractive to other people also. There is simply no way to be attractive to him alone. So when a man wants a woman’s sexuality to exist only for him, he is ensuring that it will fade away. And that’s his fault, not hers.”

Daily Wisdom For Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft