In an earlier blog post I talked about why we should begin with belief when hearing allegations of child sexual or domestic abuse. Today I’d like to talk a little more about that.
- Assuming the victim must have misunderstood or misremembered details, or must be blowing things out of proportion is failing to take the claim seriously.
- Not asking enough questions is failing to take the claim seriously.
- Being uneducated about what patterns of abusive behavior look like is failing to take the claim seriously.
- In any case where there is a suspicion of verbal, psychological, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, trying to get “the other side of the story” from the alleged abuser is failing to take the claims of abuse seriously, and will likely result in increasing the danger to the victim.
- In any case where there is suspicion that a crime has been committed, attempting to investigate is failing to take the claim seriously. Investigation of crimes is the domain of the civil authorities. When an allegation of criminal behavior comes up, it is no longer our call what we should do about it. It has to be reported to the appropriate authorities for investigation.
- Talking about abuse as though it is only physical is failing to take the claim seriously.
This last point is a doozy. Church leaders often talk a good game about providing refuge for victims of abuse, but then demonstrate the only thing that meets their criteria for abuse is physical battering. In a recent blog post, this pastor/counselor, and director of multiple counseling programs, said this:
Just as the act of adultery is a greater threat to a marriage than a lustful look (Matt. 5:27-28), there is a difference between physical assault and a harsh word. Because Jesus declared, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6b), every effort should be made to preserve marriages and to help both men and women who have fallen short of perfectly keeping the marriage covenant to change. Church leaders shouldn’t swing from the extreme of sending women back to abusive situations to the other extreme of encouraging the breakup of marriages which might be restored. A man who refuses to repent of controlling and angry behavior may be put through a process of church discipline which will often give the time and space needed for the abuser’s heart to be more clearly revealed.
He goes on to say,
While I agree that in many cases it is true that changed behavior will have no effect on a wicked, hardened man, the Bible explicitly gives hope that the Lord can use the godly behavior of a victim to soften the heart of a sinful spouse. First Peter 3:1-2 says a disobedient or unsaved husband might be won by his wife’s treating him better than he deserves. Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a gentle answer may turn away wrath. I know that these verses have been misused to wrongly send women back into dangerous situations, but it is also true that God can use the Christ-like behavior of a wife to reach an angry husband. Again, a distinction needs to be made based upon the degree of sinful anger (and the resultant danger), rather than quickly saying that a situation is hopeless and that the woman ought to give up and move on. If there is any doubt as to whether a woman is in danger, I would encourage church leaders to err on the side of safety by helping her get away (hopefully temporarily) and then work with the husband to gauge true repentance before trying to restore the marriage and bring the couple back together again.
- Educate yourself about the patterns of abusive (that is, coercive, controlling) behavior so you can recognize the red flags when you see them.
- Become a good listener. People often seek help hesitantly at first. Be a safe place.
- Ask good questions.
Take the time to become familiar with your own state’s laws on Intimate Partner Violence and Child Sexual Abuse. The important thing to know is that criminal violence does not have to include physical battering, and sexual assault does not have to mean what we think of when we say rape. Depending on the state, physical restraint and intimidation may also be crimes, and so may behavior intended to sexually gratify an adult at the expense of a child.
What beginning with belief does NOT mean:
- Beginning with belief does necessarily mean conclusive, implicit, unquestioning trust that everything the victim has said is 100% true.
- Beginning with belief does not mean casually sharing the allegations in social settings, although credible claims may in fact lead to social action.
What does it look like to fail to treat claims of abuse seriously?