A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Lessons on Abuse and Trauma from Pol Pot the Tyrant

Pol Pot was a Cambodian Hitler, a psychopath who wormed his way into power in the post-Vietnam-War era. You have probably seen documentaries and movies and read books on The Killing Fields where some two million people were slaughtered. You’ve got the same cruel mess up in North Korea now at the hands of the current demon running the dictatorship.

As I watched a documentary recently on Pol Pot, I noticed a phenomenon that relates directly to abuse.  After all, what is one of these tyrants but an abuser on a massive scale? Pol Pot and his gang would torture and question anyone they deemed a threat, accusing them, for example, of working for the CIA. You can bet that most all of the prisoners had no connection with the CIA at all, and yet before the torturing and interrogation were over, these innocent people would not only confess to being CIA, they actually BELIEVED the charges themselves!

See the connection? Abusers torture and interrogate. We all know the methods they use, drawing their favorites from the emotional, spiritual, or physical abuse drawers as they deem necessary. They blame. They make accusations. They rewrite history and alter facts seamlessly in a conversation with the victim. They gaslight. They demean. “You are the worst mother in the world! You never do anything right!” You know the drill.

Now, just like Pol Pot’s victims in the torture chamber, abuse victims pretty soon start to believe the accusations. I mean, after years of being accused by a person who looks soooo certain and can lie soooo convincingly, and after years of having the abuser’s allies agree with him about your guilt and worthlessness, what person doesn’t start to believe the charges? Of course the whole thing is a lie, but still, you start thinking you really are CIA. And therefore, that you deserve to be punished accordingly.

This kind of brainwashing goes far in explaining why abuse victims act the way they do so often.  Twenty or thirty years of this stuff breaks down the stoutest sort. This is why I so much enjoy telling abuse victims who talk to me – “And so you have been right all along, haven’t you? All those fears. All those doubts and second thoughts about what he was doing and saying – it turns out you were right!” That has to be good stuff for a recently freed prisoner to hear. “No I’m not.” “No; I did not do that.” “No; that never happened.” “No; I do love the children and I am a good mother.” “Go ply your evil tricks on someone else. They don’t work here anymore.” [NOTE: not every abuse victim can safely say these things out loud while still in danger from their abuser. But we can certainly say them to ourselves!]

Most people routinely underestimate and misread the effects of trauma on victims.


  1. crucial that people see this link and understand how both abusers and tyrants use the same tactics, thanks for shining a light on domestic violence in the church, never stop!

  2. healingInHim

    “Most people routinely underestimate and misread the effects of trauma on victims.”
    Many don’t even realize they are victims until it is almost too late:-( They have become so indoctrinated with twisted Scriptures … So thank you again, ACFJ and other ministries who are educating us and imploring ‘the church’ to wake up!

  3. Valerie

    Sigh. That’s a bit too familiar. The devil is the accuser of the brethren and that’s just what an abuser does- accuse until you’re too numb or too programmed to think otherwise.

    “Torture and question anyone they deem as a threat”. Shivers. Yes, too familiar. The torture doesn’t have to be CIA style though or even yelling (though it is that for some). The mind frying torture of ST (silent treatment) for no reason, gaslighting…see I am already showing signs of my programming by thoughtlessly typing getting the silent treatment for NO REASON. Is there actually a good reason for the silent treatment other than you heard a noise downstairs and it could be someone with a gun so sussssh…we need to be quiet and listen? This relentless torture truly does fry your brain until you feel like you’ve been given some really bad drugs that have wiped out any sense of reality to the point you stagger when you walk. (I’ve never done drugs but I feel like I had living with him). The cartoon birdies are flying overhead from the verbal battering rams.

    I love what you said, Jeff, about what the targets have told you after the fact. When I first realized I was married to a narcissist/psychopath I wondered how I could ever trust my judgment again. Until one day God spoke to my heart and reminded me I was never truly deceived…the turmoil in my gut all those years told me something was very off. I just was never given the Christian right to respond to it. Instead I was given scriptural Tums by those around me and was told it wasn’t that bad. This isn’t bad Chinese, people…this is abuse.

    • Gary W

      Valerie, you say “this is abuse.” Yes, certainly, according to the customary, sanitized-for-comfort, habits of speech. I suggest that it would be accurate and appropriate to call it terrorism.

      One can also think of other, more appropriate terms than abuser. Like predator. Sometimes even captor.

      • Yes Gary; I have heard the term “domestic terrorism”. It’s a good term.

    • Until one day God spoke to my heart and reminded me I was never truly deceived…the turmoil in my gut all those years told me something was very off.

      Yes! That is so true.

      It’s a very good example of how victims resist abuse. God was showing you that you indeed resisted the abuse, that you were never comfortable with being abused. Your discomfort about being chronically abused was shown in the turmoil in your gut. I heard just today about a woman who is living with her abuser and has developed colitis…

      God was honouring your resistance, Valerie. Those who know me well know that I’m constantly recommending a PDF called Honouring Resistance. Unfortunately I can’t give you a direct link, but go to http://www.calgarywomensshelter.com/resources—how-women-resist and scroll to the bottom where you will find the words

      Want to learn more about resisting abuse?
      Take a look at our publication Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships

      Then click on the link to the publication and it will download as a PDF.

      I believe every survivor and every victim-advocate needs to read and re-read this PDF. If you (meaning anyone) embed in yourself the principles in that PDF, you will become an amazing advocate and support person for survivors of abuse.

      And btw, the PDF comes from a women’s shelter in Canada; hence the British spelling of ‘honouring’.

      • Estelle

        Good article, Barbara. Thanks for the link. They raise an important point that resistance may not be always be visible to outsiders.

      • Anonymous

        Barbara–I’m so grateful that you mentioned the PDF “Honouring Resistance.” How this matters–letting abuse victims know that they resisted the abuse. So much healing from this discovery! How wrong teaching in the church and in psychology as well, keeps us imprisoned and submitting to abuse under the illusion that we are working things out or being good citizens by letting others be bullies. It’s healing to my mind and heart to see the many ways that I was actually resisting while still trying to “submit.” Thank you.

  4. Yes, Healing, much teaching that comes from the pulpit and Sunday School classrooms continues to follow the simple, rule-following “traditional” methods that fit into bullet-points, but really is nothing more than “indoctrination with twisted Scriptures.” OVERemphasizing passages such as Matt 18 re one teaching on handling conflict and “turning the other cheek” passages and UNDERemphasizing passages such as Matt 7:6 only cripples the believer more in their ability to make sound judgments…and they get hurt.

    We are called to make good judgments to reflect a Holy God, but it may not fit the traditional mold of being “nice.”. It is a more difficult and more complex task to teach people passages that help them make wise judgement calls that may end with determining that someone is indeed a “swine” like Pol Pot.

    And when a person can identify the swine, they will not throw their pearls to them, “…lest they trample them [pearls] under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matt 7:6). Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He do That?, helps people identify these swine. It would do pastors and Sunday school teachers well to read it or maybe even do a book study with their congregants! And encourage the class to compare it with Scripture like the Bereans. Wow, wouldn’t that be an invigorating class to sharpen the mind and spirit instead of the typical “spoon-feeding” indoctrination one usually gets! Let’s get off milk and make room for steak!!! .

  5. Pol Pot… Mao…Hitler… my ex used to read books on those guys. It was the only books he read.. I thought he was a “history buff”. lol!
    I’m still convinced that if you look at a man’s obsessions with regard to historical figures/documentaries/nonfiction — it will be a reflection of himself. My ex never picked up his Bible but he had a book on every dictator.

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