As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?
Letter from a Pastor to Pastors by Ps Jeff Crippen
Has the victim been choked or strangled?
Professionals, the public and victims are misinformed about strangulation. Most victims of strangulation will not have visible external injuries. DO ask the victim if her partner has choked or strangled her. She may not tell you unless you ask.
Fatal strangulation can occur without any external evidence of violence on the human body. The victim may die hours, days or months after the strangulation event. Non-fatal strangulation can have serious and long-term health consequences including brain damage. An MRI can detect internal injuries. Encourage the victim who has been strangled to obtain an MRI. A woman who survives one strangulation even is 700% more likely to be strangled again and 800% more likely to be killed later.
This info comes from Strangulation: Detection & Investigation by Brian Bennett, South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.
If a woman discloses that her husband is mistreating her in any way…
Even if what she reports to sounds to you like it is “not all that bad,” please don’t discount what she’s told you.
- Speak kindly to her.
- Don’t lecture her.
- Don’t launch into ‘teaching’ her.
- Don’t assume you know what she needs to be told.
Ask her to if she is willing to give you more detail about what her husband is doing. “Can you tell me more about that?”
Tell her you will not speak to him about any of it, unless she gives you her explicit permission. And even if she does give you permission to talk to her husband about it, it may not be safe for you to do so unless she is completely safe from his possible retaliation. So you and her may need to learn about safety planning first.
The most important things to say to victims
- It’s not you fault. You are not to blame.
- Your safety is important. How can I help you be safe from oppression and mistreatment?
What not to do
- Don’t make the mistake of ‘sin-leveling’. Not all sins are equally bad.
- Don’t make the mistake of mutualising the blame or suggesting that the victim is ‘partly to blame’ or that she needs to fix some things in herself.
- Don’t suggest couple counseling. Why couple counseling is not recommended
- Don’t use the cliche “God hates divorce”. Why?
- Real life examples of pastoral advice to victims of domestic abuse (what NOT to say to victims of abuse)
- You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse (will give you insight into how pastors have mistreated victims)
Yes, we know that men are sometimes victims of domestic abuse, see our tag for Male Survivors. But unfortunately for the men who have genuinely suffered domestic abuse, many male abusers portray themselves as victims. Some of the links below will give you tips for sorting out genuine victims from those who are faking victimhood.
If a man says he’s in shock because his wife just left him, it is possible he is an abuser. Just on its own, the statement “I’m in shock because my wife just said the marriage is over” is not enough to indicate him being an abuser, but in conjunction with other indicators, it certainly suggests that the man is an abuser. If a man says, “I’m in shock because my wife just said the marriage is finished,” the other possibility is that the wife had been committing adultery and been very careful concealing it from him. But if the wife has been cheating, clear evidence or admission of that will probably come out after the separation.
And bear in mind that in some cases of adultery, the non-adulterous spouse may in fact have been an abuser, and the adulterous spouse (the abuse victim) has responded sinfully by having an affair. In that scenario, the adulterous spouse, if truly a believer, will eventually confess the adultery as a sin. And it was not primarily the adultery that caused the marriage breakdown, it was the abuse.
An abused wife will have been asking her husband to stop mistreating her for a very long time…. to no avail. If a deserted husband claims he had no idea the marriage was on the rocks, he may be lying and trying to gain your sympathy by playing the pity card.
Most pastors have not been adequately trained in domestic abuse
…so if you’ve made mistakes in the past, you are not alone!
If you read only one book, make it this one: Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the church [affiliate link*] by Ps Jeff Crippen.
How a Pastor and His Wife’s Eyes Were Opened to Abuse — a guest post by one of our readers who is a pastor
Ps Jeff Crippen’s Advice to Pastors who are dealing with domestic abuse — the link takes you to Part 1 in that series). The eleven posts in that series can be skimmed at: Tag for Advice to Pastors series
Exposing Evil—and the fear of doing so
Don’t be fooled by false repentance
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.