Domestic violence is more prevalent than most people realize, but it is never acceptable.
I received a telephone call from Atlanta; someone had given the caller my phone number. A woman, married for 21 years, was desperately seeking my advice.
“Please help me. I don’t know what to do!” she said with desperation in her voice. “My life has been hell for the last 21 years. My husband controls me in every way. He doesn’t allow me to work, communicate with my family, or even let my family visit me. He hasn’t let our children attend school. They’ve never gone to any school, public or private, in their entire lives. If we attend church, he won’t let us talk to anybody there. We have to come home as soon as the meeting is over. We can never have any visitors at home unless he is home too. Our children cannot go out to play with friends, nor can they invite any friends home.”
Only because I am used to this kind of family drama, due to my line of work, could I believe that such abuse was actually happening in this day and age. Otherwise, I would have had a hard time believing what this desperate wife told me between sobs. I suspected some type of physical violence was also part of the relationship. At first the woman did not want to answer directly and evaded the question, continuing to describe the sick ways her husband controlled her. Finally she admitted to “a few shoves and jerks.”
This domestic violence was not happening in some remote village. It did not happen in some country with high levels of poverty and a low level of education. It happened during the twenty-first century in a prosperous American city. Nor was the caller describing a unique situation. Domestic violence happens at every level of society.
The isolated victim
Domestic violence exists, among other reasons, because the woman who is the victim feels that there is nobody who can help her. She feels so devalued and frightened that she is afraid to seek assistance. The threats or blows she has received make her believe that the victimizer is serious, so she resigns herself to her painful, restricted life.
This is what happened to Esther (not her real name). She married, over her family’s objections, to a divorced man 20 years her senior. The “happy couple” moved to a city in another state. Actually, the marriage was more like a kidnapping. During her 12 years of “marriage,” she was virtually out of touch with her family.
Esther eventually realized that she had no life of her own. She could not go shopping by herself. She could not have her own car or even have keys to the family car. She did not have a checking account or credit card in her name and never was allowed to have more than five dollars in her purse. Her husband even confiscated her legal documents and jealously hid them in a secret place she could not find. That was not all: Esther did not even have keys to the room where the telephone was kept and, therefore, could never call anyone at all without her husband being present. She finally realized that these restrictions were not to protect her but to control and isolate her.
In a brave, desperate act, one day when her husband took her shopping and was distracted, Esther phoned her family collect and asked them to come for her. Terrified and trembling, she quickly explained to her sister when and where they would meet. Today, the case is in court. Esther still cannot understand why she waited so long to ask for help.
No justification for abuse
There is no argument—legal, cultural, or theological—that can justify domestic violence, whether against women or men, the elderly or children. Violence is contrary to the gospel. The gospel of Christ teaches respect and restoration, not injury or separation.
The Golden Rule, which establishes the norm for every type of interpersonal relationship, states that we should treat every individual in just the same manner as we wish to be treated.*
Some people maintain, even in the twenty-first century, that roughness and a firm hand are necessary in family relationships. Still, domestic violence, in any of its forms, whether verbal, psychological, physical, or sexual, or active or passive negligence, should never be tolerated.
Women, and occasionally men, who suffer any type of violence at home should know they are not alone. Social organizations, state laws, and churches are available to support anyone who needs to escape from a cycle of violence. The violent person will not ever change by himself; he needs psychological treatment. If you are a victimized woman, never believe his promise that he will change. The apology, flowers, or vacation he invites you to go on is just one of the phases in the cycle of domestic violence. It will be followed by another cycle of violence more severe than the previous.
If you are a victimizer, you need to know that you are not alone either. There are organizations that can help you change. Above all, the Almighty can make you a new creature. Do not struggle alone. You and your spouse deserve a new opportunity, with new ways to relate.
If you are aware of a case of domestic violence, do the victim a favor and report it. Then offer support and understanding. Together we can bring peace to many homes, and we will be contributing to a better society.
Antonio Estrada writes from Avondale, Arizona. He is a church pastor with doctoral training in psychology.
How and Where to find Help
Safety tips while looking for help
- Use a “safe” computer. Use a computer to which the abusive person does not have direct, or even remote, access, such as at a public library, a trusted friend’s house, or an Internet café.
- Avoid using email. Email is not a safe or confidential way to talk to someone about the danger or abuse in your life.
- Call from a land line phone (those with cords), which are more private than cell phones or cordless phones.
- For immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or TTY (800) 787-3224 (available 24/7 nationwide).
Look in the yellow pages under “Domestic Violence Information and Treatment”