Jesus once told a story of a man beaten on a roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho. Robbers had attacked him, stolen his clothes, and left him half dead. A priest happened upon the beaten man and passed at a safe distance because he didn't want to dirty his hands. Another member of God’s chosen people happened upon the victim, averted his eyes, and moved on. But a compassionate Samaritan, from outside the victim’s own community, saved his life. He climbed off his donkey, sanitized the wounds with wine, soothed them with healing oil, and bound them up. He placed the victim on his donkey, transported him to safety, and paid the full bill for his recovery—no strings attached. (Luke 10: 30-35)
Victims of domestic violence frequently end up beside the road like the beaten man. In over ten years of domestic violence (DV) work, I’ve noticed a pattern to victims’ stories: When reaching a breaking point, or sensing danger, they disclose the humiliating truth to a close friend, an extended family member, or faith community leader. The situation has usually escalated to the point that it seems unreal, and some wonder about the victim’s truthfulness. The victim receives judgmental questions: Why didn’t you call 911? Why did you provoke him/her? Why did you go back to him/her? How could you break up your marriage? You should go back to him/her.” Blame leaves many victims helpless on the side of the road with little or no regard for their safety and wellbeing.
Domestic violence is an epidemic. Frequently, it occurs behind closed doors, making it difficult to recognize. However, sometimes it spills into the public realm, causing shock or disbelief. A 2010 national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have, "experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime." 65% of children are also impacted by DV. Most of us don’t realize that intimate partner abuse affects Christian homes just as frequently as secular homes. It happens to people of all backgrounds, ethnicity, religions, and cultures. At least 25% of those sitting in our churches on Sunday mornings have suffered abuse. Although domestic violence is frequently thought of as a private issue, only impacting intimate partners, it is a crime resulting in a constellation of issues that harm entire communities. We all have parts to play in healing this epidemic.
Victims suffer violence similar to the assaulted man in Jesus’ story; it is out of their control. The U.S. Office on Violence Against Women defines domestic violence as a "pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” Perpetrators use threats, harassment, emotional and psychological abuse, and stalking. They may commit assault/battery, sex offenses, burglary, theft, embezzlement, destruction of property, child abuse, kidnapping, and violation of court orders. In some cases, these behaviors precede homicide. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.
Like the beaten man on the roadside, victims sustain injuries. Studies support that they suffer short-term and long-term physical injuries and mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, substance abuse, and other psychological disorders. The World Health Organization reports that female victims are twice as likely to suffer poor health, physical injuries, and mental health problems. DV is correlated with reproductive health issues such as delivery complications, terminated pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. DV may also increase the risk of contracting HIV, resulting in AIDS-related death. Those who experience domestic violence are significantly more likely to attempt suicide, and premature death rates are higher for victims.
Children who have been abused or witnessed violence also become “victims beside the road.” They have lower rates of immunization, and suffer higher rates of certain diseases. Disruptions in home life can interrupt education; these children generally score lower on cognitive measures. A child who witnesses domestic violence between his or her parents is more likely to view violence as an acceptable method of conflict resolution. Studies have consistently shown that boys who witness DV are more likely to become abusers, and girls who witness DV are more likely to become DV victims as adults. DV is a risk factor for truancy that correlates with substance abuse, gang activity, and involvement in criminal activities such as burglary, auto theft, and vandalism. Truancy also has strong correlations with future violence, marital problems, job problems, adult criminality, and incarceration.
Domestic violence harms countless others due to a constellation of related issues affecting whole communities. Some studies estimate that the total annual cost of DV in the United States exceeds $12 billion (due to impact across a range of issues). Obvious direct costs include damaged property. Less obvious costs include public services such as police and medical intervention. Domestic violence compromises safety for employees and their co-workers. Victims miss work, arrive late and/or leave work early to care for themselves and their children. Lost productivity costs are estimated at $2.5 billion. DV contributes to reduced earnings and lower workplace productivity, impacting personal and organizational profitability. According to Dr. Robert Pearl, health care treatment of ailments caused by domestic violence has resulted in medical costs of $5.8 billion. As a result, domestic violence drives up health care costs for everyone.
The scope of this article cannot address the complex relatedness between DV and pressing issues such as poverty, healthcare, immigration, homelessness, gun control, and incarceration (among others). The point is that a neighbor’s life links profoundly with yours and mine.
An expert of the Law of Moses once asked Jesus: “What would I have to do to inherit eternal life?”
Knowing that he was dealing with someone who split hairs over purity laws, even to the point of neglecting the well being of neighbors, Jesus responded: “What is written in the Scriptures? What do you understand it to say?”
The expert responded with impeccable theology: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.“
Knowing that the man had yet to act on his theological convictions, Jesus commented, “If you do this, you will live.” (Luke 10: 25-28)
The repercussions of DV cause innumerable harm to victims, children, and whole communities. None of us can afford to avert our eyes. We all have parts to play in overcoming this epidemic.
How to love a neighbor who is a victim of abuse:
1. Educate yourself to recognize signs of abuse. Believe victims. Don’t ask judgmental questions. Urge victims to take precautions to keep themselves and their children safe.
2. Proclaim God’s truth about domestic violence and act on behalf of those suffering it. The Bible condemns abuse—whether physical, verbal, emotional or sexual—over one hundred times.
3. Refer victims to shelters that normally have better resources for responding to their immediate needs than churches. Encourage victims to remain connected to prayer support, loving fellowship, and spiritual guidance that so many churches have to offer.
4. Refer victims to professional abuse counselors. Prayerfully wrestle with the many biblical, theological, and practical implications that apply to unique situations. While Christ’s love for the church should be the model for Christian marriage, an abusive marriage cannot reflect that plan (Malachi 2:16).
-Amy R. Buckley is a writer, speaker, and activist. She is a contributor to Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse: Churches and Their Leaders Look to the Future (Wipf and Stock, 2013) and oversees the “Stop the Silence Initiative,” which addresses domestic violence as an editor for SheLovesMagazine.com. Read more at amyrbuckley.com and find her on Twitter @AmyR_Buckley. Photo via notenoughgood.com