Domestic violence is an ugly problem—and it happens both inside and outside the church. Learn how to recognize it.
Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship used by one person to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound someone.
Physical abuse involves hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting and so on. Physical abuse also includes denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
Sexual abuse is coercing or attempting to coerce a person into having any sexual contact without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.
Emotional abuse is undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include constant criticism, name-calling or damaging a person's relationship with his or her children.
Economic abuse includes making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money or forbidding attendance at school or employment.
Psychological abuse involves causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to one's self, spouse, children, family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, school or work.
Sources: National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime and WomensLaw.org.
To report domestic abuse or seek help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (ndvh.org) at 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); the Religion and Violence E-learning Project (the raveproject.org); Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (peaceandsafety.com); or the Task Force to Stop Abuse Against Women (abuseof women.org).
Domestic Violence: The Shocking Truth
The U.S. surgeon general described violence against women as the No. 1 public health problem of women in America. Statistics vary, largely because much abuse goes unreported, but more than 5 million incidents of "intimate partner violence" occur against U.S. women every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three million such incidents occur against men, but experts say women are at higher risk for abuse.
At least three women are murdered every day by men who say they love them, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and countless others are permanently injured or disfigured. The Journal of the American Medical Women's Association has reported that domestic violence is the leading cause of death in pregnant women.
According to the National Coalition on Homelessness, domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness for women and children in the U.S. The National Center for Children Exposed to Violence reports that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become abuse victims or victimizers as adults.
In their book No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence, Nancy Nason-Clark, Ph.D., and Catherine Clark Kroeger, Ph.D., report that incidence rates of domestic violence among active churchgoers are about the same as of the general population, but the likelihood of an abused woman seeking help might be lower. Therefore, they say, the potential for more severe violence to go unchecked is higher.
According to the book, roughly 25 percent of women in Latin America are victims of physical abuse; in South Africa one-in-four women is assaulted by her boyfriend or husband each week, and every week in Hungary a woman is killed by her spouse. Internationally, the World Health Organization reports that 20 percent of women are physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes.
Marcia Davis-Seale is a freelance writer based in Mount Vernon, Texas.