Variations on this myth are all too common. People are heard to say, “I can appreciate how it happens. She would get on my nerves too”. This is simply victim-blaming. It belongs with such fallacies as, “she is insubordinate”, or “disrespectful”, or “flirts with other men”, or “is a bad mother”, or “a bad money-manager”, or “mentally unstable”. These are the very excuses commonly made by abusers for their behaviour – in the ecclesia and in the world. Abusers manipulate everyone – not only victims, but family, friends, arranging brothers, police officers, judges and service providers get taken in and miss what is truly going on. Grapevine gossip spreads their excuses and gives the abuser’s excuses undeserved credibility.
The victim’s self-esteem is frequently destroyed. They come to accept that these excuses are the cause of the abusive behaviour. Victims are often looking for anything – anything to help them make sense of the abusive behaviour, and for a path of life that can avoid it.
Well-meaning ‘counsellors in Christ’ reinforce the injustice. They confront the victim with the accusations of her abuser. She readily ‘confesses’ to these ‘failings’ making herself a part of the problem, yet she is not part of the problem at all. She is a downtrodden victim. It is nauseating to realise we have been manipulated in these cases.
We do not distinguish very well between domestic abuse and responsive or situational violence. An abuser cannot blame ‘an anger management problem’ when they are only angry with their family. If he does not get angry in the ecclesia or at work he is making excuses for the inexcusable. The abuser is making a deliberate choice: to abuse at home.
We mistake correlation (two things frequently happening together) with causation (one thing being cause for another). For instance, because substance abuse and domestic abuse occur together we come to believe that stopping the substance abuse will stop the domestic abuse. We miss the cycles of manipulation and control. We minimise the behaviours that are not physical violence as minor or less serious. We overlook how they behave when they are not intoxicated or not angry.
The abuser uses their ‘contrition’ about these ‘admitted’ problems and how they are working on them as another a weapon of control and manipulation. The counsellor typically gets the victim to agree to work on ‘their own problems’ – this just gives the abuser a new lever to control the victim and the ‘elephant is still breaking the china’. The cycle of abuse is not only repeated, it is enabled.
Yes, victims are human too. Their behaviours which abusers blame may be real and need attention. Yet attending to them is secondary to attending to the abuser’s problem and they are never an excuse or cause of the abuse or the abuser’s problem. We must never excuse coercion or cruelty. If we accept such excuses, as family, friends or counsellors we risk being complicit in the sin.
If this article raises concerns you have about domestic violence in your own life or those around you can call 1800RESPECT (If in Australia) or similar services in other countries. There is also a list of support services on this website including Christadelphian Support Services.