What not to say: "Why haven’t you left him already?"
Survivors and victims of domestic violence suffer repeated tidal waves of fear-inducing threats and abuse. Unless we have been in this situation we cannot understand the impact on day to day living. Survivors tell us they felt “imprisoned” - the abuser had manipulated every area of their life to erect barriers to them leaving. Every possible weapon is deployed against them to do this. There are threats of what would happen to them, their children, their other family, their pets and then the ultimate threat - the threat to self-harm or suicide. These threats are woven together with a constant message that the abuser controls everything - money, what other people think of the victim, housing, transport and often also her spiritual world including the ecclesia. He says he will ensure that all her friends, family and the ecclesia knows that she is "bad". The very worst labels you can think of have been said made an abuser on their victims - we have heard it all - "incapable of managing money", "a bad mother", "worldly", "mentally unstable", "has a mental illness", "mad", "irrational", "immoral" and many more.
Wrongly the abuser makes claims - claims like that he will ensure that he goes to court and gets full custody of the children and that no one would listen to her. Many victims have no knowledge of the family court system and wrongly believe that this threat is capable of being carried out. The abuser makes claims that if she leaves she is deserting the marriage and is breaking God’s Law so will not be in the Kingdom. These are just a few examples of the spiritual and emotional abuse that we hear about at the Hear Believe Act Project.
When we have our own personal autonomy and have not lived our life under the rock of oppression most of these claims seem ludicrous but we must not minimise the anxiety and fear that they induce in the minds of victims and survivors.
But the biggest reason victims do not leave their abuser is that they know better than we do that the biggest risk of being killed by their abuser is soon after they have left. Statistics show that women who leave their abusers are at a much greater risk of being killed by the abuser than those who stay. A Canadian Study showed that 81% of the cases of ‘domestic homicide’ the couple was separated or in the process of separating. Studies in other countries are entirely consistent.
I would like to request (yes, I think most of us need to!) you listen to a TEDx talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner on her personal experience as a survivor. When you are listening do not focus on how her life may be different to the life of Christadelphians, but focus on how her life may be very much the same as the life of Christadelphian victims. There is almost nothing in her talk that we have not heard from survivors, victims or their friends and family close to them - please listen to her as a proxy for the Christadelphian victims and survivors of abuse and open your hearts to Hear, Believe and Act to support them.
First one important note about guns - Yes, FIREARMS. We know of two cases in Australia where guns are involved in cases of domestic abuse in Christadelphia. On one occasion the gun was pointed at the victim. On another occasion the Police had to confiscate the gun from the abuser. Australia has tight gun laws - I suspect if this is the case in Australia such cases would have occurred in other countries. Take the time (about 16 minutes) to watch this first hand account by Leslie Morgan Steiner.
If anyone makes threats of self-harm or suicide it is important that we get them help and not leave them alone until we have. There are 24 hour call services such as Lifeline (13 11 14) in Australia and these can be called by anyone in the situation. If there is immediate threat to life of anyone the Police should also be called. Further, we must remember that threats of self-harm rate very high on the risk assessment frameworks used in assessing the seriousness of domestic abuse reports. It is important we treat such threats seriously and realise they also increase the danger for victims or survivors.
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.