What is domestic abuse: men can be victims too

The Hear Believe Act Project is about encouraging and exhorting us all to open up the discussion of domestic abuse in the Christadelphian community. The focus is on domestic abuse that is shown in the persistent abuse power and the use of unacceptable methods to control and coerce another.

This can happen in all sorts of family and intimate relationships. We have no precise data about Christadelphian relationships - we do mostly hear about abuse of husbands toward their wives, but we have sometimes been told of abuse by a wife toward her husband. We have sometimes been told of other abuse within family relationships including cases of elder abuse.

In all of these settings men or boys can be victims.

We frequently hear of boys that are victims. Firstly they can suffer abuse as part of the abuse against others - they can suffer emotionally and physically. Sisters have told us of their sons being hit, or worse as part of the abuse targeted against them by their husband.

Secondly boys sometimes suffer because they learn that abusive behaviours are acceptable within marriage and go on to use abuse in their own relationships, even in the school yard. Also inter-generational abuse that is “passed down” from father to son is the most terrible legacy of this behaviour. We should note also that daughters in such relationships can similarly be taught that abuse is acceptable and must be endured and so are unready and unable to respond to it if abuse happens in their future relationships.

Finally sons (and daughters) sometimes suffer because they see the injustice of the abuse, the hypocrisy of the abuser and regrettably, sometimes the inaction of the ecclesia or broader family to support the victim and this diminishes or quenches their desire to choose Christ and follow him. It also turns them against desiring to share the God-given blessings of a Godly marriage.

Everything we have to say on the Hear Believe Act Project about the affront that abuse is to the true teaching of our Master applies regardless of who the abuser is (except the obvious specific exhortation to husbands and brothers). Even when articles of the Discussion Paper use the female gender for victims, and the male gender for abusers, this is because the vast majority of abusers are male and victims are female (in society 77% for both by the best available statistics in Australia).

Similarly the issues of shame and fear can be expected to be similar for brothers except that there is the shame and fear that they will be shown or perceived to be inadequate husbands and weak if they are unable to ‘control’ their abusers. If their abuser is their wife, perhaps the expectations of shame are heightened as they might think that insensitive people would accuse them of not exercising the God-given responsibilities of leading the home.

Our responsibilities toward Christ’s little ones is to ensure that they are not offended, to hear the cry of the needy and to help their children. Our responsibilities toward brothers and sisters who break or are in danger of breaking God’s law is to go and point out their fault and “win them over” (Matthew 18:15), and to rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3). In the case of abusers with habituated power and control behaviours, and given the usual extreme levels of deception and secrecy involved, our responsibility is to do this wisely, slowly and consistently. Also executing true judgment requires a lot of discernment and insight into the nature of domestic abuse, ensuring that we don’t get lost working on the “trees” and not see the “forest” of behavioural problems that is usually to be found after patient evaluation in cases of domestic abuse.

Such discernment may often require discerning between abuser and victim - who is the real abuser and what other actions and sometimes un-Christlike and immoral behaviours of the victim are in response to abuse, or a consequence of it. People suffering in abusive relationships can be very vulnerable and needy, and this can lead them to make serious mistakes in their life. We can’t condone such mistakes but we can understand them and compassionately help them to live the Christ life. This is where it is important to encourage them to get counselling to help them resolve their thinking and create new positive ways of thinking that recognise their self-worth, their ability to serve God acceptably and to walk the narrow way with confidence. We do victims a great disservice and neglect Christ’s teaching like his approach to sinners seen in the woman caught in adultery (John 8) by not understanding this complexity and worse, if we are blinkered to the true nature of the abuser’s behaviour, we fail to save the abuser from eternal condemnation.

Whether we are brothers or sisters of Christ, we have this obligation. It is not something to be left to the arranging brothers and the ecclesia. As members of the ecclesia we can’t implicitly support misbehaviour of abusers or survivors and victims while our ecclesia tries to help them. We need to be clear-thinking but compassionate, willing to listen but unable to be manipulated and at all times modelling our response on that of our Lord, and not “respecters of persons”.

And one word about families - the previous paragraph applies to the families of abusers and the families of victims, but they have a doubly difficult challenge in living it out. Firstly, we have deeply held biases about our children - and sometimes not always only “for” our children, although clearly we often see only good in our children. Sometimes we know them well and know their flaws which can blinker us to their plight. Secondly, we need to be careful to not to push them away with our approach to their plight or their offending, allowing others to manage the discipline, avoiding conflicts of interest in ecclesial situations, but supporting them as they try to resolve the issues in their life. Breaking bridges that might allow people to come back to family for support in the future is also a profound injustice. Let’s be good parents, but strong to help and support them again as the father showed with the prodigal son, for instance.

Pray that our labours to help all God’s children reflect that we have been with our Lord.

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.

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