Purpose: The purpose of this section is to provide basic information on the dynamics and extent of domestic violence with particular emphasis on how clergy and military chaplains can respond to these needs.
Military specific issues and procedures are not presented in this section because of the extensive training on this subject provided by the Family Advocacy Programs of the Department of Defense and of each branch of service. The following are examples:
The Navy publication, The Navy Family Advocacy Program, A Guide for Chaplains, includes a section, Spouse Abuse in the Military Community.
A Marine publication, What You Should Know About Domestic Violence, published by The Marine Barracks Chaplain's Office (202) 433-6201.
A publication of Creative Associates, Washington, D.C., A Clinical Seminary for Family Advocacy, includes a section on Battered Spouses.
Also the Navy publication, A Chaplain Corps Curriculum on Violence, deals with this subject.
These documents and others are available from the training officers of the Chief of Chaplains' Offices and the Marine Barracks Chaplain's Office.
1300 - 1500 Domestic Violence
|Introductions||2 minutes||Training manual p. 102||Read the scripture from
|To create immediate interest in this form of victimization||20 minutes||Have a victim of
domestic violence present
her/his story. If there
was any contact with
clergy (positive or
negative) this adds to the
Obtain a video on domestic violence from a local domestic violence agency and show portions
|Clarification||10 minutes||Facilitate discussion of
issues presented (if video)
questions and answers
|To deal with common myths concerning domestic violence||15 minutes||Overhead projector,
screen, Training manual
pp. 104, 105
Transparencies made from pp. T23, T24, T25
Comment from informa- tion in manual
|To clarify myth & fact||10 minutes||Group discussion on information presented in overheads|
|To create understanding of dynamics of domestic violence||28 minutes||Overhead/Screen
Training manual p. 106
Copier to make handouts of pp. H1 & H2 (following transparency section)
As many copies of pp. H1 & H2 as needed for number in the group
Flip chart & pens
Transparency made from p. T26
|Show and discuss
transparency on Cycle of
Describe the cycle from
the manual and the handout pages.
Emphasize that generally the violence escalates.
Each subsequent incident is more severe.
Break the attendees into small groups of no more than 4. Have them discuss the material on the hand-out pages (Power wheel & Equality wheel) and come back into larger groups with conclusions.
Put these on a flip chart as reported
Continued on next page
1300 - 1500 Domestic Violence (continued)
|To explore the question of why battered women stay||10 minutes||Flip chart & felt tip pen
Overhead projector with
blank transparency and pen for writing on it
Training manual p. 112
|Ask the question of the
group "Why do women
Write their answers on flip chart with comment from information in manual
|5 minutes||Overhead projector, screen & Transparency made from p. T27||Show transparency and pick up any items from it not already presented by group members|
|To explore the legal aspects and law enforcement response to Domestic Violence||20 minutes||A presenter from the
Military Police or JAG
office of the installation
Manual pp. 126-133
|Have the Military Police
or JAG representative
explain the law
Ask him/her to compare this with civilian procedure outlined in manual
|TOTAL TIME||120 minutes|
1515 - 1630 Domestic Violence (continued)
|To consider how Domestic Violence affects children||15 minutes||Flip chart & pen
Transparency made from p. T28
Training manual p. 113
|Have group members
give their opinions on
how domestic violence
Put answers on flip chart as they are given
Show transparency to add items not included
Use manual pages to discuss responses
|To present possible responses of Military Chaplains to Domestic Violence||30 minutes||Training manual
Overhead projector & screen
Transparencies made from pp. T29, T30, T31
|Trainer should go over
material in manual with
Show the transparencies after which he/she should set up a role play using 3 pairs of participants
A pair is the chaplain & victim who is divulging
The first "chaplain" does it all wrong.
The second "chaplain" shows more compassion and interest, but still makes mistakes.
The third "chaplain" responds properly.
Have group critique the role play
|To firmly establish crisis counseling guidelines & establish a safety plan||15 minutes||Overhead projector &
Transparency made from p. T32
Training manual pp. 140-143.
|Show transparency and
to together develop a
Review manual pages.
|To develop ideas for positive programs and assistance to domestic violence victims||15 minutes||Overhead projector
transparency made from
Training manual pp. 142, 143
|After showing transparency on Congregational Assistance and considering the manual page, have members discuss how this civilian model can be adapted to the military situation|
|TOTAL TIME||75 minutes|
A Word About Terms
The Clergy In-Service Training Initiative is in response to the recommendations of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime and the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence. In these recommendations, the term, "Family Violence," is used to embrace both the abuse of children as well as of spouses and partners.
However, among many service providers the term "Domestic Violence" often refers only to spousal/partner abuse as differentiated from Child Abuse. For this reason, when the term "Domestic Violence" is found in this section it will be referring generally to the subject of spousal/partner abuse.
Format and Materials
The Basic Text
There is more excellent material available to clergy and congregations on the subject of spousal/partner abuse than on any other form of victimization. Much of this writing and research, specifically directed to the religious community, will be included in a bibliography at the end of this section. Clergy and lay leaders desiring to be of assistance to victims of spousal/partner battering are encouraged to obtain and utilize this material.
To avoid duplication of effort, we have received permission to reproduce as this entire section what we consider the best of these excellent existing training guides. It is titled, Domestic Violence -- A Guide for Clergy, published by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Domestic Violence Prevention Program, May 1987, Deborah J. Pope-Lance and Joan Chamberlain Engelsman, authors. We are indebted to Beverly Crawford of that office for making this publication available to us.
A Sensitive Theological Issue
The issue of submission of wives to husbands vs. marital separation is of paramount importance to religious leaders in any treatment of the subject of spousal/partner abuse. Some evangelical and fundamental clergy and congregations, because of their strong position on the inerrant inspiration of the Bible in its original text, may feel that to recommend that a woman who is being battered leave the home, obtain a restraining order, or file charges is in violation to the scriptural injunction for wives to obey their husbands.
There is little doubt that most clergy of all persuasions take the position that divorce is certainly not reflective of the highest and best in the texts of their authoritative scriptures. The information on the following pages should not be construed as an endorsement of divorce, but rather to provide an understanding as to why separation for the safety of the victim may be necessary until there is resolution to the offender's conduct. This resolution may not always be possible.
Concerning Women as Offenders
It should be noted that since the publication of the text for which this section is the primary source, there has been an increased awareness of women as offenders. Since the higher percentage of domestic violence perpetrators is still male, the text has not been altered in this special edition for military chaplains. However, shelters and batterers programs are indicating that the number of women who are batterers is increasing. A member of the Chaplains Advisory Committee for this manual has encouraged inclusion of this phenomenon in this manual. Sometimes the cause may be the same as for men who batter. At other times it may be reaction to prolonged emotional abuse.
Domestic Violence and the Law
Assault on a spouse or partner within the confines of a home or relationship is as much a crime as an assault by a stranger or under any other circumstances. Nevertheless, until recently, because it is a family matter, law enforcement, upon arrival at the scene, often attempted to mediate. However, there is an increasing tendency, based on interesting research, to treat spousal/partner battery in the same manner as other assaults, and arrest the perpetrator. It has been found that this is one action that, in many cases, discourages repetition.
Clergy, who frequently are confronted with the situation of a violent spouse or partner, should have at least an elementary understanding of the legal process. Many times victims of spousal/partner abuse will, for their protection, file Temporary Restraining Orders. Battered women's shelters or domestic violence counseling centers often provide information to victims on filing this document, and on its use and value. There are, of course, many other aspects to the legal system relative to this issue.
Information on the legal aspects of domestic violence are presented on pates 126-133.
Suggested religious responses to spousal/partner abuse are provided on pages 115-134 (also an exact reproduction of material from Domestic Violence -- A Guide for Clergy, May 1987, used by permission of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Domestic Violence Program, Trenton, NJ).
Psalm 55 RSV
Myth: Domestic violence affects only a small percentage of the population.
Reality: According to a national survey conducted by Dr. Richard Gelles, violence occurs in 28 percent of all marriages. Dr. Gelles observes that this figure probably underestimates the problem.*
In a survey conducted by the United Methodist Church, for example, 1 in 13 church members responding had been physically abused by a spouse, and 1 in 4 had been verbally or emotionally abused.
An estimated 90 percent of all domestic violence incidents go unreported.
Myth: Middle class women and men do not experience domestic violence as frequently as poor women and men.
Reality: Abusers and victims come from every race, religion and socioeconomic background. Women have reported attacks by husbands who are doctors, judges, lawyers, legislators, police officers, teachers, social workers, clergy, factory workers and laborers.
A University of Wisconsin study found that 25 percent of American adults approved of husband/wife physical conflicts. Even more surprising was the evidence that the higher the educational level the greater the likelihood of such approval.
Poor women are often over-represented in shelters for battered women because they have few resources. Wealthier women may have access to credit cards, bank accounts and cash and can purchase services. They may have more to lose in terms of status and economics if they report their abusers to police.
* As stated on page 100, the text of this entire Domestic Violence section is that of a New Jersey Department of Community Affairs publication. More recent statistics from various sources indicate an even higher incidence.
Myth: Alcohol abuse causes violence.
Reality: Studies reveal that 40 to 80 percent of the time alcohol is a factor in incidents of domestic violence. However, researchers agree that alcohol is not the cause of domestic violence. Drinking lowers one's control or inhibitions and may be the excuse for letting down these restraints against violence.
Myth: Abusers are psychopathic. Only sick, evil people abuse their partners.
Reality: Abusers may lead "normal" lives in all aspects except their inability to control aggressive impulses. While no one would dispute the evil of a vicious assault on another person, men who beat their wives or intimate partners are not always psychologically unbalanced. Studies have found that the male spouse abuser has a poor self-image, feels he is less than he ought to be and feels he does not live up to society's ideal of masculinity. A man takes out his feelings of inadequacy and frustrations on his wife because he feels he can, because he feels he can't tell off his boss, and because he feels that other men would respond to his aggression in kind.
Abusers do show a tendency to use charm as a manipulative technique and are usually described by "their" women as being either very, very good or very, very horrid. Unlike the psychopath, however, the abuser does feel a sense of guilt and shame at his uncontrollable actions and this may contribute to his denial of the dire consequences of his actions.
Myth: Women who are domestic violence victims are masochistic, provoke the assaults and enjoy the violence.
Reality: According to Murray Strauss in Sexual Inequality, Cultural Norms, and Wife Beating (1976), husbands provoke the violence 85 percent of the time. Women report being brutally assaulted for such things as: the baby is crying, the dishes weren't done yet, the man wanted a dinner other than that which had been prepared, his or her wanting to have sex, his or her not wanting to have sex.
The idea that anyone would enjoy violence -- being punched in the face, kicked in the abdomen, thrown against a wall, having bones broken, eyes swollen shut and lips split open -- is ludicrous.
Myth: Some women need or deserve a beating to keep them in line.
Reality: Historically, laws have stated that men not only had the right but the obligation to keep their "children, cattle and wives from transgressing."
Laws to this effect were made by both secular and religious bodies. Laws have changed, but attitudes prevail. No one has the right to control another's behavior by violent and brutal assaults.
Studies have suggested that a victim's behavior may have little correlation to an abuser's violence. When the abuser is under stress, he will find reasons to assault the victim.
Myth: A strong faith will prevent battering.
Reality: The prevention of battering relies on the development and understanding of what it means to care for the love another. Religion, its scripture and its community, has been used to accept or condone violence in relationships. These same resources can also provide restraints against violence and define healthy, safe relationships. It will take more than faith to prevent battering.
Myth: Shelters for victims of violence break up families.
Reality: "To suggest that shelters break up abusive families is like saying that hospitals cause auto accidents" (Working Together). Violence breaks up families.
Women who have been abused must make their own decisions regarding their future and their children's future. This is the philosophy of empowerment held by most shelter programs.
Being a victim of domestic violence is a difficult experience and the decision to leave is not a simple one. About 75 percent of women who go to shelters return to abusive relationships and nearly that number will return to the shelter after another violent episode.
Many people who work with violent families have noted a pattern or cycle of violence. While there is no uniformity on how long a phase lasts, there seems to be a pattern, however: the tension building phase, the explosion or acute battering incident, and the calm, loving respite. There are also other models of domestic violence dynamics. The Duluth model is presented on pages H1, H2 following the supplement to this manual.
In phase one, the tension builds. In this phase the abuser becomes increasingly edgy. The victim, noticing this behavior, may try to calm or appease the abuser in ways that have worked in the past. There may be minor outbursts of violence for which the abuser may quickly apologize using such words as "I'm really sorry that I hit you, but if you only had (or hadn't) done . . ." Usually the victim forgives and assumes the guilt for these incidents. The victim will rarely become angry because she fears that her anger would serve to escalate the violence. The abuser is aware of his inappropriate behavior even if he doesn't acknowledge it. This serves to make him even more fearful that she will leave him. He attempts to keep her captive by being more abusive, possessive and controlling. His ability to defend these assaults or to placate his victim become less effective. The tension builds to a point where an assaultive explosion is inevitable.
Phase two is the shortest and most violent part of the cycle. It may begin with the abuser attempting to teach the victim a lesson, not with the intent of doing her physical injury, although this is the result of his unrestrained rage. At the end of the episode the abuser cannot fully understand or remember what has occurred.* Although the victim will often let her anger out during this phase, she does not usually fight back because she believes that to do so will only bring her more abuse and injury. Although most victims are seriously beaten at the end of this phase, they consider themselves "lucky" for surviving and will often placate the abuser by denying the extent of their injuries.
Phase three is a period of calm.** Some victims, sensing that phase two is in-evitable, will "encourage" its appearance and completion because they know that once the violence of phase two is over, phase three brings the "reward" of a kind, caring, if not contrite, partner. The abuser is usually sorry for his behavior even if he does not acknowledge this. He promises never to do it again and the victim wants to believe him. He may even become especially helpful and compromising in his behavior. Just prior to this phase a victim may have sought outside help, perhaps in connection with treatment for injuries. The appearance of her idealized, loving husband during this phase provides her with a glimpse of what she hopes for -- that people who truly love one another can overcome all odds. The apparent calm and bliss of phase three often undercuts a victim's interest in seeking and utilizing help. The cycle of violence inevitably continues as phase one behavior unfortunately reappears.
Not all violent situations follow this pattern. Some abusers have been known to wake their victims up with physical assaults. In some cases, violence occurs only sporadically while other abusers engage in violent behavior of some form on a consistent or daily basis.
** Some suggest there is never "calm", merely periods of respite.
"I don't want to hit her, but she keeps nagging me. It is just like she wants me to hit her."
"The man is the head of the wife. I have the right to do what I have to do to keep things in order."
"Hitting actually helps both of us. It relieves all the tension I've built up, and it makes her behave. She treats me better and I treat her better after we've had a little fight."
"All I ever have to do is yell at her. I don't hit. I'm not a wife beater. She does what I tell her, and as long as she does I will never hit her."
"I just do what my Dad did, and they had a good marriage."
"If I was married to somebody else, this wouldn't happen. I'm not that kind of person."
"It must be okay. Last time we had a fight she went and saw her pastor and he sent her home."
"All I know is what I see on T.V. and what I see is people fighting and the stronger person winning."
"The military taught me that this life is the survival of the fittest. I'm a survivor and I ain't going to be dominated by any women."
"I think secretly she likes it. I think she does it because she likes it when we make up."
"Look, I've a responsibility to my family. I go out and make a living and she stays home and takes care of the kids. If she isn't going to pull her own weight I'm not going to let her get away with it. They wouldn't let me get away with it at work. Anyway, the guys at work think it is all right to hit once in a while if the wife really needs it. It's just part of marriage."
"I love my wife. If I didn't love my wife I wouldn't hit her, I'd just leave."
"Every once in a while you have to take her on a little trip to knuckle junction. When she comes back she is just like she was on the honeymoon."
Batterers are counseled by helping professionals or voluntarily seek assistance from social service agencies with considerably less frequency than victims of battering. Much of the assistance they obtain is court-ordered and consequently sporadically received. As a result, much of the data on batterers comes from information provided by victims and from court-ordered programs.
Not all batterers are alike, but they often share some common characteristics. Batterers appear to:
Why do men batter and continue to batter? Most of the men in batterers' programs have been violent throughout their relationship with their victims. Most often, these men have learned to use violence as a way of managing everyday stress and frustration. They may not use violence at work, because they know that they would be fired. They have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. At the same time, they have low self-esteem. Thus, they are extremely dependent on their partners for their sense of self-worth and for a sense of control over their lives.
Because of this dependency they are often extremely jealous and possessive of their partners. In some cases, the fearful rage that can result has impelled an abuser to murder his partner rather than let her leave him.
Abusers may not like their violence, but they know of no other options. Because most of them cannot accept what they are doing, they will minimize, deny and even lie about their abuse.
"My husband and I are both attractive people and for the most part respected and well liked. We have three children and live in a middle class home with all the comforts one could possibly want."
"For the most part of married life, I have been periodically beaten by my husband. What do I mean by 'beaten'? I mean those times when parts of my body have been hit violently and repeatedly, causing painful bruises, swellings, bleeding wounds, unconsciousness, or any combination of those things."
"I have had glasses thrown at me. I have been kicked in the abdomen when I was visibly pregnant. I have been kicked off the bed and hit while laying on the floor -- while I was pregnant. I have been punched and kicked in the head, chest, face and abdomen on numerous occasions."
"I have been slapped for saying something about politics, having a different view about religion, for swearing, for crying, for wanting to have intercourse."
"I have been threatened when I wouldn't do something I was told to do. I have been threatened when he's had a bad day -- when he's had a good day."
"I was never able to drive after one of these beatings, so I could not even get myself to a hospital for care. I could never have left my young children alone and I certainly could not have left them alone even when I could have driven."
"My husband on a few occasions did call a day or so later to provide me with an excuse which I could use for returning to work, the grocery store, the dentist appointment, and so on. I used the excuses -- a car accident, oral surgery, things like that."
"Everyone I have gone to for help has somehow wanted to blame me and vindicate my husband. I can see it there between the words and at the end of sentences. The clergyman, the doctors, the counselor, the police -- every one of them has found a way to vindicate my husband."
"I've learned also that the doctors, the police, the clergy and friends will excuse my husband for distorting my face, but won't forgive me for looking bruised and broken."
*Adapted from Battered Wives by Del Martin
An Overview of Battered Women
While battered women are different from one another in circumstances and characteristics and vary as much as non-battered women from one another, there are some characteristics that appear to be common to victims of domestic violence. And these characteristics often correspond to the needs of their violent abusers. Victims appear to:
For some women, physical punishment in their childhood was rare or mild, but their homes were controlled, traditional and authoritarian. Other women experienced violence in their childhood homes and appear to expect it in their homes and relationships. Both groups of women cling to the hope that it will never happen again and that the batterer's promise to stop is true.
Battered women often hold fiercely to conventional views of marriage and sex-stereotypical roles. They believe they are responsible for their husband's well being. They make excuses for his behavior. They believe it is a woman's responsibility to insure the peace and success of the family. These women think they can change their partner's behavior by acting more loving or being better wives themselves. They believe they can save their partners. Violence for many has been interpreted as "their cross to bear."
Women also stay because they are socially and economically dependent on their abusing partner.
Some women with children often stay because they cannot imagine how the children will be fed and clothed without the income from their spouse. Others believe that a violent father is better than no father at all. Some women have been told that the family must stay together at all costs.
These reasons combine into what author Lenore Walker has called "learned helplessness." The victim becomes passive and submissive because she believes that she has no control over the relationship's violence or her own children's safety.
Children often appear:
Domestic violence may be kept from relatives, neighbors, clergy and others, but the children of violent partners know what is happening. In one home there may not be any physical violence against a child whose adult caretakers have an abusive relationship, while in another home there may be physical abuse of the child as well. Either way, a child who lives in a house where domestic violence occurs is a victim all the same.
A home that is characterized by physical, emotional, sexual or property abuse is a frightening, debilitating and unhealthy place. The children in such a home are often unable to be children. They worry about protecting their parents. They are concerned that they not become an additional source of stress or problem, and fear for their own safety and security. They have the burden of carrying around a tremendous family secret.
Children from violent homes often suffer from depression. Some become isolated. Many do not want to bring friends home because of the shame and unpredictability of violence. They may spend much time away from home and get into trouble for truancy, petty crimes or disturbances. Children from violent homes often experience nightmares, sleep disturbances and nighttime bed wetting. A child's ability to handle his or her school work the next day is often adversely affected. Domestic violence incidents often occur during late evening hours, just at the time a child is getting ready for bed, and often wakes them up with shouts and noise.
Children from violent homes often feel responsible for everything bad that happens to themselves or to their parents. If they were neater, quieter, helped more or were smarter in school, maybe the violence would stop.
Pioneer work has been done by Rev. Marie Marshall Fortune, Denise Hormann, and Rabbi Julie Ringold Spitzer. In the following section we quote from their works -- specifically Spouse Abuse in Rabbinic and Contemporary Judaism by Rabbi Spitzer and Family Violence: A Workshop Manual for Clergy and Other Service Providers by Rev. Fortune and Ms. Hormann.
We highlight two important theological and religious issues -- the nature of marriage from a Jewish and a Christian perspective. In addition we also discuss some aspects of the issues of suffering, sacrifice and forgiveness which are relevant to the problems of domestic violence. There are many other matters such as guilt, loss of faith, the image of God, the power of God to change people's behavior and the connection between domestic violence and social justice which still need to be addressed. For further information and bibliographic assistance please consult pp. 146, 147.
Q: A. often strikes his wife. A's aunt, who lives at his home, is usually the cause of their arguments, and adds to the vexation and annoyance of his wife.
A: A Jew must honor his wife more than he honors himself. If one strikes his wife, one should be punished more severely than for striking another person, for one is enjoined to honor one's wife, but is not enjoined to honor the other person. Therefore, A. must force his aunt to leave his house, and must promise to treat his wife honorably. If he persists in striking her, he should be excommunicated, lashed, and suffer the severest of punishments, even to the extent of amputating his arm. If his wife is willing to accept a divorce, he must divorce her and pay her the ketubah.
Shulhan Aruh (Isserless) 154:3
A man who strikes his wife commits a sin, as if he had struck another person. And if he does this frequently, it is in the hands of the court to chastise him, and to excommunicate him (to place him in herem), and to flog him in every kind of chastisement, and force him to swear that he will not do it again. And if he doesn't heed the words of the court, some say that the Beit Din forces him to divorce her, but we warn him first, once or twice, saying it is not the manner of Jews to beat their wives but it is a deed of the Gentiles. This all applies if he starts the troubles, but if she curses him without reason, or puts down his father or mother and he reproves her with words, and she does not care for him (listen to him), some say that it is permissible to beat her. But some say that it is forbidden even to beat a bad wife, but the first opinion is the correct one. If it is not known who caused it (the trouble), the husband is not believed when he says that she started it, since all women are under the presumption of being decent (pious), and (the court should) appoint for them others (observers) to see who causes the trouble. And if she curses him with no reason, he divorces her without paying her the ketubah.
Much of the material in rabbinic texts instructs the husband and/or the wife as to their marital duties and obligations. The material set standards and provided guidelines, thereby helping to maintain domestic harmony. When that harmony became difficult or impossible to maintain, further guidelines were established providing for the dissolution of the marriage, in what was, at the time, considered to be an equitable and fair manner.
It is safe to say that if a law existed prohibiting an activity, that activity had been or was still being practiced. As early as the Talmudic period, therefore, men used force to compel their wives to activities that the wives did not want to do. Laws existed prohibiting the mistreatment of wives. Such abuse was, therefore, not unknown.
On the whole, the rabbinic literature reviewed deals fairly with domestic violence. A surprising exception is Maimondides' ruling in the Mishneh Torah permitting a woman to be beaten by her husband because she refuses to do her household chores. Unlike Terumat ha-Deshen in which a woman may be beaten to keep her from cursing her parents or her in-laws (a significant transgression), the Mishneh Torah passage permits use of force for a relatively minor infraction. Even the Ramban's contemporaries did not all agree with his opinion.
On the lenient side, Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg's response are the most supportive of the woman's position in wife abuse cases. He even would go as far as to recommend excommunication if the case were to come before him. The Shulchan Aruch also rules sensitively in this matter, noting that wife beating was not to be tolerated, but providing a fair manner in which to adjudicate the charges.
In general, husbands were obligated to respect their wives, and wives, in turn, were expected to be good companions. It cannot be judged as to whether or not complaints of abuse came frequently before the rabbinic courts. They were not unheard of, however.
What remains significant is that spouse abuse has been a known phenomenon in the Jewish community in centuries gone by, and is not new to the modern era, or America after the women's movement.
Spouse abuse is documented throughout Jewish history. Rabbinic texts deal explicitly with situations of wife-beating. Although opinions vary on the subject, there is a surprising amount of support for the victim of domestic violence.
Many spouses are part of a religious community, or hold some type of religious belief, but much of the literature on spouse abuse neglects this fact. Clergy, in general, are not trained to be aware of the particular nuances characteristic of women and men who seek their help in cases of abuse. Counselors trained to help families experiencing domestic violence do not generally consider the effect of religious beliefs and practices on domestic violence. Today, that dichotomy is becoming less pronounced.
The roles of counselor and halakhic authority often go hand in hand when the counselor turns to rabbinic texts for guidance in handling a particular problem. Most of the material acknowledges that abusive conduct on the part of either spouse is not to be tolerated, and it outlines ways to correct such situations. In the particular case of battered wives, more often than not, the rabbinic authorities do not tell the woman to go home and correct her behavior. They do not place the blame upon the wife, the victim. They do not deny that the problem exists, or pretend that it will go away by itself. "Why then do we find examples of so many modern rabbis who ignore this literature? Why do so many rabbis believe the myths about spouse abuse?"
"The concept of Shalom Bayit should not be misinterpreted as encouraging the preservation of an abusive marriage. When domestic harmony is impossible because of physical abuse, the only way for peace may be dissolution of marriage. Although marriage is viewed as permanent, divorce has always been an option according to the Jewish tradition."
(1) This section adapted from Spitzer, Julie Ringold, Spousal Abuse in Rabbinic and Contemporary Judaism. 838 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10021: National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, 1985.
Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church; and Christ is Himself the Savior of the church, His body. And so wives must submit themselves completely to their husbands just as the church submits itself to Christ.
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it. He did this to dedicate the church to God by His word, after making it clean by washing it in water, in order to present the church to Himself in all its beauty -- pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself. (No one ever hates his own body. Instead, he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ does the church; for we are members of His body.) As the scripture says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will become one." There is a deep secret truth revealed in this scripture, which I understand as applying to Christ, and the church. But it also applies to you: every husband must love his wife as himself, and every wife must respect her husband.
A closer look at the actual scriptural references reveals a different picture. Ephesians 5:21
"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Revised Standard Version)
The instruction to husbands is very clear and concrete. A husband is to nourish and cherish his own body and that of his wife. Physical battering which occurs between spouses is probably the most blatant violation of this teaching.
It is interesting that the passage quoted above from Ephesians, which is commonly used as instruction for marriage, is instruction primarily for husbands; nine of the verses are directed toward his responsibilities in marriage; only three of the verses refer to hers, and only one refers to both. Contemporary interpretation often focuses only on husbands. While spouse abuse may be a common pattern in marriage, it certainly cannot be legitimated by scripture.
The Marriage Covenant and Divorce or Separation
A strong belief in the permanency of the marriage vows may prevent an abused spouse from considering separation or divorce as options for dealing with family violence. For the Christian, the promise of faithfulness "for better or for worse... 'till death do us part" is commonly taken to mean "stay in the marriage no matter what," even though death of one or more family members is a real possibility in abusive families.
For some Christians, their denomination's strong doctrinal position against divorce may inhibit them from even considering separation. For others, a position against divorce is a personal belief often supported by their family and church. In either case, there is a common assumption that any marriage is better than no marriage at all and therefore should be maintained at any cost.
The covenant of Christian marriage is a life-long, sacred commitment made between two persons and witnessed by other persons and by God. A covenant between marriage partners usually contains some or all of the following elements:
1. It is made in full knowledge of the relationship.
2. It involves a mutual giving of self to the other.
3. It is assumed to be lasting.
4. It values mutuality, respect, and equality between persons.
A marriage covenant can be violated by one or both partners. Violence or abuse in a marriage violates this covenant, fractures a relationship and the trust which was assumed between partners. Neither partner should be expected to remain in an
abusive situation. Often, one marriage partner feels a heavy obligation to remain and do everything possible to make it work. This is most often true for women. However, a covenant relationship only works if both partners are able and willing to work on it. It is clear that God does not expect anyone to stay in a situation that is abusive. Just as Jesus did not expect His disciples to remain in a village that did not respect and care for them (Luke 9:1-6), neither does He expect persons to remain in a family relationship where they are abused and violated.
If there is a genuine effort to change on the part of the abuser, it is possible to renew the marriage covenant, including in it a clear commitment to non-violence in the relationship. If the one who is being abusive is not willing or able to change then the question of divorce or separation arises.
At this point in the marriage, these radical actions make public what has happened in private. The other option, of course, is to continue to pretend that the marriage is intact. One woman reported that she has been divorced for a month but that her marriage ended ten years ago when the abuse began.
In violent homes, divorce is not breaking up families. Violence and abuse are breaking up families. Divorce or separation is often the painful, public acknowledgment of an already accomplished fact, but such intervention may be necessary to generate healing and new life from a devastating and deadly situation.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you as though something stranger were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you... Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.
...emptied himself, taking the form of a servant...humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
The experience of physical or psychological pain or deprivation can generally be referred to as "suffering." When a person experiences suffering, often the first question is, "Why is there suffering?" and "Why me?" These are classical theological questions to which there are no totally satisfactory answers. Sometimes a person will answer these questions in terms of very specific cause-and-effect relationships.
In this case, the victim of abuse sees her suffering as just punishment for an event which happened long ago and for which she has since felt guilty. This explanation has an almost superstitious quality. It reflects an effort on the part of the woman to make sense out of her experience of abuse by her husband. Her explanation takes the "effect" (the abuse), looks for a probable "cause" (her teenage "sin"), and directly connects the two. This conclusion is based on a set of theological assumptions which support her view: God is a stern judge who seeks retribution for her sins and God causes suffering to be inflicted on her as punishment.
Unfortunately, the woman's explanation neither focuses on the real nature of her suffering (i.e., the abuse by her husband), nor does it place responsibility for her suffering where it lies: on her abusive husband.
Sometimes, people try to explain suffering by saying that it is "God's will" or "part of God's plan for my life" or "God's way of teaching me a lesson." These explanations assume God to be stern, harsh, even cruel and arbitrary.
Suffering which occurs when a person is beaten, raped, or abused, especially in a family relationship cannot be justified. It may, on occasion, be endured by a victim for a number of reasons, including a belief that such endurance will eventually "change" the person who is being abusive. However, this belief is unrealistic and generally only reinforces the behavior.
Jewish and Christian traditions teach that suffering happens to people because there is evil and sinfulness in the world. Striving to live a righteous life does not guarantee that one will be protected from the sinfulness of another. A person may find that she or he suffers from having made a poor decision (e.g. by marrying a spouse who is abusive). But this in no way means that the person either wants to suffer or deserves abuse from the spouse.
In religious teaching, at no point does God promise that we will not suffer in this life; however, in scripture God does promise to be present to us when we suffer. This is especially evident in the Psalms which give vivid testimony to people's experience of God's faithfulness in the midst of suffering (see Psalms 22 and 55).
One's fear of abandonment by God is often strong when experiencing suffering and abuse. This fear is usually experienced by victims of abuse who often feel they have been abandoned by almost everyone: friends, other family members, clergy, doctors, police, lawyers, counselors. Perhaps none of these believed the family members or were able to help. It is therefore very easy for victims to conclude that God has also abandoned them. For Christians, the promise to victims from God is that even though all others abandon them, God will be faithful. This is the message found in Romans:
"For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, Revised Standard Version.)
Often this reassurance is very helpful to victims of violence. Suffering may indeed present an occasion for growth, but whether this potential is actualized depends on how the experience of suffering is managed.
Sometimes, people who regard suffering as God's will for them believe that God is teaching them a lesson and/or that hardship builds character. Experiences of suffering can, in fact, be occasions for growth. People who suffer may realize in retrospect that they learned a great deal from the experience and grew more mature as a result. This can be the case, but only when the person who is suffering also receives support and affirmation throughout the experience. With the support of family, friends and helpers, people who are confronted with violence in their family can end the abuse, possibly leave the situation, make major changes in their lives and grow as mature adults. They can also learn more difficult lessons: dealing with self-reliance, anger, survival outside abusive relationships and personhood.
However, this awareness that suffering can be an occasion for growth must come from those who are suffering and at a time when they are well on their way to renewal. It is hardly appropriate to point out that things really are not so bad and that someday she or he will be glad that all of this happened. These and other words of "comfort and reassurance" are usually for the benefit of the clergy person, not the victim. At a later time, it may be useful to point out the new growth which has taken place and very simply to affirm the reality that this person has survived an extremely difficult situation.
"When I went to my minister, he advised me to go home and pray for my boyfriend to repent. That night my boyfriend came home late and I was already asleep, which he doesn't like... he broke my nose."
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.
The Hebrew term "teshuvah" is the word for repentance. "Teshuvah" literally means "return," clearly denoting a return to God after sin. In Judaism there is a distinction between sins against God and sins against people. For the former, only regret or confession is necessary.
In Christian teaching, the Greek word for repentance is "metanoia," which literally means "to change"-- to have a change of heart or actually a change of behavior. Sins against people require admission of wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness of the person wronged or abused, and reconciliation, which can be accomplished only by a change in behavior.
The need to admit wrongdoing is a healthy sign that the abuser is no longer denying the problem but is ready and willing to face it. The offender may seek out a minister, priest, rabbi, or imam for the purpose of confessing. The clergy person is then put in a position of assuring forgiveness and evaluating the strength of the person's promise not to abuse again. While the abuser may be genuinely contrite, he is seldom able to end the abuse without assistance and treatment.
The clergy person needs to assure the abuser of God's forgiveness and must confront the person with the fact that he needs additional help in order to stop the abuse. For some people, a strong word from a pastor is an effective deterrent: "The abuse must stop now." Sometimes this strong directive can provide an external framework for beginning to change the abusive behavior.
Another issue is timing. A clergy person's need for the victim to finish and resolve the abusive experience may lead him or her to push a victim to forgive the abuser. Forgiveness in this case is seen as a means to hurry the victim's healing process. Victims will move to forgive at their own pace and cannot be pushed by others' expectations of them. It may take years before they are ready to forgive; their timing needs to be respected. They will forgive when they are ready. Then the forgiveness becomes the final stage of letting go.
"The judge told him, in no uncertain terms, that the law does not allow him to assault me just because I'm his wife. He said that he'll send him to jail if he's brought back for another offense. Right there in the courtroom... you should have seen the look on his face. I think he knew the judge wasn't kidding, and that's when he decided to do something about it." --- a former battered woman
"The family is the fundamental unit of American life. Thus, public policies that support the family are imperative for the survival of our society. To help families thrive within our communities, we must address the serious problem of family violence.
"Family violence too often shatters families from all walks of life. Once considered a 'hands off' issue, to be dealt with in the privacy of a family, these cases increasingly are brought to the criminal courts. No longer viewed simply as disagreements, arguments, or 'family spats,' they are recognized as violent crimes with victims suffering physical and psychological scars... One study found that in over 50 percent of domestic homicides, the police had previously been called to the residence five times or more.
"Recent National Institute of Justice research has found that arresting the abuser can deter future violence in families. By making informed decisions based on careful evaluation of police methods, it appears that policies can either contribute to the decline or escalation of violent assault within the family.
"Judges play a critical role in forming the criminal justice reaction to this kind of violence. Spouse abuse has traditionally been handled in family court. As police departments increasingly have developed arrest policies for both misdemeanor and felony domestic assault, more family violence cases are being heard before criminal court judges." by James K. Stewart, former Director, National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
Most of this section is comprised of excerpts from Confronting Domestic Violence: The Role of Criminal Court Judges, Research in Brief, by Gail A. Goolkasian, published by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, of which the above is an introduction. These excerpts will provide a body of information which will better enable clergy and religious leaders to understand some of the legal aspects concerning domestic violence.
Two of the basic reasons why battering continues to exist are:
First, violence is a highly effective means of control; often the victim of a domestic assault will spend a great deal of energy on trying to avoid subsequent assaults, including attempts to anticipate the needs, wishes, and whims of the abuser. Men who batter often explain their violence by saying that their victims will not do what they want them to, and they feel that as men they have a right to control "their" women.
Second, men batter because they can; that is, because in most cases no one has told batterers that they must stop.
Recent research suggests that violence is less likely to recur once a clear message is given that battering is inappropriate behavior which will not be tolerated. Sherman and Berk found that domestic violence offenders who were arrested had almost half as much repeat violence during the following 6 months as offenders who were not arrested. (1) Langan and Innes' analysis of data from the National Crime Survey indicates that simply bringing the domestic violence incident to the attention of the police seems to help prevent recurrences. (2)
Despite all of the reasons outlined earlier as to why women stay in, or return to a violent partner, many battered women do try to end the abuse by seeking outside help.
Communities that have opened shelters for battered women and improved the institutional response to domestic violence report a huge influx of victims seeking an end to abuse. But pleas for help from battered women often go unanswered.
Public institutions (including churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques) and professionals (including clergy) in the community often fail to provide needed support and assistance. They may see the batterer when he is calm and articulate, and fail to believe that he is capable of such violence.
Physicians, hospital staff, welfare officials, mental health professionals, and the clergy have typically overlooked, ignored, or failed to act appropriately in domestic violence cases. Traditional training in these fields reflects a bias toward keeping the family together at all costs.
Barriers to action are even greater for women from certain racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural groups. For example, some women feel compelled to remain in abusive relationships because of their religious views on divorce, or because separation carries a tremendous social stigma in their community.
They may also feel that officials in public institutions (including churches, temples and synagogues) hold racial and cultural stereotypes which will affect the amount of help they receive. Some women of color are more hesitant to press charges against their partners due to the common belief that minority men are sentenced more severely than white men for similar crimes. Therefore, a woman of color who chooses the court system may do so at the expense of terminating the support systems, including family, friends, and her own place of worship within her community. (3)
Although violence against the person is usually handled through criminal law, until recently most domestic violence cases entering the justice system were either screened out entirely or automatically routed to family courts. This practice reflected the view of society at large that domestic violence was a private family matter rather than a crime.
Agencies within the justice system have begun to recognize their duty to provide legal remedies in domestic violence cases. Assault, battery, homicide, weapon use, kidnaping, and unlawful imprisonment are some of the most frequent crimes of domestic violence. More and more justice officials are realizing that a domestic violence incident constitutes a crime and, as with other crimes, the responsibility for taking legal action against an offender should rest with the justice system rather than the victim. When justice agencies deliver a clear message that domestic violence is unacceptable behavior that will not be tolerated, this view is encouraged throughout society.
In many States, legislative reform aimed at improving the entire community response to domestic violence has forced justice agencies to modify past policies. For example, these laws can define the boundaries of proper police arrest practices, mandate data collection and reporting, require domestic violence training programs, provide for various forms of victim assistance, and authorize the use of civil orders for protection, and increase the penalties for repeat offenders.
Most attention concerning the role of the justice system has focused on police and, in particular, on whether or not police officers should favor arrest when they respond to calls involving domestic violence. In the past, most police departments discouraged officers from making arrests in "family disputes," advising officers to try to calm down the parties and make referrals to social service agencies in the community. (4)
Police departments throughout the country are beginning to educate officers about the dynamics of domestic violence, and are adopting official policies encouraging or requiring officers to arrest suspects in domestic violence incidents. State laws are expanding officers' legal authority to arrest in these cases; in most States officers are now permitted - or in some States, required - to arrest suspects in misdemeanor domestic violence incidents without obtaining a warrant even if they did not witness the crime, provided that they have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by the person being arrested. (5)
The result of pro-arrest policies is often a large increase in the number of domestic violence cases entering the justice system. In recent years, several prosecutors' offices throughout the country have proposed and adopted policy improvements for these cases.
The prosecutorial policies reviewed by Lerman include: establishing domestic violence units in large offices to permit vertical prosecution and the development of prosecutor expertise on domestic violence cases; reviewing police reports on a regular basis to identify domestic violence incidents and conduct outreach to victims; developing objective filing and charging policies; and working with victim advocates, who can offer support and protection to victims and maximize the likelihood that victims will cooperate with prosecutors. (6)
Within their own courtrooms, judges determine the kind of attention domestic violence cases will receive from probation agencies. Judges can give a strong signal to probation officers that court orders and probation agreements must be monitored closely in these cases. In some States there are also statutory provisions that give judges special tools to handle domestic violence cases, such as formal orders for protection.
Furthermore, judges can have a positive impact by simply talking to the parties in domestic violence cases. Barbara E. Smith's study of the criminal court response to non stranger violence found two ways that judges are critical in deterring future violence:
First, judicial warnings and/or lectures to defendants concerning the inappropriateness and seriousness of their violent behavior apparently improved the future conduct of some defendants. Second, judges occasionally counseled victims by telling them that they should not tolerate violent abuse, by suggesting counseling programs, or both. For some victims, this official affirmation that they did not deserve to be hit helped them to realize that the abuse was not something which they simply had to tolerate. It seems likely that the judges' conduct would be especially critical to those individuals, both victims and defendants, appearing in court for the first time. (7)
As one judge told a defendant, "I don't care if she's your wife or not. A marriage license is not a hitting license. If you think the courts can't punish you for assaulting your wife, you are sadly mistaken."
Not surprisingly, the non stranger violence study also found that the way a judge talks to the victim and defendant in court affects the victim's level of satisfaction with the justice system. Victims were more satisfied when judges were well-informed about domestic violence, provided referrals to shelters and other community organizations, and lectured defendants about the seriousness of their assaultive behavior. (8)
Restrictions on pretrial release
The vast majority of defendants in domestic violence cases are released prior to trial, usually on their own recognizance. The victim is especially vulnerable during the pretrial period, when the defendant may try to retaliate for her role in having him arrested, or threaten her with more violence if she cooperates with prosecution.
The court can protect the victim during this period by restricting the defendant's access to her as a condition of pretrial release. Practitioners feel that this kind of protection is needed in most domestic violence cases. State laws commonly authorize the issuance of protection orders (also called restraining or stay-away orders) in civil court. In most States, civil and criminal relief can be sought simultaneously, and a civil protection order can help the victim to get the protection she needs during prosecution.
Some State statutes which provide for civil protection orders also authorize criminal court judges to issue protection orders as a condition of pretrial release in domestic violence cases. This is preferable in criminal cases because victims are not required to go through a whole separate process and bureaucracy in order to get the necessary protection while charges are pending.
It should be noted here that clergy and congregations can be helpful in assisting the victim to obtain a civil protection order, and even in advocating for the criminal protection order as outlined in the above paragraph. (Ed)
An additional problem for the victim is that, while the pretrial period is a period of great vulnerability for the victim (as stated above), it is also a very long period of time. Sometimes several months pass and more than one court appearance before the actual trial takes place.
At least one jurisdiction is attempting to remedy this. The following is a March 28, 1995, article from the Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, by Angel Hernandez, RM News Staff Writer:
"Spouse beaters in Jefferson and Gilpin Counties (Colorado) will see themselves in court quicker for battering their families.
"The next day, in fact.
"District Attorney David Thomas announced agreement Monday between all jurisdictions in the state's 1st Judicial District on uniform standards for responding to domestic violence cases.
"The effort will initially lead to a 'fast track' treatment of misdemeanor domestic violence complaints. Offenders will find themselves in court the day after a violent incident. Also, victims will be subpoenaed immediately to arrange counseling or other assistance.
"A domestic violence case currently takes up to six months and as many as six court appearances. The new approach could guarantee trials within 45 days and expedite punishment.
"Authorities say they hope the effort will help bring peace to families, curb the psychological trauma of victims and witnesses to domestic violence, and send a consistent message to offenders."
Clergy and other members of the religious community who advocate for such standards in the courts of their jurisdictions would be providing a great assistance to victims of domestic violence. (Ed)
In most jurisdictions, a probation agency is responsible for investigating the defendant's eligibility for ROR (release on recognizance) and the need to attach specific conditions to pretrial release. As part of this investigation, probation officers should contact the victim for information about her particular safety needs. The probation officer and victim should explore release conditions available to the court and conditions that the victim feels she needs to protect her safety, such as limited or no contact by the defendant, allowing the defendant only supervised child visitation, or the temporary removal of weapons from the household.
The importance of enforcing protection orders cannot be overemphasized. In some jurisdictions, critics have charged that the orders 'aren't worth the paper they're written on.' Indeed, an unenforceable order is worse than none at all, because it gives the victim the illusion that she has protection. Orders are most effective where violation constitutes a separate criminal offense, and police officers in the field can verify the existence, validity and terms of an order when a violation is alleged. But even if
violation is not a criminal offense in and of itself charges such as trespassing or disturbing the peace can often be applied in addition to civil contempt.
Pretrial court appearances
The best procedure in all domestic violence cases is that the defendant be required to appear in court at the first opportunity following arrest, preferably before pretrial release. This demonstrates to the defendant that domestic violence is considered serious criminal conduct. If the defendant will be released prior to trial, holding him until a court appearance gives the victim time to seek safe housing. This requirement is embodied in some State domestic violence statutes. This is ideal, but in far too many cases there is a long waiting time for the trial while pretrial court appearances are made. The procedures being established in the Colorado jurisdiction described on Page 131, could be one solution to this problem.
In the past courts imposed lesser sanctions for domestic violence compared with violent crimes involving strangers. As one attorney observed:
Sentences in this area are very much lighter than comparable situations of stranger violence. It's very discouraging when... the sentence is so light that it's, in a sense, a final way of condoning the violence. (9)
Sentencing options and practices cover a wide range in domestic violence cases. In general, sentences should be aimed at holding offenders accountable, ending abusive behavior, and meeting the needs of victims and other family members. Multiple interventions are often appropriate. What "works" with one offender might fail completely with another, even in cases that are similar in many respects.
For example, some offenders comply with no-contact orders and court ordered counseling because they are frightened by the prospect of serving time in jail, while others readily violate these orders, especially if they have gotten away with it before.
Fines can be imposed in accordance with State statutes... Incarceration is both appropriate and necessary in cases involving more serious violence, a long pattern of abuse, significant threat of continued harm if the offender were released, or failure at previous alternatives to incarceration... Weekend or evening incarceration may be appropriate in cases involving less serious violence when the victim wants the offender to continue to work and support the family.
Restitution should be considered in communities where restitution programs are available for crime victims. Offenders are ordered to reimburse the victim for expenses
resulting from the crime, such as lost wages; shelter costs; medical, counseling, and other treatment fees; and replacement costs of any destroyed property. (10) Also, victim compensation funds are available under certain conditions. This resource should be explored.
Court-ordered counseling and education for batterers
Specially designed programs for batterers are a recent and promising dispositional alternative for offenders in some domestic violence cases... Many people are skeptical about court-ordered counseling for batterers, believing that counseling can only be useful if an individual participates voluntarily and truly wants to change his behavior at the outset. However, there is compelling evidence that court-ordered counseling is appropriate and, in many cases, effective in ending violent behavior.
Of interest to clergy is the fact that there now exist many faith-based programs for batterers. The publisher of this manual can provide information about some of them. (Ed)
(1) Sherman, Lawrence W., and Berk, Richard A., "The Specific Deterrent Effects of Arrest for Domestic Assault," American Sociological Review 49 (April 1984): 261-272.
(2) U.S. Department of Justice, Special Report: Preventing Domestic Violence Against Women, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
(3) Avina, Catherine, et al., "The Response of the Judicial System," in Minnesota Department of Corrections, Battered Women: An Effective Response.
(4) Bard, Mortan, "Training Police as Specialists in Family Crisis Intervention," Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(5) Lerman and Livingston, "State Legislation on Domestic Violence."
(6) Lerman, Lisa G., "Prosecution of Spouse Abuse: Innovations in Criminal Justice Response," Washington, D.C.
(7) Smith, Barbara E., "Non-Stranger Violence: The Criminal Court's Response," Washington D.C.: National Institute of Justice.
(8) Ibid, pp. 90-92.
(9) Gundle, Ruth Esq., Oregon Legal Services, Portland, Oregon: Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, Final Report.
(10) Ibid, p. 35.
The most important first step for clergy is to recognize that domestic violence exists with greater frequency than you may have assumed, even within your own religious community. The battered woman is in your congregation, however well she or her abuser may attempt to conceal that presence. Within your congregation there are also batterers. There are also children witnessing, or themselves enduring, violence in their homes on a regular basis. For these reasons, it is important that clergy learn how to recognize and deal with domestic violence.
The second most important step in your efforts to help is to understand and to declare that domestic violence is a crime and will not be tolerated. The worship service, although approached from various theological perspectives, provides clergy with an opportunity to speak to issues which concern the gathered religious community and to relate these to their faith and tradition. Thus an entire community can be made more aware of issues of domestic violence and encouraged to respond in ways that will help the victims, batterers and their families who are experiencing violence.
Sample services and sermons are available in several of the books or manuals on domestic violence listed in the bibliography (pp. 146, 147) or are available from denominational resources.
(1) James M. Nichols, Wounded in the House of My Friends, Spouse Abuse: Can the Church Cope?
When a woman comes to you for help or you suspect there may be violence in the home, there are some specific things to keep in mind. Problems associated with domestic violence are difficult to work through. Usually patterns of abuse have existed for a long time, and unless you are a professionally trained counselor, you should not enter into a long-term counseling or therapy situation. You are in a unique position to relate and minister to all parties and these pastoral relationships need to be preserved.
The response of clergy and laity to the religious crisis caused by domestic violence can be a great resource for victims. The following guidelines may prove helpful; however, as a clergy person, you need to be aware that the life of the victim may be in immediate danger and safety is the first concern.
1. Ask the question. Women rarely come in and announce they have been battered. Women may come for counseling and speak in terms that are general or vague. Develop some ways that you are comfortable with for asking specific questions such as, "Are you in danger?" "What does he do when he gets angry?" "Are you worried about the safety of you and your children?" Listen to the woman and understand her situation; uncover abuse; recognize panic and fear. Take seriously her assessment of a life-threatening situation and the potential danger of her from her husband's violence. Do not discount her fears that he may try to kill her if she leaves, or that if she stays she may end up dead.
2. Believe her! Battered women will often be telling you the minimal truth, not an exaggerated version. There are many things a battered woman fears and fear of not being believed is a strong one. This fear will be compounded in religious settings when her husband chairs a board, sings in the choir or is a "pillar of the community," all of which are very likely. It is important for her to break the silence by describing what is happening to her. Telling you the story is embarrassing for her. She is not likely to exaggerate.
3. Listen to her and affirm her feelings. It is crucial that clergy respond with affirmation and without judgment to a battered woman. Let her be your teacher and educator. You be a listener. Listen without assigning blame.
Active and respectful listening may be more important than giving theological answers. Listening carefully and attentively can help you discern what is important to the person in crisis. The important thing is to learn, from inside the victim's own theology, what will be helpful to her for her safety and well-being. You can discuss theological differences when the person is not in crisis.
4. Unequivocally challenge violence. It is often difficult for victims of domestic violence to come forward because of our tendency to "victimize the victim." It is important to state clearly that violence is not acceptable and not ask a woman questions such as "What did you do to provoke him?" A battered woman is not responsible for the violence in her relationship. Confront her with the reality of the situation: she can't make him stop and neither can you. She can, however, declare that she will leave if he does it again, or that she will not come back until he gets help.
Support faith statements that address the victim's safety, well-being and empowerment. A victim may say, "I believe that God never sends us anything we can't handle." This sincere belief may be both an obstacle and an opportunity. On the one hand, it implies that God has sent this abuse, that it is God's will, that we must put up with and endure the "cross that God has seen fit to lay upon us." This first implication could stand in the way of the victim's safety. On the other hand, it also implies that God knows this person has resources for dealing with the abusive situation. It may be more helpful to affirm this part of the statement and say, "Let's name the resources you think God has given you to deal with it."
5. Encourage her to find a safe place for herself if she is in physical danger. Such a place could be the home of a friend or relative, a shelter, a motel or a church-family refuge.
6. Offer the woman alternatives from which to choose. Her vision may be so clouded from a life of abuse that she may not be able to see her options. Some of these options may be individual counseling, career counseling, support groups, education, separation, help for the battered, divorce or legal aid or counsel.
7. It is extremely important that a battered woman make her own choices and make them in her own time. Support her even if you disagree with her decision. If she decides to stay in the relationship, it is appropriate to share with her your concern for her safety and to discuss ways she can increase her safety. It is not appropriate for you to tell her what she has to do or should do. Beware of your tendency to want to rescue the woman. It is imperative for her to make her own choices: whether to stay or to leave, and how to do it.
8. Help her discover and develop her own resources: money, friends, relatives, employment, stress reduction. Encourage her to make contact with the nearest shelter.
9. Confront what is happening to any children who are involved in this relationship. Are they being abused by either her husband or her? Does she want this kind of future for them? Sometimes concern for the welfare of her children can motivate a woman to act. In many states there is a legal obligation to report any known child abuse.
10. Have it as your goal to involve her in a domestic violence program as soon as possible. In addition, a woman counselor or lay leader or women's group can provide further support she may need to deal with her situation.
11. Continue to support her. It is important that you not give a battered woman resources and then exit the scene, particularly if she has been an active member of your congregation. Maintain contact by checking with her periodically to see how she is doing and offer more information on resources.
12. Assure confidentiality. Let her know that you will not discuss this matter with anyone else without her permission. Agree that you will not call on her at home and bring up the subject. Doing either of these may increase her danger as well as increase her fear and distrust.
13. Confronting the abuser. Any information shared by a victim about her assailant's behavior must be considered confidential in order to guard her safety. Clinical experience suggests that confrontation with abusers by untrained practitioners may endanger victims and should be avoided at all costs.
If the abuser confronts you, remember he may vehemently deny any wrongdoing and may not even be able to remember the episodes of violence. You will need to be patient with him, yet unrelenting in your statements that the violence must cease today. The abuser may have a long history of violence in his own family and will need help in seeing his behavior clearly and beginning to identify the patterns of violence in his life. This should be a learning process to effect change and NOT an exercise in finding excuses for the violent behavior. There is no short term solution to a life of violence, therefore it should be your goal to involve him in a batterer's program as soon as possible. It is just as important for you to maintain contact with the abuser to offer hope and support as it is for you to support the victim.
14. Individual counseling is usually the only option. Unless the violence has completely stopped and the man has gone through a batterer's program, couples counseling could increase the level of violence a woman experiences. She faces the fact that if she talks about the situation she will be beaten later, and not being able to talk about the situation nullifies the counseling process. The immediate goal is not to save the marriage, but to stop the violence.
15. Give her the gift of time and be prepared for frustration. A battered woman needs time to sort through a lot of religious, social, emotional and economic issues. She deserves time and patience from you as she does this. She will know when the time is right for her to act. Provide support and help her rebuild her sense of self-worth, self-confidence and the belief that she can make it on her own.
Respectfully offer alternatives to faith statements that are keeping victims trapped. A good way to do this is to make "I" statements. If you say, "I am confident that God does not want you to suffer," or "I do not believe that God is punishing you for sin" you may be heard as offering possibilities to victims, rather than shaming and blaming them for believing the wrong thing.
Connected with ideas of sin may be the victim's feeling that she must forgive the abuser and stay in the abusive situation. Respectfully suggest that if abuse is ongoing, it means that the abuser has not repented and that therefore forgiveness is not appropriate. You may suggest that forgiveness is the end, not the beginning, of the healing process. You may suggest that forgiveness is up to God, not up to the victim.
16. Refer! Refer! Refer! Domestic violence affects the entire family. Many local domestic violence programs have professionals who will work with the women, the children and the abusers. Domestic violence does not stop by itself. Children who grow up witnessing violence are likely to become victims and abusers.
(1) Much of the material used in these guidelines has been adapted from: Bussert, Joy M.K., Battered Women: From a Theology of Suffering to an Ethic of Empowerment, suggestions offered by Pellauer, Mary, "Ministry of Abusive Families," Vol. 16. Family Resources, 2900 Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA: Division for Parish Services, Lutheran Church of America, and from Clark, Rita-Lou, Pastoral Care of Battered Women.
LEARN WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO VICTIMS AND BATTERERS BEFORE YOU NEED TO CONSULT OR REFER TO THEM. Among the social service providers you need to contact are:
Domestic violence programs and their staff see or speak with hundreds of victims and batterers on a daily basis, twenty-four hours a day. They are skilled and experienced with handling the complicated and difficult issues of domestic violence. Ideally, clergy should develop a partnership with them. The staff of programs can support the clergy's ongoing pastoral care to victims, batterers and their families, relatives and congregations. Clergy can support the domestic violence staff's ongoing efforts to provide safety, legal recourse and counseling to those involved.
Among the things which may be helpful to know is how domestic violence programs operate and what philosophy many of them utilize.
Programs for victims and related programs for non-resident victims, children who witness violence, and for batterers exist in every state. Clergy and religious communities can support these programs in the following ways:
(1) Post in a prominent place the phone numbers for emergency hot lines, the local shelter and programs for violent partners;
(2) Visit and talk with counselors in the above programs;
(3) Ask the program if there are basic needs which the congregation could assist in gathering. Some of these supplies might be: clothing, food, furniture, toys, linens;
(4) Recruit volunteers for training and ongoing assistance at the shelter;
(5) Write to local, state, and national legislators encouraging them to support local programs;
(6) Offer to sponsor a woman who needs a place to live or to assist her in finding and furnishing a place to live.
In a broader response, clergy and religious communities can act as prophetic "voices crying in the wilderness" by also:
(1) Sponsoring a series of forums on domestic violence;
(2) Organizing a task force on domestic violence to keep informed on the issues and to respond in new ways as needed:
(3) Subscribing to newsletters of local programs and to national networks and posting the phone number of local programs in church bulletins;
(4) Forming a study group to consider some of the religious issues raised by domestic violence and making the group's discoveries available to those experiencing domestic violence.
If you receive a call from a victim who has just been beaten, is in crisis and asking for help, we suggest the following:
Do not go to the home. The violence may still be occurring and could be dangerous to you. Offer to call the police.
Ask her if the violence is over and how she is at this point. Does she need medical attention? Does she fear her abuser will be back? Where are the children? Does she have a safe place she can go to? If a shelter is her only option, provide her with the phone number and encourage her to call.
Encourage her to make contact with the local victims program, whatever she decides. Most domestic violence programs, in an effort to empower a woman to take responsibility for her safety and her needs, prefer a victim to call for help directly. Strongly encourage her to do so.
If a couple comes to you for counseling because of episodes of violence, recognize that this visit rarely occurs without pressure from civil authorities or under threats from relatives. Occasionally, the victim has compelled the abuser to go to couples counseling by stating that she will not see him under any other circumstances. In this latter case, you will be a third party to their "visitation" and have little room for counseling interventions.
The success rate for treating violent relationships in couple counseling is extremely low. Most abusers are looking for easy, quick solutions and for immediate ways of getting back together with their partner-victim. Most victims do not want to separate or leave their partner-batterer and wish to believe that if they confront their abuser
before a third party (the pastor), the abuser will be forced or embarrassed into changing his behavior. Unfortunately, this rarely happens.
If a couple comes to you for counseling because of violent episodes in the relationship or if you discover in the course of counseling a couple that violence occurs in their relationship, we strongly recommend that you refer them to a domestic violence program or to a counselor trained in treating domestic violence situations. In most cases, each partner will be referred to separate counselors or to a group situation for victims or for batterers. The victim's goal is to take responsibility for her safety needs. The batterer is to take responsibility for his violent behavior and to change it.
Pre-marital counseling is a unique and crucial opportunity for you to assess how a man responds to and deals with anger and frustration, and how the couple interacts and responds to each other. In pre-marital counseling you can explore family histories as well as current behaviors. (Seventy percent of all men who batter saw their mother being battered.) Early warning signs such as alcohol or drug abuse, physical abuse during courtship, cruelty to animals, inability to handle frustration, poor self-image, extreme possessiveness and jealousy, a police record for a violent crime and many other characteristics can help identify potential batterers. These early warning signs and other literature or discussion of family violence should become an integral part of Pre-Cana, Engagement Encounter or any other pre-marital programs in your congre-ation.
Alcohol/Drug Abuse. Experts say that between 40 and 80 percent of battering incidents involve alcohol and drug abuse.
Physical abuse during courtship is often a guarantee of later abuse. The evidence is overwhelming that after one beating there will be more. As time goes on, the abuse usually will become more severe and more frequent. It can be a mistake to marry with the idea "I can change him."
Violent environments breed abuse. If a man grows up seeing his father beat his mother, he is apt to think of abuse as normal behavior. If he was violently abused by his parents, there may be a greater chance that he will batter his wife, his child, or both.
Abusers are often cruel to animals. Many kill them for sport, and this should not be minimized. Anyone who beats a dog or other pets should be considered a potential batterer.
An inability to handle frustration should be a warning. If relatively minor problems, such as missing a parking space or being jostled in a crowd, cause a man to blow his top, to scream and otherwise seriously over react to the situation, he may try to handle many of the normal frustrations of marriage by abusing his spouse.
Batterers are men who cannot handle frustration and turn to violence as a solution to problems. A man who frequently punches walls, breaks objects or throws things in rage is likely to turn on a woman.
A poor self-image is another characteristic of a batterer. Men often attack women when they feel their masculinity has been threatened.
Extreme possessiveness and jealousy. If a man considers his spouse to be his property and becomes enraged when he does not receive all of her attention, he is a potential abuser. If he is threatened by a woman's friendships and does not want her to form any, that should be considered as another negative sign.
A police record for a violent crime, such as rape, assault and battery, or armed robbery. Any type of recurring violent behavior is a sign.
A general dislike or mistrust of women.
1. Indicate that violence of any kind in marriage and family life is unacceptable. Let the congregation know where you stand in clear and simple terms.
2. To help the congregation deal with the issues of domestic violence, educate members through sermons and by setting up appropriate educational programs for adults, teens and children.
3. Make contact with the local domestic violence program. Become familiar with available resources such as audio-visual materials and speakers bureau.
4. Find out what the congregation can do to support your local domestic violence program. Furniture and clothing for women and children, as well as financial support, may be needed.
5. Familiarize yourself with legal matters which may arise. Staff workers and volunteers at local domestic violence programs are trained to help women deal with legal issues and are an available resource.
6. Be prepared to discuss the theological and religious issues with the victim, the children, the abuser and the congregation. Suggested ways to educate yourself about domestic violence include:
a) Investigating denominational resources on local, regional, and national levels.
b) Exploring the religious and theological issues with your study group or other peers.
c) Reflecting on these issues personally through study and prayer.
d) Attending training seminars sponsored by your local domestic violence program and the New Jersey Clergy Outreach Project.
Helping families who are experiencing violence is extremely frustrating and difficult work. Clergy would do well to remember that they are not able to control all the events in the lives of their congregants. What excellent and competent clergy we would be if we could spare our congregants the suffering and pain that life holds.
Since that is not possible, it is always helpful to have a support network of other clergy or helping professionals with whom to share some of the concerns and feelings which come up in the course of helping congregants in crisis. Develop a network for yourself. The staff of domestic violence programs can also function in this way for you. Beyond offering guidance and resources, they can offer support to you personally in your efforts to make a difference in the lives of the people in your congregation.
Center for the Prevention of Sexual
and Domestic Violence
936 N. 34th Street, Suite 200
Seattle, Washington 98103 (206) 634-1903
Family Advocacy Programs
Army Family Advocacy Program Manager
Department of the Army Telephone: (703) 325-9390
Hoffman #1, Room 1407 DSN: (703) 325-9390
Alexandria, VA 22331-0521 FAX: (703) 325-5924
Family Advocacy Program
BUPERS 661 Telephone: (703) 697-6616/8/9
Department of the Navy DSN: (703) 227-6616/8/9
Washington, DC 20370-5000 FAX: (703) 697-6617
Family Advocacy Division
HQ AFMOA/SGPS Telephone: (210) 536-2031
8901 18th Street, Suite I DSN: (210) 240-2031
Brooks Air Force Base, TX 78235-5217 FAX: (210) 536-9032
Marine Corps Family Advocacy Program Manager
Headquarters USMC Telephone: (703) 696-2046/7/8
Human Resources Division (Code MHF) DSN: (703) 226-2046/7/8
Washington, DC 20380-0001 FAX: (703) 696-1143
Defense Logistics Agency
Family Advocacy Program Manager
Quality of Life Program CAAPQ
Defense Logistics Agency Telephone: (703) 767-5372
8725 John J. Kingman Road, STE 2533 DSN: (703) 427-5372
Fort Belvoir, VA 22060-6221 FAX: (703) 767-5374
National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect
P.O. Box 1182 (703) 385-7565
Washington, DC 20013 1 800 394-3366
National Clearinghouse for the Defense of
125 South 9th Street, Suite 302
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107 (215) 351-0010
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
P.O. Box 18749
Denver, Colorado 80218-0749 (303) 839-1852
National Organization for Victim Assistance
1757 Park Road, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20010 (202) 232-6682
National Victim Center (703) 276-2880
2111 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 300 1 800 FYI-CALL
Arlington, Virginia 22201 Fax (703) 276-2889
National Victims Resource Center
P.O. Box 6000
Rockville, Maryland 20850 1 800 627-6872
The Spiritual Dimension in Victim Services
P.O. Box 6736 (303) 333-8810
Denver, Colorado 80206-0736 Fax (303) 333-8805
National Denominational Women's Ministry Offices
Local resources can be obtained from:
1. Domestic violence (battered women's) shelters (law enforcement agency or phone directory can provide contact phone number. Addresses are not usually given out because of need to keep location confidential).
2. Domestic violence counseling centers (often connected with the shelters. If not, they could provide information).
3. Service provider directory (usually known to United Way).
4. Victim and Witness Assistance Program for the District (State's) Attorney's Office.
NOTE: The list contains only a very few of the vast number of publications on the subject of spousal/partner abuse. The inclusion of these publications in this manual does not imply endorsement by The Spiritual Dimension in Victim Services or the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime. They have, however, been read and recommended by qualified professionals in the field.
Norton, Anne L. & Judith A. Williamson, Eds., Abuse and Religion: When Praying Isn't Enough, Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1988.
U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, Final Report, 1984.
Martin, D., Battered Wives, San Francisco, CA: Glide Publications, 1976.
Davidson, T., Conjugal Crime, New York, NY: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1978.
Domestic Violence Bibliography (very comprehensive), Trenton, NJ: State of New Jersey, Department of Community Affairs.
Gelles, R.J. &Murray A. Straus, Intimate Violence, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Leehan, James, Pastoral Care for Survivors of Family Abuse, Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.
Clarke, Rita-Lou, Pastoral Care of Battered Women, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1986
Pellauer, Mary D., Barbara Chester, and Jane Boyajian, eds. Sexual Assault and Abuse: A Handbook for Clergy and Religious Professionals, San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1987.
Fortune, Marie M., Sexual Violence, The Unmentionable Sin, An Ethical and Pastoral Perspective, New York: NY, Pilgrim Press, 1983.
U.S. Catholic, Sticks and Stones Break More Than Bones, October 1979: 34-38.
Lenore, E., The Battered Woman, New York, NY: Harper & Row, Inc., 1979.
Mennonite Central Committee Domestic Violence Task Force, The Purple Packet: Domestic Violence Resources for Pastoring Persons -- Wife Abuse, Akron, Pennsylvania: 1987.
Hutchings, Nancy, The Violent Family, New York, NY: Human Sciences Press, Inc., 1988.
Victimology, An International Journal, Volume 2, 1977-78: Numbers 3-4, Spousal Abuse, Washington, D.C.20016: Visage Press, Inc.
United States Catholic Conference, Violence in the Family: A National Concern, A Church Concern, 1321 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.
Fortune, Marie M., Violence in the Family: A Workshop Curriculum for Clergy and Other Helpers, Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1991.