Suggested Guidelines for Dealing with Allegations
of Intimate Partner Violence in the Local Church
By Dr. Mable Dunbar
For clarity, the victim is referred to as “she” and the abuser/perpetrator is referred to as “he,” but ANYONE can be an abuser or victim.
Take the allegations seriously. Take immediate action. The first responsibility of church leaders is to provide safety first and ask questions later. Help the victim find a safe place to stay.
1. If you are not trained or experienced with how to deal with the issues of abuse and domestic violence, or have emotional barriers (your prejudices, biases, your history of violence in your family of origin; your perception about domestic violence and family violence; your concepts of headship, submission, the role of women and men; your scriptural interpretation of marriage, separation, divorce and remarriage) refer her to someone who can help her and be a healing resource. If you are not aware of any Christian helpers or programs, it is better to refer her to a secular shelter and provide on-going support rather than encourage her to return home.
2. Give her the opportunity to talk with you without the abuser present. Listen to her concerns, and be emotionally supportive without touching her. It is ALWAYS best not to speak with her by yourself. If possible, ask a trusted female to be with you.
3. Do not advocate couple counseling or marriage counseling. They do not stop abuse and should not be recommended at this time. If the abuser pursues her and tries to prevent her from speaking with you without him being present, call the police.
4. Affirm her strength in talking with you. Let her know that in the event you learn that she is suicidal, threatening to harm someone, or you feel that she is in danger, you will have to get help and inform the proper authorities.
5. Do not misquote Scripture to suggest that the responsibility of “fixing” the marriage, “providing her children with a father,” or “converting” her abuser or being a “Christian witness” rests on her. This could make her feel that she is responsible for his salvation, especially if he is not a Christian. Quote Scriptures that are empowering, liberating, hopeful, and affirming. Do not re-victimize her by alluding that she must have done something “to make him act that way” or that she must have done something for him to abuse her.
6. Refrain from statements such as, “Just pray about it,” or “If you trust God enough He will give you the strength to endure,” or “God will make a way for you to escape the abuse” or “God wants you to bear your bur dens like a good soldier” or “God will not give you more than you can bear.” Because of her experience, she might misinterpret your words and feel that you are saying that she needs to stay and take the abuse until God delivers her or that she does not have enough faith to believe that she can bear the abuse indefinitely. Remember that you are Jesus’ representative and she came to you because she believes He has given you the care, concern and expertise to help her. His mission was to relieve the oppressed. As His representative, that is also your mission.
7. Help her find appropriate economic support for herself and her children. Have a list of available resources that you can suggest to her. Offer her options in her search for continued safety, healing, recovery and empowerment. Options should also include ongoing education on the following topics: self-esteem, assertiveness training, anger management, conflict resolution, stress management, reality testing, family of origin issues, self-care, problem solving, goal setting, etc.
8. She might decide that it is best for her to return to the abusive situation. Share with her your concerns for her safety and well-being. NEVER CONDEMN her for her decision. Let her know that you respect her decision, and that you will be there to help if she needs you in the future. Help her to develop a safety plan in the event that she decides to leave the abusive situation. As a part of the safety plan, encourage her to secure the following: money, clothing, identification, legal papers, birth certificates, passports, credit/bank cards, bank statements, emergency numbers, and extra set of keys. Most of these items she can leave with a trusted friend or family member if she needs a quick escape. She should secure someone to help with emergency transportation. She should try and leave when the abuser is not at home. SHE SHOULD NOT TELL HER ABUSER THAT SHE IS PLANNING TO LEAVE HIM!
9. Keep records/documentation of your interactions and a synopsis of the content of your communications with her.
10. Remember that if you are not sure of what to do, REFER, REFER, REFER.