Abuse is an ugly word that hides an uglier reality. Abuse means abnormal use. Domestic abuse is especially ugly and abnormal because the abuser is someone the abused ought to be able to trust. Domestic abuse isn’t something that just affects “those” people (whomever those people might be). Abuse hides in suburbs and cities, dwells in towns and in the country, inhabits mansions and trailers. Victims of domestic abuse are white, black and every color in between. They are male and female, young and old, rich and poor.
Abuse victims are abused because the abuser takes pleasure in abusing them.
I usually write from the point of a female victim of domestic abuse. My mother was abused by my father, I’ve countless friends who have suffered abuse from their husbands and I’ve known it firsthand myself. No matter what age, race or sex the victim, the facts remain the same: The victim isn’t the cause of the abuse. If they are Christians (the point of view I write from), they aren’t being abused because they haven’t prayed enough, because they haven’t submitted enough (or, as a man, haven’t provided well enough or been kind enough), they aren’t abused because of what they are, who they are or what they’ve done. They are being abused because the abuser takes pleasure in abusing them.
There are times when someone will claim to have been abused when they haven’t been. I’ve had folks ask me how to tell the difference between a lie and the truth in this. The best advice I have is to look at the person telling you and the person being told on. If someone is a victim of abuse, they will generally appear care worn, worn down, fearful and be hesitant to share their story. Those who lie about being abused often appear excited to share their stories, seem to want to tell as many as possible and show no (or few) signs of fear of being found out by their supposed abuser.
If someone comes to you telling you their story, please take a few moments to listen to them because few people will. The truth is it’s hard for a true abuse victim to come forward. She (or he) is ashamed of being abused. She is broken from the rubbish spewed at her and about her by her abuser. She’s exhausted from trying to keep up appearances so that no one knows her painful secret (and is afraid of the consequences if her secret is discovered). She’s terrified of her abuser and worn down from trying to appease him. She’s afraid for her children and ashamed of herself that they have to live in a climate of abuse. It takes a lot of courage to break through her defenses and open to to someone, to anyone, about what she’s been enduring. To turn away from her at her moment of truth is the worst thing anyone can do.
Church leaders should let it be known that they will listen to and protect anyone who is facing abuse. I’ve heard of pastors who would get up and preach on abuse, issuing a statement at the end that if anyone is facing abuse and needs someone to turn to, that they will be there for them. I wish more preachers would follow their example.
Abuse isn’t always physical. It can take many forms and all are evil. If someone comes to you asking you to listen to their story, please take a moment to do so. That you will believe them enough to try to help them might be the only hope they have.
photo via voicefordignity