It is my firm belief that, as Christians, we should be far more concerned about issues such as domestic violence than we seem to be most of the time.
A little over a week ago, the Guardian newspaper reported that the UK’s largest domestic dispute charity, Refuge, had reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. Campaigners on this issue have called for hotel chains to open up vacant rooms to women fleeing abuse and, to be fair, hotel chains have responded to this. And two days ago, the government announced a pledge of £76 million to support people who are, “trapped in a nightmare at home” during lockdown.
And I guess it’s that “trapped in a nightmare” phrase that makes most of us pause. I spent most of the 1970s doing a job of work that involved very immediate involvement in domestic abuse and violence. I saw one or two things that even now, forty-something years on, still either give me pause for thought or make me shudder. But the thing I could never get my head around (and I’m sure there are many like me in this respect) was this question, “Why do they stay?”
Just before lockdown, I was queuing in the doctors’ surgery. I’m a sucker for second-hand books and I was standing right next to a table full of them. I picked up a virtually unread paperback by the Birmingham MP Jess Phillips, titled, “Everywoman”. I’ve long admired her can-do approach and her candour when interviewed, so I bought it. I’m glad that I did.
One chapter is titled, “The truth about violence” and it’s an eye-opener, particularly in answering the question posed above. I contacted her, and she’s been kind enough to permit me to quote extensively. The next part of this is, therefore, her work, not mine.
She writes (and I have had to edit for the sake of brevity):
As an aide memoir, here is my handy guide to why she doesn’t leave.
She is terrified about what will happen if she does
If someone has abused you to the point that you have to be rescued from them, the likelihood is that they’re the controlling type. Once the woman has left and the perpetrator has lost control, the perpetrator’s actions are unpredictable, dangerous and, in too many cases I have dealt with, fatal.
We spend our time urging women to leave for their own safety, whereas in reality, many know that leaving, without support, will put them at greater risk than staying.
Unless a woman can access genuinely safe support or secure an easy and quick conviction against her abuser (ha ha ha), leaving is a very real and present danger.
She will lose everything
Imagine you are sat in your office. The fire alarm starts to sound and helpful people start to usher you towards the exit. What do you do? A) Drop everything and dash to the nearest exit, or B) Pick up your phone, your bag, maybe your coat or perhaps even the paper?
If you answered A) you are lying to yourself. Everyone in the world picks up their phone at least. Yet we expect women to literally pick themselves up one day and leave behind their homes, their hopes, their dreams, their shoes, clothes, income, friends, family and – in the most heart-breaking cases – their children.
For many women, walking away from domestic violence means that they lose everything they ever had. For some it’s a price worth paying but don’t for a second think it’s an easy decision to make.
She will have her children taken away from her
Every day there are women who stay put because they have been told that if they speak up, go to a refuge or ask for help, social services will come along and take their children. This is a tactic used by perpetrators to great effect.
If you call the Police and tell the truth, chances are a social worker will be assigned to you. This terrifies women who would do anything to stay close to their children.
She cannot see her situation as violent; it is just her life
In the refuge where I worked there was a woman who would come in for respite. She had been married for decades to a man she loved. He used to bash her about. She would never have considered leaving him, and we would never have pushed her to, but we were there if she needed a break from it. This is the case for lots of women. They have learned to tolerate and accept their abuse as part of the normal pattern of their lives.
Next time you hear someone ask why a woman stays, why she didn’t leave, I ask you to pull out one of these handy answers. Apply even one of them to your own life and tell me with certainty that you would leave. We have got to stop judging women for staying in abusive relationships. The question should never be, “Why does she stay?”. It should always be, “What can I do to support her even if she is never going to leave.
That’s the end of my quotes from Ms Phillips excellent book. I make no apology for putting them at such length, for these are sobering words of wisdom that should make anyone who claims the Christian faith to sit up and take attentive notice.
The first thing that strikes me is that Jesus was pretty clear where we stand on this. He told his disciples, “Judge not, or you too will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7: 1-2 (NIV)).
Furthermore, Luke 14 tells us that Jesus read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4: 18-19) and concluded by telling His audience that He was the fulfilment of this prophecy. Telling words in the context of this post and a challenge to all of us who claim to be His followers.
Let me conclude with a sobering statistic. On 15th April The Guardian reported that “At least 16 suspected domestic abuse killings in the UK have been identified by campaigners since the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were imposed, far higher than the average rate for the time of year, it has emerged.” The figures came from an organisation called Counting Dead Women, who discovered that this number is more than three as high as the average of five deaths each year in the same period over the last ten years.
COVID-19 is bringing unprecedented challenges to the church, many of which we are meeting in novel and innovative ways. The challenge is this, “What can we, corporately and individually, do here?”