Tag Archives: #domesticviolence

We need more men (and women) to be outraged

This week, Hannah Baxter and her three children (aged 6, 4 and 3) were murdered by being burned alive in their car on what was supposed to be a routine school run. The murderer was Hannah’s ex-husband and father to the three children.

Something like this happens every week here in Australia. In other countries it is more often. Here in Australia, this is relatively ubiquitous news but every so often, as was the case with this one, the country is shocked. There is a conversation about why our domestic violence statistics are so high. There is a vigil. Then nothing happens. Until the next time a woman is murdered.

As I read the opinion pieces, I feel myself swinging between sadness over such a senseless tragedy, anger and outrage that nothing ever seems to happen and so nothing ever changes, and heart-soreness and despair over the lack of voice for women. Are we so dispensable? Are we just to accept that this just the kind of thing that can happen to us?

Is verbal abuse, put downs, physical, emotional, sexual abuse and possibly murder, just something we have to accept as being part of the female existence?

How can this be? How can we be OK with this as a status quo?

The opinion pieces are largely written by women who are expressing their outrage. Unfortunately, outraged women can be sidelined easily – they are banging on again. Of course they are outraged, they are always outraged by this kind of thing.

Women’s anger is seen as un-womanly. It’s screechy and inappropriate. It apparently shows we are overly emotional, irrational and out of control. But women’s outrage and anger has been, throughout history, channeled to effect enormous social change. Women’s outrage has awarded women the vote, it has changed legislation that is discriminatory and unprotective of the disadvantaged, it has started charities, it has opened orphanages and hospitals.

But when it comes to the protection of women in society, women’s outrage can only achieve so much. We need the men to be outraged too.

Where are all the outraged men?

Seriously, where are you?

I need to be clear here – there are many outraged men, and there are many men working tirelessly in the background to make a positive and lasting change, in individuals lives and in our culture. We won’t hear from these people necessarily, but they are there. And many face this issue head on every day in their jobs. I can’t even imagine what they go through and how they process those emotions.

What I mean by this is a call to action for men who could do something but might not be currently – for varied and valid reasons.

If anything is going to change, we need more men to be outraged by this status quo too. If its just women publicly outraged by the abuse and murder of other women, the whole debate can be put on one side as a “women’s issue”. By its very nature then, the issue can be largely ignored.

But this is an everybody issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s our sons and brothers and fathers and nephews and Bible study participants and co-workers and friends. This is not about women protecting women but everyone protecting women. It’s also about all of us together, and with men leading the charge, modelling and teaching other men what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. It is about men calling out other men when they are saying words or displaying behaviour that is not OK. This is about men being real men.

This is even more so for Christian men. Let me explain.

The death of Hannah Baxter and her children, the death of those other women every week, the beating and violent oppression of women breaks God’s heart. It is contrary to everything He wants for us and it is an injustice that carries the full weight of God’s outrage.

God made men and women equal in dignity and value. This alone should make men feel equally responsible for their lives (and equally outraged at their murder). The Old Testament is full of God’s view of justice (Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18 are prime examples of God’s exhortation to care for the poor, disadvantaged, fatherless and alone). In the New Testament, men are to care for their women like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ died for the church. That’s how sacrificial the love of woman is in God’s eyes.

Many of our men are absolutely trying to live to these principles. My words are are a plea to those who may not be, or may not be thinking about it.

God gives men a higher bar. He gives men the bar that Christ himself stretched to – sacrifice of total self.

That being the case, how can we support outraged Christian men to act and to speak publicly as many women are doing? Many aren’t, for many reasons. I wonder if partially it might be that the news is ubiquitous. It might be that feeling that it’s someone else’s story and doesn’t really have anything to do with them personally. It might be a sense of “What can I do?”. I get that. That’s understandable. For all of us.

But it is your story. It’s all of our story. It’s your responsibility because God has called you to be a leader and protector. We can’t do this on our own. We need you.

I don’t know what you can do but perhaps, you could talk about it with your Bible study – just raising awareness and the level of discussion among men (particularly Christian men) would be a great start. Talk about it with your spouse – how can you parent or be friends in a way that starts to correct culture?

Can you start raising your own voice? Can you, as a group of Christian men, talk to your ministers and ask, as a community of God’s men, what you can do? What can your church do? Can you, as a church and as individuals, write to your local member? Exercise your democratic voice? I am going to start writing to my State and Federal members and anyone else I can think of. It’s only me and it’s a start. But what if we all did it? And what if it wasn’t just women but hundreds of men raising their voices too?

What can you do in your workplace? Can you be the one to ask if there is a domestic violence policy? Can you champion it? Can you open the discussion with other men in your business to talk together about what you can do to be aware, protective and supportive of women?

What else can we do? Do you, or your business, have any influence or contacts that could support channels of change?

I don’t know what the answer is. But the more men that make themselves seen and heard being outraged by this issue and willing to stand up against it alongside women, the greater the waves of change will occur.

But I know that something needs to happen. If Hannah Baxter and her poor children’s death goes the way of all others, we’ll be upset for a bit but then nothing will happen until another woman is brutally murdered. The only way things change is to show that men will no longer tolerate this, and are wiling to stand up and do something about it.

Anger that leads to the kind of violence we are talking about is so wrong. But anger that is channeled through outrage to effect change is so positive. We need all of us to express outrage publicly that I’m sure so many have inside. We need you to show it publicly. We need you to feel compelled to stand and act.

We cannot do this alone. Please – let’s work together to change what breaks God’s heart.

Dissecting emotional abuse and why it’s so easy to let it happen

Some things sound like a cop-out or an excuse. Emotional abuse is one of those. Physical abuse we can see. Psychological abuse we can understand. But emotional abuse seems a bit wish-washy. Doesn’t everyone say mean things from time to time? Does that make everyone an abuser? It feels like a blanket “men are mean” accusation, a large net that scoops up everyone and devalues real abuse,

This is why I feel moved to dissect this. Because it is real abuse. And there are people around us suffering from this right now, or suffering with post-trauma. If we can understand it, we can help them. So let’s get into it.

It’s hard for people to understand emotional abuse. First, much of the abuse is unseen so when abuse is declared, people can only judge by the behaviours they have seen and what they are hearing doesn’t seem to match what they’ve witnessed.

Second, people judge the behaviour by how they would feel, and if they wouldn’t feel abused by it, the behaviour is not judged to be inappropriate. The feelings of the victim are judged in comparison to the feelings of someone who is not in that situation.

Third, it’s hard to explain. A popular perception is that emotional abuse is just saying mean things or calling names. It can be those things, but it is so much more. It is the gradual compression of the spirit (more on this below).

Fourth, the victim is subject to the behaviour for years and so it is their “normal”. I’ve written before about the surprising number of women who don’t realise they are in an abusive situation (you can read it here). Think the mythical frog in a pot of boiling water. If you drop a frog into boiling water, it will jump straight out. If you put the frog in cold water, it will keep swimming while it gradually heats up. It grows accustomed to the increasing temperature – until it’s too late.

It is a subtle but tectonic shift over many years. But there is a process. Which means there are red flags you can look out for – flags by which you can protect yourself, or, flags to help you can recognise if someone you know is in a situation like this. I’ve summarised it in the diagram below and then talked through what those steps mean.

“Abuse” is a strong word. Not many people think they are “an abuser”. That’s because people tend to judge themselves by their intentions and other people by their actual behaviour. The majority of abusers intentions are not to abuse. But their behaviour is abusive. Let’s look at the process.

At the beginning of an abusive relationship, there may be some bullish behaviour and subtle control and manipulation. But two things blind the victim to their presence:

  1. The victim’s own confidence, self-esteem, coping mechanisms and support network are sufficient to override any disquiet or cope confidently with any shortcomings in the spirit of compromise within a new relationship; and
  2. Lovebombing” is a real technical team that describes an abusers modus operandi. Here are the main red flags – they will hook up quickly after the last relationship; they will isolate their new partner, shut out friends and so on and place all attention and affection on the partner (and themselves) so they are deeply and exclusively connected. Even if the victim has a large social network, there is an emotional interdependence created, an exclusive bubble; they will likely engage in repeated romantic gestures, extravagant attention and usually will co-habit and/or propose quickly. The reason this is so effective is that the victim is the subject of a Hollywood style level of affection. This behaviour covers over a multitude of subtle manipulation, coercion and power playing.

The next step occurs after some time of diminishing. The victim’s confidence gradually diminishes, their support networks might diminish as they are isolated, or their feeling of being able to talk to those networks diminishes. At the same time, the grand romance diminishes.

Over time, the victim has become more and more vulnerable to bullying, manipulation, control and coercion. But, in the style of the frog in the water, the victim might not know they are in boiling water. They might not know that their partner’s behaviour is not acceptable. It has become their normal.

The victim at this point may be soldiering on in their public life but inside feeling gradually crushed. At some point, as the capacity to cope dips below the level of adverse behaviour experienced, the wheels will fall off. If you’re interested, I’ve written before about the relationship between coping and trauma here.

This can be where the point of recognition occurs – the recognition of being in boiling water.

When the point of recognition occurs, the victim’s responses to the abuser will change as they realise what is happening to them. This is a critical juncture. Because as the victim’s behaviour changes, so does the abuser’s. The bullying and control and manipulation will begin to escalate. Volatility will become greater and more frequent, as will mood swings and the unpredictability as the abuser senses loss of control. Usually this is where gaslighting also escalates – an abusers process of making the victim believe it is their fault, or not happening, or even that they themselves are the abuser (read more here).

Then comes another downward spiral. Self-doubt in the victim leads to hopelessness and despair. This is on top of the emotionally abusive tactics (which are varied, diverse and insidious) which can generate real and deep fear and high levels of anxiety. The volatility of the abuser means that anger explosions don’t even need to happen for the abuse to occur – the fear is enough. Think of it this way: I have a new dog. At first when I was training her, I’d use words and tone of voice and even actions. Now, a mere 3 months later, my dog only has to see the look on my face to feel sure she is about to be shut outside and she’ll dart under the couch to hide from me. Victims have been trained and conditioned to know when to feel fear.

At this point, several possible outcomes are possible. The victim may reach breaking point and leave. Or, the abuse may escalate to physical violence as well.

This is not an outcome that can be tolerated by our community. But it need not reach this point for it to become not tolerable. Emotional abuse ought not to be tolerated by our community either. It is emotional violence. It is damaging and scarring.

When we understand emotional abuse (and this short blog by no means explains all the nuances!) we can become more aware to behaviour that is not ok. It may not be behaviour that is abusive yet – but yet is the key word. If we can see where behaviour is heading in that direction, if we can see some red flags, we can help and support the people around us who may be experiencing this emotional violence and damage.

Just don’t be a jerk

Here’s a shocking thing.

A recent study of 122,000 women found that over a third had been in abusive relationships. But of those 65% of remaining women who said they hadn’t been in an abusive relationship, almost two thirds had experienced problematic, harsh and potentially abusive treatment from a partner.* We tend to think of “abuse” as something visible that those other horrible people do. What this kind of study shows is that many are well into the grey-area of abusive behavior in their relationships – and may not even know it.

A study as far back as 1997 found that over a third of married women had been sexually coerced by their husbands. The reason this is important is that this is not just rape. This is not just coercing particular sexual acts that a partner is not comfortable with.  This can be actions that people don’t even realise are abusive. “Coercion” can include exploiting a woman’s sense of duty, expecting sex after spending money, bullying, repeated pressure or humiliating women into unwanted sex.** This can be particularly difficult to gauge because men and women are created so differently. There is the old joke that men are toasters and women are slow cookers. Women need some encouragement whereas (generally), men need far less encouragement. But when does “encouragement” become “coercion”?

How do we know? How can we tell? And then, how do we approach it better?

The Sydney Diocese drafted in 2017 (and formally accepted at synod in 2018) a document called “Responding to Domestic Abuse: Policy and Good Practice Guideline.”*** It is a great piece of work. At one point, it quotes a clinical psychologist and clergy wife:

“When you haven’t personally experienced abuse, it’s easy to listen with an attitude of
assessing whether what is being reported is really abuse. ‘Would I find that abusive?
Doesn’t everyone argue sometimes?’”

This is the trap that we (and those with their toes in the abusive end of the swimming pool) can fall into. Those listening to the victim’s story may mentally evaluate whether they would find that behavior abusive and judge the story on their own response. The question that has to be asked is not “Would I find that behavior intimidating?”. This is not about you. This is about how the victim perceives the behavior and emotionally responds. The question to the victim must be “Did you feel safe in that confrontation?”

You may not have found that behavior unacceptable. But you’re not the person living that life. When a person has been repeatedly subject to bullying and abuse over a long period of time, their capacity to deal with any situation is far less than someone who has a normal threat response.

Even worse, people can judge their own behavior as acceptable because they themselves would not find it intimidating, scary or abusive, or, have enough cognitive dissonance to not believe that of themselves when called out on it. I have heard a well-educated middle class male state, regarding an incident in which the police were called, say afterwards that the incident couldn’t be counted as part of his behavior pattern because he was upset. Here’s the newsflash. Hardly any abusive person thinks they are abusive – they think they are justified. Saying “You can’t count that, I was upset” is about as cliched as it gets unfortunately.

We hear about domestic abuse on the news a lot and yet things don’t seem to change. Is this partially because we are not yet having a conversation about worrying or inappropriate behavior before it becomes a news story? Do we need to talk more about the kind of behavior that dabbles in that gray-area? Do we need to look more closely at just basic appropriate behavior within our relationships?

This issue requires great humility and honesty and repentance from us all if we are to change this. The first place to start is God’s word:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23

Gentleness and self-control. The cause of much pain and conflict is pride and power. How much might be avoided if our interactions with our partners were marked not by pride and power, but by gentleness and self-control. This would mean regulating our natural negative emotions and processing them through our discipleship growth.

Anyone can do a marriage course (and they should!) but we can fall into the trap of making our discipleship a personal goal which is compartmentalised from outward interactions. The fruit of our journey in Christ-likeness must be shown in our interactions – and particularly our conflicts – with others.

What we need is for our churches and ministers to have discussion groups and seminars and courses on appropriate behavior in marriage. What does it look like? I mean, really look like? Get down and dirty with the truth. Are there some basic things that could come across as intimidating just because of physical differences? Are there things that we personally do that could come across the wrong way? When we get angry (which is natural), how do we process and regulate it so we can respond with gentleness? Or do we let it come out, un-filtered, in our words, tone, pitch, vocal register, our physicality, facial expression and stance. Are there things that your partner finds intimidating but doesn’t say? We need to find opportunities to talk about these things outside of conflict.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) This doesn’t say “Attack is the best form of defence.” This doesn’t say “You must prove yourself right.” This definitely does not say “If they don’t agree with you, they are by nature wrong.” What this boils down to is gentleness and self-control.

What this can also boil down to is just don’t be a jerk. This does not just go for men. This is also women. Women can be jerks too. Our discipleship growth is not the only answer, but it sure starts laying a good foundation for some long-term cultural shifts. We need to not respond to these harsh truths with hurt pride, but with humility and willingness to work together – and work hard.

What this also needs is a conversation. Because there is some pretty awful behavior happening that ends up in very bad places. It also ends up with people in our churches crumbling on the inside and needing things to change and needing someone to love and protect them.

Just because we are grown up doesn’t mean that we know everything. There may well be some behavior that needs to be repented of. At the very least there should be conversations within relationships and groups about what this might mean. And if you’re going well (which most are!), be a support to a brother or sister. Help them to understand and help them to course-correct.

There should be a commitment to learning and growing together – which is exactly what the Bible exhorts us to do anyway. We will not be finished until the last day, so in the Spirit, let us lift each other up, not pull each other down. But please, just don’t be a jerk.

 

* https://www.businessinsider.com.au/two-thirds-of-women-dont-realise-they-experience-abusive-behaviour-2018-5?r=US&IR=T

** https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12477095

and

https://truthout.org/articles/its-time-to-confront-sexual-harassment-within-marriage/

*** https://safeministry.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Responding-to-Domestic-Abuse-Policy-Guidelines-and-Resources.pdf