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Greater awareness, education and action are key in addressing and preventing domestic violence.
For a comprehensive understanding of domestic abuse, check out the references listed below.
1. What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boy friend or family member.
Domestic violence is not only physical violence or physical assault that results in visible injuries. There are different categories of abuse that each have their own devastating consequences. Types of abuse include:
physical abuse or violence
emotional abuse or psychological intimidation
verbal abuse, coercion, threats or blame
While men can be victims of domestic violence, women make up the majority of victims of such violence. In Canada, domestic violence is identified as one of the most common forms of violence against women.
2. Impact of domestic abuse on children.
Research on domestic violence show that children can be harmed even if they are not the direct target of violence. Children who witness violence at home can suffer immediate or long-term behavioural, emotional or mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children who witness violence at home are at a greater risk of repeating the cycle as adults either by becoming the abuser or entering into abusive relationships. Children are not passive spectators of violence. They actively learn, interpret, and assess what they see, feel and experience. They may learn unhealthy lessons from seeing violence against their mothers, such as "victims are to blame for the violence", "women do not have the right to be treated with respect", or people who hurt others do not get into trouble".
Children need a safe, stable and loving environment. Even if they do not witness the abuse, they may still be negatively impacted by it. Children can hear abuse such as screaming or the sound of hitting. They can see the aftermath, such as injuries and mother crying. They can also sense fear and tension. As a result, children may feel fear, anxious, guilt, confusion, stress, grief, worry, distress, and embarrassment. Without proper support and help, children may develop unhealthy coping methods to deal with the abuse at home.
To learn more, click here for resources from the Government of Canada.
3. How pastors and church leaders can help.
It's important to acknowledge that abusive relationships can exist in the church and within Christian marriages. It's a traumatic and tragic reality for so many women in our communities. Promoting greater awareness, education and action can help to bring awareness and prevent domestic abuse. It's important for pastors and church leaders to stand against all forms of abuse and communicate to their own faith communities that abusive behavior is not be tolerated.
When addressing the issues of abuse, the goals of the church leaders need to include:
The safety of the woman and child(ren);
Accountability and treatment of the abuser to ensure abuse will end and prevent further, and possibly even more serious violence against the victim;
Healing and restoration for the victim. Restoration for the abuser;
If possible, reconciliation.
Additionally, pastors and leaders can also encourage awareness, which may include:
Having a plan to help victims of abuse to ensure their safety. This may include a safe place to stay, financial assistance, support groups at church, referral lists of support centres or counselors.
Hosting training programs for leaders/teachers/etc., informational sessions with experts, ensuring marital and pre-marital courses include discussions about abuse, curriculum in Sunday school and young adult classes about healthy, godly relationships.
Knowing and understanding the responsibilities of the church and its leaders of when it's necessary to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities and when to seek legal help for the victims.
Regularly communicating that violence is wrong and a crime. This is important in establishing that the church is a safe place for victims to disclose abuse and seek help. Victims may not know that a church is a safe place if the pastor never discusses the issue.
There are various reasons why a victim may not disclose or report abuse. Reasons may include fear of further abuse, embarrassment, losing the spouse, staying for the children's sake, economic hardships, fear of not being believed, being blamed for the abuse, being accused of causing disunity, and many more reasons. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and trust for a victim to disclose and seek help. If a victim approaches you, listen to her with respect and empathy. Believe her experience as real and valid. Be patient and reassure her that it's not her fault no matter the reason the abuser gives. Reassure her of God's love for her and that He does not want her and her children to live in a situation where their lives are in danger.
It's also imperative to understand the profound effects of abuse. Trauma of the abuse may persist long after the abuse has been addressed. This includes the effects of abuse on children who are directly abused or live in an environment where abuse exists. The journey to healing can be long and complex. Care, patience, time, respect, empathy, proper training, education and biblical understanding and response to abuse, and loving support and guidance is a vital part of helping a woman to a place of hope and healing.
As pastors, you can be instrumental in bringing accountability and grace to a traumatized and hurting family. You can affirm that God can heal the brokenhearted. You can be a steward of His grace and protection, and show both victim and abuser that God is full of grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope, healing and justice.
"Abuse is Wrong" - Department of Justice, Government of Canada
"Little Eyes, Little Ears: How Violence against a Mother Shapes Children as They Grow" - Alison Cunningham and Linda Baker, the Centre Children and Families in the Justice System, Government of Canada
"Violence in the Family" - Ministry of the Attorney General, Government of Ontario
If you need help, please call a local hotline in your city or town. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
1 Ministry of the Status of Women, Government of Ontario. “Ending Domestic Abuse.” Ministry of the Status of Women, Ministry of the Status of Women, Government of Ontario, Mar. 2015, www.women.gov.on.ca/owd/english/ending-violence/stop-domestic-abuse.shtml.
2 Cunningham, Alison, and Baker, Linda. "Little eyes, Little Ears: How Violence against a Mother Shapes Children as They Grow," Canada.ca, 26 July 2012, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/stop-family-violence/prevention-resource-centre/women/little-eyes-little-ears-violence-against-a-mother-shapes-children-they-grow.html#Fac.
3 op. cit.
4 op. cit.
The Royal Mounted Police (2012). The Effects of Family Violence on Children - Where does it hurt? Retrieved from