Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence every year.
Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than 6 million children. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.
The prevalence of child sexual abuse (CSA) is difficult to determine because it is often not reported. But experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities.
Now if you think that these type of crimes are reserved only for non-Christians, think again! Studies reveal that domestic violence and child sexual abuse is just as common within the evangelical churches as anywhere else. This means that about 25 % of Christian homes witness abuse of some kind!
Because these numbers are so shocking, you may be wondering if the studies were done by secular researchers hostile to the church. Sadly, they were not.
Denise George, a gifted writer and the wife of theologian Timothy George, has published a new book called What Women Wish Pastors Knew. “Spouse abuse shocks us,” George writes. “We just cannot believe that a church deacon or member goes home after worship . . . and beats his wife.” Tragically, however, George notes, some of these men justify their violence “by citing biblical passages.”
Well, obviously they’re misinterpreting Scripture to justify their actions. In Ephesians 5:22, husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Beating your wife black-and-blue hardly constitutes Christian love! 1 Peter 3:1-7 tells husbands to live with their wives considerately. And the Bible makes it clear that the Church has no business closing its eyes to violent men. In 1 Timothy 3:3, the church is told that when it comes to choosing leaders, they must find men who are “not violent but gentle,” sober, and temperate.
The amount of domestic abuse in Christian homes is horrifying, and the Church ought to be doing something about it! But sometimes pastors, albeit with good intentions, do more harm than good.
George sites a survey in which nearly 6,000 pastors were asked how they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence. 26% said they would counsel them to continue to “submit” to her husband, no matter what. 25% told wives that the abuse was their own fault for failing to submit in the first place. Astonishingly, nearly half of the pastors surveyed said women should be willing to tolerate some level of violence because it is better than divorce! Do they not understand that advice like this often puts women in grave danger—and in some cases, can be a death warrant? Pastors need to acknowledge that domestic abuse in the Church is a problem, and learn how to counsel women wisely.
Equally as tragic is that child sexual abuse continues to destroy the bodies and souls of untold numbers of children around the country. In her book, “Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and other Sex Offenders”, clinical psychologist Anna Salter revealed that her own interviews of sexual offenders found them admitting to having perpetrated between 10 and 1250 victims! She also writes that every offender she interviewed had been previously reported by children, and the reports were ignored.
It is critical to note that this abuse is no less prevalent within the faith community. In fact, there are studies that demonstrate that the faith community is even more vulnerable to abuse than secular environments. The Abel and Harlow study revealed that 93% of sex offenders describe themselves as “religious” and that this category of offender may be the most dangerous. Other studies have found that sexual abusers within faith communities have more victims–and younger victims. This disturbing truth is perhaps best illustrated by the words of a convicted child molester who told Dr. Salter: “I considered church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.”
Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually abuse as children. This means that a church of 200 members will have at least 41 child sexual abuse survivors, or over 20% of the congregation! Yet, sexual abuse is still too seldom talked about inside our churches. How would your church respond if: 20% of the congregation had cancer; or 20% of the congregation had lost a child; or 20% of the congregation had been fired from employment?
I would predict that any of these issues would become a primary focus of the church’s ministry. Pastors would preach sermons addressing the spiritual issues associated with this trauma and church members would reach out in love and service to those experiencing such deep hurt.
Then why does the Church refuse to respond to child sexual abuse in silence? As part of the body of Christ, we must learn to approach the horror of child sexual abuse no differently.
Perhaps these statistics can help drive our churches to become places of refuge and healing for abuse survivors who are silently suffering in our midst:
• 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
• Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.
• During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
• Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
• Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
Are you in an abusive relationship? Below are warning signs of an abusive personality:
• Jealousy: Excessively possessive; calls constantly or visits unexpectedly; afraid that if you go anywhere by yourself “you might meet someone.”
• Controlling: Interrogates you intensely (especially if you’re late) about whom you talked to and where you were; controls all the money; insists you ask permission to do anything.
• Isolation: Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses people who support you of causing trouble. Puts down everyone you know- friends are either stupid, or slutty.
• Blames others for problems or mistakes: It’s always someone else’s fault when anything goes wrong.
• Makes others responsible for his feelings: The abuser says things like, “Why do you always do things that make me angry?”
• Hypersensitivity: Is easily insulted, uses hurt feelings to justify abusive behavior.
• Cruelty to animals and children: Kills or brutally punishes animals. Also may expect children to do things that are far beyond their ability (whips a 3-year-old for unintentional accidents) or may tease them until they cry.
• Verbal abuse: Constantly criticizes or says blatantly cruel, hurtful things. Degrades, curses, and calls you ugly names.
• Sudden mood swings: Switches from sweet to violent in minutes.
• Often makes threats: Says things like, “I’ll break your neck,” or “I’ll kill you,” and then dismisses them with, “Don’t take things so literal!”
• Breaking or striking objects during an argument: Slams fist on tables, punches walls, throws objects across a room, pushes, shoves, or physically restrains you from leaving room.
If you are in an abusive relationship with someone, get away! Call someone to help you–A friend, a women’s shelter or the police. It may just save your life and the lives of your children.
Because it rarely stops….
Resources to help: