Help for Battered Women

WHAT can be done to help women who are victims of violence? First, one has to understand what they are going through. Often the harm inflicted by batterers is more than physical. Verbal threats and intimidation are usually involved, so that the victim is made to feel worthless and helpless.

Consider Roxana, whose story was recounted in the opening article. Sometimes her husband uses words as weapons. “He calls me demeaning names,” Roxana confides. “He says: ‘You didn’t even finish school. How could you care for the children without me? You’re a lazy, hopeless mother. Do you imagine that the authorities would let you keep the children if you left me?’”

Roxana’s husband maintains his control by keeping a tight rein on money. He does not allow her to use the car, and he calls throughout the day to check on what she is doing. If she expresses a preference, he throws a fit of rage. As a result, Roxana has learned never to express an opinion.

As can be seen, spouse abuse is a complex subject. To be of support, listen with compassion. Remember, it is usually quite difficult for a victim to talk about what has been happening to her. Your goal should be to strengthen the victim as she deals with the situation at her own pace.

Some battered women may need to seek assistance from the authorities. At times, a point of crisis—such as the intervention of the police—can cause an abusive man to see the seriousness of his actions. Admittedly,  however, any motivation to change often vanishes once the crisis has passed.

Should the battered wife leave her husband? The Bible does not treat marital separation lightly. At the same time, it does not oblige a battered wife to stay with a man who jeopardizes her health and perhaps her very life. The Christian apostle Paul wrote: “If she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-16) Since the Bible does not forbid separation in extreme circumstances, what a woman does in this matter is a personal decision. (Galatians 6:5) No one should coax a wife to leave her husband, but neither should anyone pressure a battered woman to stay with an abusive man when her health, life, and spirituality are threatened.

Is There Hope for Batterers?

Spouse abuse is a brazen violation of Bible principles. At Ephesians 4:29, 31, we read: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth . . . Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.”

No husband who claims to be a follower of Christ can really say that he loves his wife if he abuses her. If he were to mistreat his wife, of what value would all his other good works be? A “smiter” does not qualify for special privileges in the Christian congregation. (1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Indeed, any professed Christian who repeatedly and unrepentantly gives in to fits of anger can be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation.—Galatians 5:19-21; 2 John 9, 10.

Can violent men change their behavior? Some have. Usually, however, a batterer will not change unless he (1) admits that his conduct is improper, (2) wants to change his course, and (3) seeks help. Jehovah’s Witnesses have found that the Bible can be a powerful influence for change. Many interested ones who study the Bible with them have developed a strong desire to please God. Concerning Jehovah God, these new Bible students learn that “anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.” (Psalm 11:5) Of course, for a batterer to change his behavior involves more than not hitting. It also entails learning a whole new attitude toward his wife.

When a man gains knowledge of God, he learns to view his wife not as a servant but as a “helper” and not as inferior but as one to be ‘honored.’ (Genesis 2:18; 1 Peter 3:7) He also learns compassion and the need to listen to his wife’s viewpoint. (Genesis 21:12; Ecclesiastes 4:1) The program of Bible study that Jehovah’s Witnesses offer has helped many couples. There is no room for a despot, tyrant, or bully in the Christian family.—Ephesians 5:25, 28, 29.

“The word of God is alive and exerts power.” (Hebrews 4:12) Thus, the wisdom contained in the Bible can help couples to analyze the problems they face and give them the courage to deal with them. More than that, the Bible contains the sure and comforting hope of seeing a world without violence when Jehovah’s heavenly King rules over all obedient mankind. The Bible says: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. From oppression and from violence he will redeem their soul.”—Psalm 72:12, 14.

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There is no room for a despot, tyrant, or bully in the Christian family

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Correcting Misconceptions

Battered wives are responsible for their husband’s actions.

Many batterers deny responsibility for their actions, claiming that their wives provoke them. Even some friends of the family may buy into the idea that the wife is difficult to deal with, so no wonder that her husband loses control now and then. But this amounts to blaming the victim and justifying the aggressor. Really, battered wives often make extraordinary efforts to pacify their husbands. Besides, beating one’s partner is never justified under any circumstances. The book The Batterer—A Psychological Profile states: “Men who are sent by the courts to treatment for wife assault are addicted to violence. They use it as a release from anger and depression, a way to take control and resolve conflicts, and a tension reducer. . . . Often, they can’t even acknowledge their role or take the problem seriously.”

Alcohol causes a man to beat his wife.

Granted, some men are more violent when they have been drinking. But is it reasonable to blame the alcohol? “Being intoxicated gives the batterer something to blame, other than himself, for his behavior,” writes K. J. Wilson in her book When Violence Begins at Home. She continues: “It appears that, in our society, domestic violence is more comprehensible when inflicted by a person who is intoxicated. An abused woman can avoid seeing her partner as abusive, instead thinking of him as a heavy drinker or an alcoholic.” Such thinking, Wilson points out, can give a woman the false hope that “if the man would only stop drinking, the violence would cease.”

Currently, many researchers consider drinking and battering to be two distinct problems. After all, the majority of men with substance-abuse problems do not beat their mates. The writers of When Men Batter Women note: “Battering is fundamentally perpetuated by its success in controlling, intimidating, and subjugating the battered woman. . . . Alcohol and drug abuse are part of the lifestyle of the batterer. But it would be a mistake to assume that the drug use causes the violence.”

Batterers are violent with everyone.

Often the batterer is capable of being a delightful friend to others. He puts on what can be called the Jekyll-and-Hyde personalities. This is why friends of the family may find the stories of his violence unbelievable. Yet, the truth is, the wife beater chooses brutality as a way to dominate his wife.

Women do not object to being mistreated.

Likely, this idea stems from not understanding the helpless situation of a woman who has nowhere to run. The battered wife may have friends who will take her in for a week or two, but what will she do after that? Finding a job and paying rent while caring for children are daunting prospects. And the law may forbid running off with the children. Some have tried to leave but were hunted down and taken back, either by force or by charm. Friends who cannot understand may mistakenly believe that such women did not object to the mistreatment.