By: Carol Penner
If you see or suspect abuse is happening
It is your business. You are your “brother’s keeper.” If you are afraid that someone is being hurt, step in and help. Abuse is a crime and needs to be confronted. Letting someone continue to abuse is not helping them. It is not helping anyone. It is allowing the situation to get worse. People are permanently scarred by abuse, and it needs to stop.
Perhaps you are reading this because you are the person being abused. You may love the person who is hurting you very much. But letting them continue to abuse you is not the best way to help them. People who abuse don’t stop abusing. Violence tends to escalate. Someone needs to intervene. Something needs to change so that they can get help.
God offers hope and healing to all of us, but we can’t always do it by ourselves. We need the help of law enforcement officers, counsellors, psychiatrists and social workers to help us.
You may not want to report them because you think they can get help while still living with their family. You think, “But they are a good person. They are so kind and loving to so many people. This is just one area where they are having some problems.” Maybe you make excuses for them, thinking, “They are stressed out; they just need a bit of help with anger management.”
Abuse is not about “loss of control.” It is about control. They are using violence to get their own way. They are using violence to terrify people. Abuse leaves terrible scars.
If you are outside a family looking in at abuse. Intervene now. You don’t know how much worse things can get, and you may not have a full picture of what is actually happening. There is hope for your friend, but they need help. They need to be taken out of the situation where they are abusing someone. They need professionals to intervene to get to the root of why they are being violent.
When someone you care about is accused of abuse
If you talk to your friend about their abusive behaviour they will likely respond with denial, minimization, blaming, threats, or anger. They may say:
- “She came onto me,” which blames the victim.
- “She won’t even remember this, she’s too young,” which is a minimization of rape.
- “She is exaggerating, I only did such and such,” which is an attempt to discredit the victim, and minimize the crime.
- “This happens all the time in families,” which is an attempt to normalize criminal behavior.
- “If you say that again, I will have to shut you up,” which is a threat.
- “Look how much good I’ve done in the community, this can’t be true,” which is a way of trying to deflect attention from a crime.
These responses are typical from people who have abused others. In order to abuse others they have probably lied and covered things up, and it is hard to break that habit.
What if they are falsely accused?
Most people who are accused of intimate partner violence or of sexually abusing someone are guilty. Almost all people who are accused claim that they are innocent. A small percentage of people are falsely accused. If that is your friend, they may feel very vulnerable and alone.
In the past, survivors of abuse were uniformly ignored and silenced. They were simply disregarded. Abuse just wasn’t taken seriously, and so millions of people, mostly women and children, lived with abuse day in and day out and all night long. Today, our society theoretically takes abuse very seriously. We say we believe survivors, and people accused of abuse are often removed from positions of power, or from their families, until their case is tried in court.
While you may feel that the pendulum has swung too far in protecting survivors, actually an extremely small percentage of people who hurt their partners or sexually abuse children ever go to jail. The system is still very weighted in favour of people who are accused of abuse.
If your friend is falsely accused, encourage them to maintain their innocence without attacking or maligning the person who is accusing them. They will have a chance to lay out the facts in court. However, most people who stand by a friend accused of abuse later do find out he/she was abusive. Be aware of manipulation and lies. Just because your friend is such a good person, doesn’t mean that they are innocent. Actually, people who abuse their partners or sexually abuse their children are often very “good people,” doing kind things in the community and helping others. They become super-achievers to cover their sins and convince themselves and others that they are innocent.
Remorse is not enough
If your friend is confronted with solid evidence of abuse they have committed, they may feel remorse. They may feel sorry for what happened. This may be a very uncomfortable feeling for them.
However, there are lots of reasons people feel remorse. They may be sorry they are caught. They may be sorry that people have accused them. They may be sorry they aren’t getting away with anything anymore. They may still be blaming others. They may be sorry that they are going to face consequences, that they must talk to the police, and may face a trial and go to jail. They may mostly be feeling sorry for themselves that their family is broken up, and that they can’t live at home.
They may start to actually feel sorry that they have hurt someone, a vulnerable person, someone they loved. This is the hardest and most difficult thing to feel sorry for, because in order to abuse someone, they have probably minimized what they’ve done. For a long time, they’ve convinced themselves that it’s OK. For most people who abuse, it will take years of counselling for them to begin to feel empathy for the victim and begin to understand what they’ve done.
Taking responsibility is a hard road, but it is possible. It is made possible by friends who stay with them, who believe they can change, and who will hold them accountable for their actions. A true friend will not overlook abuse, and hope that it will go away. A true friend will make sure their friend gets the professional help they need.
And see the “Congregations: Resources” section of this website