Friday, June 22, 2007

Spotlight on woman abuse

"So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, 'Get up; let's go.' But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home." (Judges 19:25-28)

Woman abuse is defined as treating a woman with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. The physical form of abuse includes behaviors such as pushing, slapping, punching, kicking, and biting. Sometimes objects are used to inflict harm, such as a knife or gun. Many times, rape and other forms of sexual assault are also involved. The psychological form of abuse is more difficult to document because it often goes unrecognized, even by the victims. It can include repeated verbal assault, sleep deprivation, threats of violence or abandonment, financial deprivation, coerced sexual relations, and public harassment. Almost all occurrences of physical abuse will include psychological abuse, but not all occurrences of psychological abuse will include physical abuse. All victimized women, no matter what the specifics of her abuse, experience tremendous physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma. The details of such trauma have been documented in great depth by Lenore E. A. Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, Second Ed. (New York: Springer Publishing, 2000). See also Mary Susan Miller, No Visible Wounds: Identifying Nonphysical Abuse of Women by Their Men (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1995).

While abuse has many appearances, occurs in many places, and affects women in divergent ways, one need only look at the frequency of its occurrence to understand the magnitude of the problem. Research has shown that a woman, whether living in the so-called First World or the developing world, is more likely to be injured, raped, or physically threatened by a current or former intimate male partner than by a stranger or any other person. On every continent, at least one in ten women report being physically abused by an intimate male partner. One in four women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This means that, of the approximately 4.5 billion women around the world, about 450 million have suffered physical abuse by an intimate male partner, and about 1.1 billion have been sexually assaulted.

In the United States, where there is more reliable documentation and study of abuse, the evidence shows that women are being abused every day, in every socioeconomic class, in every religious group, in every ethnic category, all over the country. Every 15 seconds a woman is abused in the US. Abuse is the single largest cause of injury to women in the US, greater than the number of injuries sustained from car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Thirty-five percent of women who seek treatment at a hospital emergency room are there for symptoms of ongoing abuse. Thirty to forty percent of female homicide victims are killed by their male partners. Every day, ten women are murdered by their male partners. Every five years, more women are murdered by their intimate male partners than the number of all American lives lost in the Vietnam War (Betty Coble Lawther and Jenny Potzler, “The Church’s Role in the Healing Process of Abused Women,” Review and Expositor 98 [2001]: 228-230). These statistics do not include psychological abuse or threats of violence, factors that, if documented, would significantly increase the reported numbers of abused women worldwide.

Indeed, if woman abuse were avian influenza, it would be a pandemic. For a disease to qualify as a pandemic, it must be a widespread infectious epidemic that affects entire continents or even the world. By this definition, the Black Death in Europe and the spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are pandemics. Although woman abuse is not “infectious,” per se, many sociologists have noted that it is a behavior arising from a predominant ideology of male superiority that maintains its power by being passed on to the next generation. In this sense, I think a case could be made for pandemic status for violence against women.

I know the people of God have something to say about woman abuse, for our God is one who fights for the oppressed and sets the captives free. I would urge you to educate yourself about this exceedingly important matter so that you are better prepared to be a source of hope and healing to the abused women all around you. If one in ten women worldwide are being abused by there intimate male partner, then its possible that 10% of your church's women have experienced or are currently experiencing abuse right now.

For more information on woman abuse, especially as it relates to pastoral counseling and Christian ministry, I would highly recommend the following volumes:

Catherine Clark Kroeger and James R. Beck. Healing the Hurting: Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark. No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001.

Nancy Nason-Clark and Catherine Clark Kroeger. Refuge from Abuse: Healing and Hope for Abused Christian Women. Downers Grove: IVP, 2004.

Mary Susan Miller. No Visible Wounds: Nonphysical Abuse of Women by Their Men. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1995.


Alycelee said...

Emily, I apprecite this post.
It is a serious problem and one that most are hush hush about.
People just don't want to believe this could happen in someones life that they know.
It does. Thanks again.
I didn't know you had a blog. Thanks for the link-I will do the same.

Debbie Kaufman said...

I echo what Alyce has said Emily. This is an excellent post. This needs to be told and told loudly. Unfortunately it happens even in our churches. Shame causes silence.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Hey Alyce Lee and Debbie! Thanks for stopping by. I spent a semester studying woman abuse in the US, especially the pastoral and theological responses to it. It was tough, to say the least. Like Debbie says, we haven't done a good job speaking out in defense of our women. Unfortunately, sociological studies have shown consistently that "religious homes" are more likely to host abuse of women than "non-religious homes" (esp. ones that forward a hierarchical view of marriage). Anyway, its a problem and I hope to be a small part of God's solution.

Grace and peace to you both,