Good Things to Say to a Domestic Violence Survivor
In my last post, I provided a list of statements made to me along my journey that were hurtful or inappropriate. In this post, I would like to share with you a list of statements made by church leaders that have been helpful.
“We have a place for you to stay.”
After my children and I had gone to our own church for help and had been rejected, I went to a nondenominational prayer group with some other moms. I broke down and let them know what had happened to us and how we needed shelter. The next thing I know, one of the moms approached me and told me her church had a house we could use as a safe house. I was so filled with gratitude and relief that I just sat there and wept. Not only was I weeping because I would not have to go back home and put myself and my kids in more danger, but I received this generous offer from a church that I had never set foot in until that day. I know that not every church has this resource available to them. However, if the domestic violence shelter is full, there may be other resources available. Maybe a domestic violence victim can stay with a family from the church for a while, or maybe the church can pay for a few nights in a hotel until the victim can find another place to stay. Local law enforcement officials may have some suggestions as well.
“Let us help you.”
It is very hard for me to accept help. However, when my kids and I were living in the safe house, we had nothing, at first. I quickly learned how to accept help. Over the years, I have been in situations in which my kids and I needed help. The people who knew us best seemed to be able to anticipate what we needed, or would find some way to surprise us with what we needed. It felt great to know that I was not carrying this huge burden alone. I sometimes take great pride in and gain confidence from being able to accomplish things all on my own, but there are times when the burden gets heavy and I need the body of Christ to help carry some of the burden. Over the years, I have received various kinds of help. I have received everything from financial help to practical help, such as help cleaning viruses off my computer. I have received gift cards every once in a while, as well as food or cooked meals. I have received services for free or for a small donation, like haircuts for my kids. Even though I have received this sort of help, I have still always been the one primarily responsible for providing for and raising my children. I know I am not the only domestic violence survivor with a lot on my plate, so to speak. A lot of domestic violence survivors are trying to juggle all of the following: establishing a safe environment for themselves and their kids, trauma recovery for themselves and/or their kids, providing for their kids (a lot of abusers withhold child support or pay just enough to stay out of jail), legal processes and fees (this can be ongoing until the children become adults or if the abuser is still bothering the abused after separation), divorce recovery, raising children who have witnessed domestic violence, household responsibilities, car repairs, and being the spiritual head of the household. If there is something your church can do to help alleviate some of this burden, then please, offer to help.
“You don’t need to live with someone who is trying to kill you everyday.”
This statement is blunt, but true. It gets right to the heart of the matter and I will never forget how I felt when this statement was made to me. I felt like this particular church leader cared about me and my kids, a big change from some of the other church leaders I had encountered. Someone else valued our lives. Someone else understood why my kids and I had left my abuser and never went back. In contemporary terms, someone else “got it.” I have met a few other church leaders who “get it,” and it is always like a breath of fresh air to be around them. Some of them knew others who had been abused, so they knew how to handle my situation in regard to what to say and what not to say. I encourage you, as church leaders, to take the time to educate yourselves about domestic violence. There is, statistically, at least one in four women affected by domestic violence, so the odds of there being an abuse victim or survivor in your congregation right now are quite high. Learn how to help them. Chances are, she may come to you before she even goes to the police if you show you are a safe person in her life.
“We will be there for you when you go to court.”
I have been blessed to have people either praying for me outside the courtroom or praying for me at a distance when I have had to go to court. Going to court is a nerve-wracking experience, even under the best of circumstances. Seeing my abuser and being questioned by attorneys for hours is less than pleasant. It can be downright painful, especially when I am asked to give details about the abuse on the witness stand; I have had to re-live the trauma in court several times. I have also experienced undesired outcomes in court. However, I believe having these “court prayer warriors” made a difference; even on my worst day in court, I have always had the strength to stand when it was over. Praying outside the courtroom, or being a prayer warrior on court day, is a practical and easy way to help a domestic violence survivor.
“We will be there when you exchange the kids with him.”
Over the course of my journey, I have had people either accompany me to exchange the kids or meet me at the exchange location. This has not been consistent or even often, but when I do get someone to do this for me, it is quite helpful. Having to hand my kids over is extremely difficult, as is seeing my abuser. Having another person around eases the tension of the situation. I have seen potentially re-victimizing situations be diffused due to the presence of a third person. It is extremely difficult to get a court order for monitored exchange or supervised visitation (which would eliminate this problem) in some jurisdictions. This is one of those areas in which the church may be able to stand in the gap until the exchange arrangements can be changed.
“You are invited.”
These words are music to my ears. After being in a relationship that was very isolating and after dealing with some negative church issues, it is important for me and my kids to know that we are part of a family. What we have been through sometimes makes us feel different than anyone else, and we feel like we do not belong when we are with certain groups of people. It is very comforting and reassuring to be invited to do things with other members of the body of Christ. In other words, we need fellowship. We have had times over this journey in which we were in fellowship with others quite regularly, outside of church, and I believe it made a big difference in being able to cope with our situation. There have also been times in this journey in which there has been hardly any fellowship, and that has been a source of frustration.
“I don’t ever want to hear about you being alone on the side of the road at night ever again.”
This statement may sound a bit coarse, but the person who made it did so out of concern for my safety. As a single mom and a domestic violence survivor, I do not have any one else to protect me and look out for my safety. My abuser, of course, did not protect me and the legal system has failed to protect me as well. So, it is a beautiful thing when the church steps in and acts protective over me and my children. I recently came to the realization that not only do I need to be protected, I am worthy of protecting. I am trying to learn how to better protect myself and my children, but it is nice to have others show their concern for our safety as well. I also still sometimes have trouble asking for help. I know the person who told me this meant there would be help available to me if I needed it. I knew there would be an action, not just words. Just like other domestic violence survivors, I was in a relationship in which the words spoken to me by my abuser were empty. I need to know that people really mean what they say in order to trust them. If you offer to help someone, please mean what you say.
I leave you with this verse. It is James 1:27, “ Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
The Soul Care Collective often handles content that can be sensitive and in some circumstances, it may pose potential dangers for our writers. For example, writing about domestic violence experiences can expose the writer to increased danger from retaliation or litigation. The members of the Soul Care Collective steering committee believe that no person should have to choose between having their most authentic voice heard and being exposed to harm. Therefore, with some specifically chosen posts, our author’s name will appear as anonymous in order to provide confidentiality. Each anonymous author has been thoroughly screened to validate his or her personal story, and works directly with a steering committee member during the writing, editing and publishing process.