“Out of the abundance of caution,” is the familiar phrase that preceded numerous statements of change enacted due to the ominous predictions of COVID-19. One after the other the announcements rolled out. School closures, businesses required to shut their doors, and recreational activities halted. Then came the announcement of the executive orders to stay at home. It is still a little hard to believe that the nation and even the entire world is shut in by a microscopic attacker.
Many people are finding the COVID-19 stay-at-home regulations to be challenging for various reasons. While it is necessary to stay at home in order to stay healthy and safe, for others staying home brings inescapable threat. Stay-At-Home regulations, while helpful to prevent the spreading of a virus, can increase the emotional and physical danger for those living in abusive relationships.
We are now finding that some areas such as China and France saw elevated incidents of domestic violence and abuse during the period stay-at-home regulations were enacted. We have good reason to be concerned that this will be the reality in the United States as well. National and local domestic abuse hotlines can provide support and resources, but what can the church do?
Caring for those who are in abusive relationships is tricky enough, add in strict regulations on social engagement and it gets even trickier. One of the best things the church can do is become aware of signs of domestic abuse and when we see it, do something. Abuse can be hard to spot. Knowing what to look for is the first step in caring well for those who are facing challenging times in isolation. The following signs are evidence of abusive relationships.
8 Signs of the abuser:
- Humiliates or puts their partner down both privately and publicly.
- Continually blames.
- Controls what their partner wears, what they eat, how they spend money.
- Isolates their partner from friends and family.
- Threatens their partner. Threatens what their partner values (sentimental items, pets, children).
- Yells at their partner.
- Throws things or hits things in anger.
- Postures themselves to have power over their partner. Blocks or restrains them from leaving a room or a conversation.
8 Signs of the abused:
- Low self-esteem.
- Thinks they are the crazy one.
- Feels like they can’t do anything right and that this situation is their fault.
- Feels afraid of their partner most of the time.
- Avoids things that may upset their partner. Manages their environment to keep them happy.
- Engages in self harm.
- Has PTSD responses.
- Feels emotionally helpless or numb.
If you have seen these signs in someone’s relationship it can be hard to know what you should do. The following tips will help you as you seek to care for the person.
8 Things you can do to help the abused:
- Confirm they are not crazy.
- Help them lean into the Lord. Pray for them. Pray with them. Send them regular spiritual encouragements. Affirm to them that the Lord is for the oppressed and sees their plight and is moved with compassion for them.
- Be supportive. Listen to them and let them make their own decisions.
- Check in on them frequently. Be committed to being with them in the future.
- Empower them with a plan. Even a packed bag can give a sense of having options. However, this must be kept secret and safe. Making plans to leave often makes the abuser feel threatened and elevates potential threat.
- Help them focus on healthy behaviors and self-care. Even the smallest thing like taking a walk around the neighborhood provides a little reprieve.
- Don’t over promise but give the help you can. Avoid blaming language if they don’t accept help right away.
- Affirm to them that wanting to get out of the situation is appropriate and normal and the Lord agrees with their desire for relief.
If you are aware of a situation where stay-at-home measures may be putting someone at greater risk, stay connected to that person. Know the number to your local domestic violence hotline and share it with them.
Prayerfully consider other ways you may be able to provide help. Having emergency housing options like a prepaid hotel room can be a way to provide safety and protection in cases where being at home is too risky. I have known churches to cover the cost of a hotel and provide emergency overnight bags filled with personal needs for those who need to spend a few days away to ensure safety. Establishing code words or code messages that can be sent to alert caregivers that help is needed are valuable avenues of care. Sometimes just knowing they have someone willing to help brings great encouragement to an otherwise hopeless situation.
During these difficult days, the church must be on the frontlines in unique ways. While awareness goes a long way in helping, ultimately, we must align ourselves with the heart of God. The Lord advocates for the cause of the oppressed and so should we. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9 NIV).”
God’s word says we ought to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17). This does not have to be in grandiose actions. The simple confirmation of a friend that “you are not crazy” can do good. The recognition that it is a normal and healthy response to want to get out of an abusive situation can be the start of great relief. The reality that you are not alone can bring incredible hope.
Domestic violence is often a missed issue in times like these. And one reason is because it can be hard to spot, especially when we are no longer able to engage in one another’s lives as closely as before. While it is encouraging and necessary to focus on keeping everyone safe from this virus, COVID-19 has brought a sobering reality to light. Sometimes the most dangerous threats are unseen.
Other resources for helping those in abusive relationships are below.
(This article was focused on domestic abuse and violence. Abuse against children is likely to also see a significant increase during this time of stay-at-home regulations. If you suspect child abuse of any kind, consider yourself a mandated reporter. Many states name specific professionals as mandated reporters, but you do not have to be a professional to make a report. If you have reasonable suspicion of the abuse of a child contact your local department of social services for help in reporting child abuse.)