The presence of hurt
“‘Til death us do part” is meant to be a promise of a life-long commitment, not a death sentence. Yet every year, tens of thousands of women around the world are killed by their spouses, ex-spouses or other intimate partners 1. In the United States, The Washington Post (June 2017) reported that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 alone, 3,519 women and girls were killed, more than half of which were crimes perpetrated by their intimate partners. In Singapore, we do not have such statistics readily available, though suffice to say, our numbers are expected to be much lower.
Hurt in a marriage can include physical and sexual violence, and emotional and psychological abuse. In Singapore, the most comprehensive study we have is the International Violence Against Women Survey in 2013, which found the incidence for Physical and Sexual Violence to be 9.6% of the women interviewed 2.
Domestic Violence, and in the context of this article, Spousal Abuse, is a major health, social and criminal problem. It is a criminal problem because under the Women’s Charter it is an offence punishable under the law. The law identifies four acts of violence, namely: to cause Physical Hurt to a family member; Threats to cause hurt; Wrongful Confinement; and Continued Harassment. Although this law is called the Women’s Charter, the protection it offers is both for Women and Men.
Hurting those we love?
It is the sad reality that those we love the most are the very people we tend to hurt. When the hurt is accidental, such actions can be easily dismissed and forgiven. But Spousal Abuse is hurt that is deliberate and intended. For many it has continued for years. But why does it occur, especially in relationships that may have begun out of love, especially in relationships where there may be an implicit duty to protect the other?
In some situations, it may be the absence of love that explains the presence of violence. When one assumes that the other has deliberately withheld love, then that other feels entitled to do likewise. But this still does not explain the deliberate action to hurt and abuse another over and over again. Here we need to consider another factor: that the abuser feels entitled to receive attention and affection, and hence feels they are entitled to punish the other when that is absent.
Abuse and violence toward another, when it is done systematically, deliberately and continuously, shows that the abuser wants to assert power and control over the other. Feminist theorists as far back as the 1960s offered this explanation, and now, even after more than half a century, the theory has stood the test of time. This does not discount the rare situations of individuals who may be sociopaths and hurt others, regardless of gender and relationship.
Here is the conundrum - all of us desire to have control in our lives: control over our personal life (the circumstances of daily living, our work and home) and maybe even control over others (young children, elderly parents). However, when the control is harsh, abusive and violates the other, then the degree and manner through which control is obtained is inappropriate.
"It is the sad reality that those we love the most are the very people we tend to hurt."
Another reason why an individual may assert control over another may have to do with a sense of inferiority and insecurity over the relationship. It is hard to recognise this, especially when the abusive individual appears to be so fearsome. However, underneath all that bluster may be a very frightened individual.
The impact of abuse and violence
Regardless of the reasons for the abuse and violence, the effect is the same. Communication between the spouses becomes initially strained then when the abuse continues, the connection is severed and the respect lost. The sad reality is that the end for many violent relationships is either a dissolution of the marriage, whether emotionally or/and legally, or even more tragically, death.
Some people do not recognise that they are in a controlling and abusive relationship until they are deep into one. Because the person being abused may not be as objective and thinking as clearly, loved ones, family and friends have an important role to play in sharing their concerns about such a relationship.
If you are in an abusive relationship, do something!
The first thing to remember is that you DO NOT have to be in a relationship with someone who is hurtful and abusive. Everyone deserves to live free from harm and violence. This is a basic human right and you do not have to earn it.
Secondly, you do not have to face the abuse alone. There is a whole community of helpers out there. At one end of the community of helpers are the Police, who can be called in to offer protection to the abused and their dependents, and the Courts, who can order that the abuse and the violence cease. Some victims can receive much needed medical attention for their injuries and their frayed emotions whilst other helpers operate Shelters, where victims can go to live should they find their homes unsafe. At the more therapeutic end of the spectrum of services are Counsellors, Social Workers and Pastors who can help rebuild confidence and self-esteem for victims and teach perpetrators how to reign-in their emotions and behaviour. These helpers may also look at how to rebuild relationships when both parties are ready. Help may literally be within a stone’s throw of the abused. There are 47 Family Service Centres spread around the island you can connect with through the ComCare Helpline: 1800 222 0000.
Thirdly, you need to break the silence of the abuse you are experiencing by speaking to someone. Violence and abuse thrive in the stagnant pool of silence. There are three classic responses which victims, perpetrators and even the community make when confronted by violence. They are Denial, Minimisation and Blame. First, we try to deny its existence in our lives or amongst those we know. Then, when we do acknowledge its presence, we try to minimise it by playing down its seriousness or locating its presence in other communities like the Non-Believers or amongst the less educated. And when these two responses fail, we blame the victim for his or her own abuse. In other words, when we advise abuse victims to stop “provoking” their spouse with reminders that the bills are not paid, or requests that they should spend less time with their colleagues and stop neglecting the children, we are insinuating that they deserve what they are suffering. However, when we speak out, we help break the denial. If the confidant from whom you sought help responds in any of the above unhelpful ways (denial, minimisation, blame), then go to someone else who will listen and respond compassionately.
What can the Church Community do?
We should as a Body of Believers should respond to the hurting of any of our members as an assault to the larger Body itself. We should acknowledge its unfortunate presence even within our community and that being Believers does not make us immune to such sin and evil. We should recognise that the presence of evil is a challenge to what our Lord had given as the Institution of the Marriage. Rev Al Miles (2000) wrote to debunk some of the common Myths about Domestic Violence, one of which forms the title of his book, There Is No Abuse In My Congregation 3.
As the bodily expression of Christ’s love, we must be compassionate towards those who are hurting. Let us be courageous and stand up for those who are afraid. Let us help those who desire reconciliation to take the difficult steps to work towards restitution in their relationships.
Helping the abused and the abuser can be a challenging task. Helpers need to focus on helping parties and themselves stay safe in the midst of some very volatile emotions. There are also many issues to be mindful of, such as the safety of others including children, the need for temporary housing, and maybe the need to tackle addictions that might be adding fuel to the conflict. Pastors, Church Leaders and Counsellors should consider receiving training and can approach the Social Service Training Institute, Promoting Alternatives to Violence, the Centre for Family Harmony, or the Society Against Family Violence for help in this area.
Marriages as it should be
Marriages were given to humankind for our survival and also as a reflection of God’s relationship with His people. It was clearly never His plan for marriages and homes to be filled with violence. If you are hurting, please speak to a helper. If we know of someone in a difficult relationship, we must make sure we pray for and/or speak to them, knowing that as we speak out we can help bring an end the cycle of domestic violence.
1. Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark No Place for Abuse. Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence InterVarsity Press 2001.
2. http://www.researchgate.net>publication International Violence Against Women Survey: The Singapore Report. June 2003
3. Revd. Al Miles Domestic Violence. What Every Pastor needs to Know. Fortress Press 2000.
Benny Bong would admit that working with Domestic Violence and with men who are abusive is the last thing he would consider as a smart career choice, having been bullied as a student. But for more than 25 years, he has been with the Society Against Family Violence, a non-profit organisation he helped form. Benny has been counselling for more than 30 years and has his own practice.