Looking out at me from the front page of the newspaper yesterday were the faces of eight women – all killed by their partners or boyfriends. Lovely women and teenagers from all backgrounds. And a little girl, Darcey, aged four who was thrown off a bridge by her father.
Today, there was another story of a woman attacked by an ex-boyfriend. A man who was with the woman, died from stab wounds.
These tragedies are part of a terrible pattern of domestic violence across the world. In Australia, on average, one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence. A woman is most likely to be killed by her male partner in her home.
In England, two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. Globally, one in three women has experienced sexual or physical violence – in most cases from a partner or family member. And men and boys are victims as well – caught up in violence aimed at their girlfriend, daughter or sister; or sometimes victims of violent women.
And despite the horror of such figures and the grief for families that lies behind every incident, a recent Royal Commission on domestic violence in Victoria, Australia points to serious shortcomings in the way women are treated if they come forward for help and highlights that responses can be haphazard and delayed.
So it ends up that women have nowhere to go to escape from relationships that SHOULD offer security and love, but instead create fear, pain and guilt. Domestic and family violence is the principle cause of homelessness for women and their children in places like Australia.
The report had many stories from women in its 2000 pages. One struck me because it mentioned a church leader’s unhelpful response. Susan, who had been raped and beaten and kicked in the belly when she was pregnant, was told by her church leader to go home and improve her cooking and cleaning and be more “obliging”.
Jenifer Johnson from Barbados, who heads up the Women’s Commission of the Evangelical Churches in the Caribbean, still hears from women who have been told by their pastors to return to abusive marriages because it is right to submit. She operates the only refuge for women in Barbados and knows how hard it is for women to leave abusive relationships – there are emotional and economic barriers that keep women at home. She tells Christian leaders very forthrightly that they should not ignore the problem and they should not hold women responsible for the cruelty of men.
We should have a clear understanding that women and men are equal and have inherent value because we are designed in the image of God. And we need to proclaim that message to counter crimes excused on the grounds of tradition or culture.
Many violence issues facing women and girls take freakish cultural patterns.
In the UK, physical and verbal abuse can be used to keep wives in domestic servitude. A ground-breaking case that concluded this week, sent a man to jail for using “violence, intimidation, aggression and misery” to keep his wife as a slave for over two years.
In South Asia, brothers or fathers of girls who they think have disgraced the family’s honour, throw acid, set girls alight or beat them to deliberately disfigure or destroy life. To me it is shocking that a father who is meant to protect his daughter can see her as property to be abused. A recent murder case in India turned out to be vengeful punishment for a daughter who had secretly married into a lower caste. Her father and brothers and even her mother are implicated in the murder.
I think we tend to assume that Christians are not perpetrators or victims of domestic violence and we shy away from aggressive feminist narratives that deem all men to be guilty.
I celebrate the many men I know who are caring and protective sons, brothers and husbands. They are champions of women. But we need to acknowledge that women and children in our churches and families may be suffering and we should be open to talking. We need to model healthy relationships that do not condone any thought that violence is acceptable or that a woman is to blame when she is beaten.
Rather than casting stones of blame, we can cast a net of caring protection and restoration. Like Jenifer Johnson, we can make space to speak truth to men and women about their attitudes, we need to watch out for abuse and we can stand for equality.
If you have any questions about this issue, Restored has a useful FAQs page
Please pray for Jenifer Johnson as she supports women and challenges the church in the Caribbean to take domestic violence seriously.
You can donate to the work of the WEA Women’s Commission in the Caribbean here