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February 2008 Newsletter

Peace and Safety in the Christian Home

And Hagar WENT BACK

by Catherine Clark Kroeger

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hat a disappointment it is when we try so very hard to help a woman who has decided to leave an abusive situation! We scurry around to locate food, clothing, toiletries, toys for the children, furniture and bedding, a place to stay. We approach the deacons for emergency funding. We befriend her and pray for her. We watch the children, drive the survivor to get food stamps and a restraining order – and then suddenly she returns to her abuser! All of our work has been for nothing, or so it seems. We can end up feeling downright foolish about the whole effort. How can we demonstrate a gracious attitude if the victim approaches us again for help? In point of fact, this experience is a very common one. Most women who decide to leave their abusers return approximately seven times before they make the final break. There are many reasons why women go back to the situations from which we have tried to rescue them. The victim may feel that she has no other option for surviving financially, she

may fear that her abuser will kill her unless she returns. The offender may have told the woman that she is totally inadequate to cope without him – and she has bought into his lie. She may fear the rejection of her family or her friends at church. She may cling to her marriage vows and refuse to break the binding promise that she made at the altar. Her pastor may demand that she return. She may have been told that the Bible requires her to remain in the marriage even when her life is at stake – or even that she may win the abuser to Christ if she continues to submit to his abuse. There are some forty other reasons that women return, among them being quite simply that she still loves the perpetrator. But how can we ever get anybody at our church to help any other women if it turns out to be simply wasted effort? Again, the scriptures can help us. We read of Hagar, the Egyptian slave who escaped from the abuse that she was suffering at the hands of Sarah, wife of Abraham. How tragic that he, the father of our

faith, had allowed his wife to mistreat the slave girl whom he himself had impregnated! It may be helpful to remember that even some very pious people have condoned appalling abuse of family members – and Abraham is no exception. As Hagar fled into the desert, she sank down at a well, homeless and friendless. It was at that point that she discovered that she was not after all alone. There God began to speak to her; and in that moment of fleeing from abuse, she came to know the Friend who would always be with her in love and support. There she received a name for her unborn child (Ishmael, meaning “God shall hear”), and there she gave the Lord a Name “the God who Sees.” Actually, she is the only person in all of Bible history who gives God a name, though others experienced the revelation of a divine name. She had discovered that God both hears and sees abused women. Hagar was given a mighty promise – that she should be the mother of a mighty nation, whose people should be as many as the sands of the continued


And Hagar WENT BACK continued desert. And she was promised that her unborn son should be a “wild ass of a man.” This seems a dubious title for an unborn child. Nevertheless both in biblical times and in present day Israel, the wild ass cannot be harnessed or subjected to human domination. Job declared “the wild ass can no man tame.”(Job 39:9-12) Thus Hagar was promised a son who would be freer than free, unshackled by slavery or oppression. And then God SENT HER BACK to the home where she had been abused! In the end, she would go forth from that home with her young son, freed from her concubinage, slavery and oppression, but there were at that crucial moment some pressing necessities. There was a need for shelter and food and care during her impending delivery. We can only hope that Abraham was deeply concerned for the mother of his soonto-be-born child and that she was received back by Sarah with a more gracious attitude. Return does not seem a good option, but in the harsh realities of desert existence, it was the least undesirable option. It was in that first departure from abuse that she found God for herself in a personal relationship. Hagar did not return as the same person who had fled. She knew not only the God who had listened to her plight, but she knew herself as heir of a divine promise. She returned with a new understanding, a different person with a different perspective. The escape, the encounter and the returns were all part of her spiritual progress. How important it is to understand that God deals with people in circumstances that do not always meet with our personal convenience or preconceived notions. We cannot tell what may have happened within the soul of the person whom we consider to have 2

behaved with such ingratitude when we tried so hard to help. Although we may be disappointed when a survivor returns to an environment that does not seem safe, she can return with a new awareness of Christian concern, of God’s care for her, of love and prayer support. She can know what the scriptures teach about God’s condemnation of physical, emotional, sexual and mental abuse. She can go back with the awareness that she did not cause the abuse, cannot control it and cannot cure it. She can go back with prayer support in place. A woman can learn that she can call upon us again, that we respect her right to make her own choice – even though it is one that fills us with concern. She can understand the importance of making a safety plan in case she needs to leave again in a hurry. She can learn how to contact a local shelter, how to keep important documents where she can retrieve them quickly (drivers license, green card, prescriptions, birth certificates for the children). She can figure out through what door or window she might escape, how she can obtain transportation and to whom she can turn for safety. She can contact PASCH to request prayer support (webmaster@peaceandsafety.com) for “God shall hear.” Hagar’s experience did not end with her return to the home of Sarah and Abraham. At the insistence of his wife, Abraham sends out his former concubine, now a freed woman along with her young son. And so she is evicted into the wilderness, this time with the care of a child who rapidly succumbs to the heat of the sun and the lack of water. Nothing is left to her but the wailing of her grief – and it is just then that God hears again and intervenes. Hagar is about to take another

major step in personal and spiritual growth. At first reading, God’s command does not seem particularly sympathetic. “Stand up and take your child by the hand.” If Hagar had previously been sent back to receive care that she needed, she must now learn to care for herself and her child. Feeling helpless or sorry for herself is no longer a viable option. The first lesson will be survival in the desert. The Bible tells us that “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water that she had not seen before.”(Genesis 21:19) She hurries to bring water to revive her child, and together they embark upon a life of freedom and fulfillment. She has come to a place of independence, already filling the role of decision maker as she sends to Egypt for a bride for her son. And what does this story from scripture suggest to us who seek to minister to women that later return to their abusive situation? That the time during which we render them service may afford them an opportunity to meet God in a new way. That window of respite from abuse may constitute an important spiritual milestone. A person who again seeks help should not be condemned for changing her mind but challenged to grow both in her understanding of her situation and of God’s continuing love and care. The church can demonstrate its concern with all the material assistance that is necessary, but the greatest gift is made to the victim’s soul. We may find that the community shelter is far more effective than we in providing for some of her needs, but the people of God excel in prayer support, loving fellowship, and spiritual guidance. As the scripture exhorts us, “Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, as though you feel their pain in your own bodies.” (Hebrews 13:3) and “Never get tired of doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) ó


Partnering for Change: the Church Responds to Domestic Violence Conference in Washington, DC October 10–13, 2008 (Columbus Day weekend) The Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church Takoma Park, Maryland Speakers include Lundy Bancroft (author of Why Does He Do That?), Steve Tracy (author of Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse) Carolyn Rexius (director of Christians Addressing Family Abuse) Nancy Nason-Clark, Julie Owens, Barbara Fisher-Townsend and Catherine Kroeger Registration begins February 15 on our web site, www.peaceandsafety.com.

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n January, I had the privelege of attending the Fifth Battered Mothers Custody Conference in Albany, New York. Each year for the past five years, concerned professionals, advocates, and friends have joined with protective parents (the term given to parents who are seeking to protect themselves and their children from an abuser) to discuss the problems with how our court system handles abuse situations and also to develop solutions through legislation and other methods of reform. The weekend was jam-packed with speakers, ranging from author Lundy Bancroft to actress Angela Shelton to an abundance of attorneys, psychologists, advocates, and protective mothers. About 300 people attended, many of whom are, like myself, mothers in the midst of litigation. We were able to network with each other and with professionals to gain support for our own battles as well as to participate in the process of systemic change. Some attorneys offered free legal advice in thirty-minute segments to attendees. Authors and speakers were on hand not only to sign books but also to discuss the issues. Clearly, this event was greater than the content of the excellent lectures and workshops. On the first evening of the conference, participants were asked to share how we are networking with others in this situation. I was able to stand and share with the group about PASCH and our desire to let Christians know that abused women don’t have to choose between their faith and their safety. I was not expecting the response! After applause, I was asked for our website

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address and contact information. About a dozen people came up to talk to me, and all the PASCH newsletters that I brought with me were gone by the end of the conference. This response shows that PASCH needs to continue to send representatives to other conferences that address domestic violence. While gaining important information to share with the church, we can also share our message with others who are confronting abuse. A National Crisis Many women who escape abusive relationships find that the battle has just begun. If a woman has children with her abuser, the father can often continue to abuse the children and their mother through the court system, visitation, and “parentingrelated” communication. The very society and system that encourages mothers to leave abusive relationships (so that their children are not exposed to the abuse), then do an aboutface when these mothers do leave. Now, mothers are often expected to send their children on visits, usually unsupervised and often overnight, with an abusive man. And now, these mothers are no longer present to offer any kind of protection or support to their children. Many men who abuse their wives also directly abuse their children--emotionally, psychologically, physically, and sexually. How is a mother supposed to protect her children? To compound this horrible situation, many mothers have encountered further abuse in the very court system that is supposed to protect them and their children. By the very act of reporting the abuse and its effects on their children, many

mothers are labelled as “vindictive” and accused of trying to alienate the children from their father. Some time ago, a man named Richard Gardner developed the concept of “parental alienation syndrome.” According to Gardner, if a mother claims that her child has been sexually abused by the father, then she is most likely making it up and brainwashing her child to take her side. These mothers supposedly do this in order to alienate the children from their healthy fathers. This is not a medical diagnosis, and it does not appear in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual that is used for psychological disorders. Gardner published his book and sent it to every court in the country. Then he offered training sessions to court workers such as guardians ad litem. As a result of this man’s irrational campaign, many children have been put in the custody of the abusive parent rather than the protective parent. Eventually, Richard Gardner committed suicide. Unfortunately, his ideas have continued to impact family court decisions. The Fathers’ Rights Movement, which goes by a variety of names (Lundy Bancroft likes to call it the Fathers’ Supremacy Movement), uses concepts such as parental alienation syndrome in order to help fathers, many of whom have been convicted of abuse, use the court system to gain custody and other advantages against their former wives and to the detriment of their children. Many women at this conference have lost custody of their children, and some of them are not even allowed to have unsupervised visitation or telephone calls. I was particularly struck by one mother’s comment that she looks forward to


the day when her children are 18 and she will be able to help them recover from the abuse. This mother has been in litigation for eight years, trying to get her children back. How backward is it, when a mother cannot mother until her children are adults! This would be difficult enough if her children were being well cared for, but we are talking about situations where the mother knows that her children are being abused. What Can We Do? The court system is clearly broken. Societal expectations are warped. What can we do about it? How can we counsel and support abused mothers who are facing these issues? How can we help to pass laws that would require courts to presume that abusive people should not have custody of their children? Fortunately, the work has already begun. Gains are being made. In some states, parental alienation syndrome is not permitted as a rationale in custody cases. Specific judges, evaluators, and attorneys are being called to task for inappropriate decisions and actions. But, as any of us in the situation already knows, these processes are slow and do little to help the people going through it right NOW. So, with an eye to the future, what can we do in the present? Unfortunately, each case is unique, and any blanket advice carries the potential of being bad advice in a particular situation. Some themes did emerge during the conference, however, that may be helpful: 1. Consult a lawyer who knows your state’s current laws regarding your issues. Don’t assume that your case is so straighforward that you don’t need a lawyer!

2. Document all forms of abuse. Take pictures, log phone calls, log infractions of the visitation schedule, print emails, transcribe verbal interactions, etc. Make two copies of all of your documentation, if possible—one safe but nearby (to add to and refer to), and one safer than that. If court officials or police are mistreating you, document that as well. 3. In your dealings with other people, command your emotions. Speak clearly and refer to the facts in your documentation. Be honest about your fears, but keep your voice calm and rational. Learn some relaxation and public speaking tricks to help you stay calm and focused in court and in other confrontational situations. Bring a friend with you! 4. Think carefully, and pray, before giving anything up to the abuser, such as dropping a restraining order or sharing custody. Abusers don’t compromise like other people, and you may find that any ground you give up becomes fuel for his campaign for control. Think of Hitler in Europe. This contradicts advice you will often get from lawyers and even judges who don’t understand the dynamics of abuse. Stay focused on the best interests of the children. This, not revenge, is your motivation.

litigation for thirteen months now, trying to get permission to move with my children out of state, and as of writing this I’m not done yet. I don’t say this to discourage you—I believe that these proceedings are so horrible in part because so many people get worn down and settle their cases and therefore there is little case law and court reform. 6. If you are having problems with a particular judge or other official, you can find out if others are having the same experience and work together to bring accountability. This activism may or may not have to wait until your particular case is settled. Some women found each other by advertising “divorce recovery” groups in the local paper, and then talking about their situations. Think outside the box, but be careful! And remember—Pray. Follow your instincts. Mother your children. God is bigger than a broken court system. He will help you. He has plans for you—not to harm you , but to offer you hope and a future. Joanna Barr ó

5. Be aware that legal battles are usually expensive, and stressful, and take a long time. From personal experience and from talking with other mothers, it seems that divorces in these situations take 2-3 years. (Unless the abuser wants to get remarried, and then you’re done in 60 days.) I have been in

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Interview with Steve Chapman December 8, 2007, By Joanna Barr

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teve Chapman, a committed Christian layman, worked for 26 years in the FBI, focused on combating terrorism. Now retired, Steve volunteers as a court advocate for victims of domestic abuse. Steve is an astute, compassionate listener; I often found myself lapsing into my own story rather than his! Clearly, this man’s warmth, intelligence, and sensitivity to the moment contributed to his success as a federal agent. Thankfully, he is now donating these gifts to abused women, contributing to their success in their own battle against terrorism. For domestic abuse and terrorism have a similar impact on their victims. Steve asserts that domestic abuse is the essence of terrorism, striking at the core of our families, communities, and countries. Victims are terrorized in their own homes, where they should be the safest. The goal of abusers and terrorists alike is to control and incapacitate their victims with fear rather than physical force, although they will use force when they deem it necessary to maintain the fear. As many people in our world today are afraid to get on an airplane, many victims of domestic abuse live in constant fear of what may happen to them if they somehow displease the abuser. Living in this hypervigilant state affects the victim’s health, friendships, and capacity to think through her options. Advocates, ministers, friends, and families can be of great help to a victim of abuse by validating her experience, honoring confidentiality, and encouraging her to focus on safety for herself and her children. Unfortunately, well-intentioned but misguided people can cause great harm. Steve offers an important list of 6

The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12) When it comes to safety planning, Steve passionately encourages women to seek out information as early as possible. He suggests that anyone who is feeling frightened or controlled in her relationship should contact the national or local domestic abuse hotline. This need not be an “admission” or “accusation” of abuse. Many women are afraid to take any “official” steps, such as talking to an agency, because they don’t want to start a process that will take on a life of its own, such as mandated reporting or the filing of charges. Steve suggests approaching this process as a researcher, even saying that you are collecting information for a friend. That way, you can When it comes to safety planning, gather resources, information, Steve passionately encourages women and contacts in the event that to seek out information as early as you decide to use them in the possible. He suggests that anyone who future. Relying on the support is feeling frightened or controlled in her and advice of people who relationship should contact the national are untrained in this area is or local domestic abuse hotline. risky. Many well-intentioned people give horrible advice and leave victims feeling even more helpless and guilty. Furthermore, Don’t divulge to the abuser what she such advice can encourage victims to has told you. Her safety, even her life, may be at stake. remain in dangerous situations that put Don’t be a mediator between the their very lives in jeopardy. Do your two! Domestic abuse is not a “couple research! Keep in mind, however, that problem.” If the abuser wants to many abusers can trace your Internet change, he will need accountability. and even phone usage. If possible, He will not need to be keeping tabs use the computer at the library or at a friend’s house instead of at home. on what his victim is thinking, feeling, In addition to keeping your Internet saying, and doing. This keeps him activities private from the abuser, in a position of control and her in a Steve suggests setting up networks of position of danger, and is therefore safe people and places. A local hotline contraindicated in any effort for or shelter is a great place to start, rehabilitation. The focus now should since there is no question of loyalties. be on the victim’s safety, not on Friends may or may not honor your preserving the marriage. privacy when questioned by the abuser; “The prudent person foresees the like FBI agents, abusers are great danger ahead and takes precautions. “don’ts” when approached by a victim of domestic abuse: Don’t say the following: “What did you do wrong?” “What is your part in it?” “Go and try to be a better wife.” “Look at it from his point of view.” “Are you sure he did/said that?” “I don’t believe you.” “Are you sure you’re not exaggerating?” Don’t send her back. She may decide to return to the abuser on her own, since it often takes 6-10 attempts before a woman will leave her abuser permanently. But don’t contribute to that tendency with your own admonitions!


Steve Chapman

talkers and listeners when attempting to glean information. If possible, set up a separate bank account, in only your name, with debit or credit card attached, so that you have money available to you if you decide to leave. Set this account up with a different mailing address, such as work or a trusted friend. You are the best judge of how to go about funding this account, or a secret stash of cash. You know better than anyone else how carefully your abuser monitors the finances. A little at a time, over time, is better than nothing. Keep the focus on secrecy. Keep your cash, documents, escape bag, etc. in a place where the abuser will not find them. If possible, get a prepaid cell phone to use when and if you escape. If your abuser’s name is on a cell phone contract, he can call the company and ask them to locate the phone. If you do decide to leave, consider going to a shelter in an adjacent town or state rather than the one in your town. Or use the friend of a friend as a contact, rather than a more obvious choice. If you have court orders, particularly ones that state you as the custodial parent, make sure you have a clear copy. Steve states that abusers may doctor a court order to make it appear that you are violating the agreement in order to get you arrested and back under his radar. Whenever possible, Steve recommends documenting specific incidents of abuse. Again, this documentation should be kept in a safe place away from the abuser. Incidents of psychological abuse, such as peeling an apple with his hunting knife in front of you, carry more weight in the legal system if there is a documented history of physical violence and/or threats. If you do seek legal protection, Steve comments that it is often advisable to start strict and then back off later if you decide to, rather

than starting with the least restrictive protection. Again, you are the best judge of what to do in a particular situation, and local specialists can help you sort that through. Steve’s point is that it is often harder, though not impossible, to gain legal protections after time has passed without a specific, physical incident. In conclusion, Steve asserts that the victim’s experience of the abuser is the most important factor. Domestic violence is different from other forms of violence because of the impact on the victim. These victims are special; not in a minimizing way, but the contrary. A violent, frightening person has targeted you. This was his decision. You did nothing to invite this behavior. Unfortunately, you can do nothing to change his behavior or control his decisions. He has made it his business to know everything about you—your habits, your vulnerabilities, your resources. He will decide how far he will go to use this knowledge against you. You can take steps to extract yourself from his control, but it will not Steve asserts that the victim’s be easy or neat. Keep safety as the experience of the abuser is the most priority. Don’t be important factor. Domestic violence is afraid to create different from other forms of violence some new secrecy because of the impact on the victim. in your life. These victims are special; not in a Don’t be afraid minimizing way, but the contrary. A to get the help violent, frightening person has targeted of professionals you. This was his decision. You did who are trained nothing to invite this behavior. in domestic abuse. If a friend, acquaintance, or family member divulges her fears to you, believe her and help her to locate safe, appropriate help. National Domestic Abuse Hot Line 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) ó

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Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH) www. peaceandsafety.com 1095 Stony Brook Road, Brewster, MA 02631 Tel. 508-896-3518. FAX 508-896-6864 A Christian network addressing varied aspects of domestic abuse. Prayer support, biblical and practical resources, literature, conferences, training, research, referrals. “Faithful to the wounded, faithful to the Word.�

1095 Stony Brook Road Brewster, MA 02631 508-896-3518 www.peaceandsafety.com

February, 2008  

PASCH Newsletter: Feb. 2008

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