Wolf in sheep’s clothing: Christian circles are not immune to sexual and domestic abuse

Members of Southern’s campus stood in solidarity against domestic
abuse last week on “Purple Thursday.” Klasing encourages readers to
treat every day like “Purple Thursday.” (Photo sourced from Pexels)
Members of Southern’s campus stood in solidarity against domestic abuse last week on “Purple Thursday.” Klasing encourages readers to treat every day like “Purple Thursday.” (Photo sourced from Pexels)

Written by : Brett Klasing

Writer’s Note: This article uses the terms “domestic abuse,” “domestic assault” and “domestic violence” interchangeably for the sake of inclusion. Likewise, the terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” and “sexual violence” are also interchanged to represent a broader view of the topic.

On Oct. 19, known as “Purple Thursday,” Southern Adventist University students and staff wore purple to support victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Several individuals on campus took part in the national campaign to acknowledge friends, families and strangers that face these abhorrent forms of violence and take another step forward in creating a safer community. We must stand in solidarity against this monster that threatens to harm members of our society. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), an average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States alone. One in four women and one in nine men experience severe emotional, sexual or otherwise physical intimate partner violence, and there are more than 20,000 calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide on a typical day.  Forty-three percent of dating college women reported experiencing violence and abusive tendencies by their partners, and one in five were sexually assaulted in college. Tragically, the list goes on.

 Surely our traditional Christian community offers a safe haven for those seeking shelter from these issues. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the answer is often no. Instead, our Bible and culture is repeatedly weaponized for power and abuse.

In a joint study conducted by Marciana Popescu, professor in the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University, and René Drumm, senior research professor of sociology at Andrews University, domestic violence in conservative Christian environments and faith-based communities was assessed, and it was discovered that controlling behaviors and escalating violence are extremely prevalent in both local and regional conservative Christian groups. When comparing data to various national samples, researchers found that physical victimization was often as similar to and more common than national rates. Additionally, women participating in the study reported that sharing their experiences with religious leadership or clergy actually increased their emotional and spiritual pain, and the church’s beliefs about men and women made them feel like they could not speak up due to a variety of religious reasons.

The lack of safety in the conservative Christian environment must not be overlooked. Ask yourself how many times you have heard things like, “He would never do something like that,” or “He’s such a good guy; don’t ruin his reputation.” 

Victims of sexual and domestic abuse or assault can face responses of “But he’s so spiritual” and “Maybe you asked for it by wearing that” in times when support is absolutely critical. Although these examples make the assumption that the victims are female, it should not be ignored that men are also vulnerable to being abused by their partner in multiple ways.

The cost of such dismissals and oversights is detrimental. The NCADV explains that there is a relationship between intimate partner violence and depression/suicidal thoughts. Victims also experience other mental issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. 

Additionally, according to the NCADV, intimate partner violence can be the cause of unintended pregnancies, miscarriages, nutritional deficiencies, neurological disorders, chronic pain, disability, hypertension, cardiovascular disorders and cancer. After reading the staggering information provided by NCADV, one cannot be oblivious to the severity of consequences that follow avoidance of these issues. 

We are often blind to crimes that take place behind closed doors and are shrouded in silence. As many perpetrators hide behind the shadow of religion and the appearance of flawless characters, we far too often become oblivious to the amount of victims that surround us every day. How many smiles around us are fake? How many friends are facing serious relationship issues? How many warnings about potential perpetrators have we overlooked for the sake of conflict avoidance? What problems have we used our religion to cover up because “Things like that would never happen here?”

I would encourage everyone to consider the reality that domestic and sexual assault and abuse are real threats in our communities and religious areas, as well as in broader society. 

Perhaps you know a girl that has become increasingly depressed after describing relationship issues. Maybe you know a guy who barely talks about the girlfriend who ignores his boundaries because he is afraid that nobody will believe him. Please do not merely glance and look away. I know I am guilty of forgetting far too often about the prevalence of these issues in the community around me, but I want to do better – I must  do better – about listening, focusing and taking note. 

I encourage you to treat every day like Purple Thursday. Inform yourself of the hidden signs, subtle behaviors, covered scars and small calls for help that come out of sexual and domestic violence. 

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact resources such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233), National Dating Abuse Helpline (866-331-9474), and the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673). 

Southern also has resources available for students. The student handbook states that “individuals who have been subject to sexual harassment” should report their experience to the Title IX coordinator. Contact information for Southern’s Title IX coordinator can be found on the Student Development webpage.

 By reaching out for help, we can better protect one another, work towards healing and prove to the world that the God we serve is fully loving.

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