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The nature of abuse - first man standing

Peter Willson, First Man Standing lead, has written three blogs in preparation for a seminar which was delivered at the Jubilee + Conference, Churches That Change Communities in Bristol on November 16th 2019.

Listen to the seminar here

Hear the full recording of the seminar.

Seminar first man standing 2019

Blog 1 - domestic abuse – hidden violence 15th March 2019

When it comes to social justice the Church is pretty good at recognising issues of hunger, water needs, child support, deportation issues or prisoner reform. However, domestic abuse seems to be a subject we just don’t talk about, and therefore its significance to relationships, families and society goes under the radar. However, the scale and impact of this hidden form of violence is huge. Just look at the statistics:

Worldwide one in three women have experienced psychological abuse from a current or former partner (the most common form of abuse).

Worldwide, 40 to 70% of female murder victims were killed by a partner or former partner (compared to 4-8% of male murder victims).

In the UK, two women a week are murdered by a current or former partner.

It is estimated that 2 million adults experience domestic abuse each year.

On top of the physical, psychological and emotional effects of domestic abuse, it is a significant contributor to the poverty of victims and their children. The social and economic cost to the UK of domestic abuse is £34,000 per victim or £66 billion per year.

The UK Government has taken this issue so seriously it is looking to pass primary legislation that will transform the law in this area – The Domestic Abuse Bill.

So where is the outcry from the Church? It is there in part; you can hear it in places, particularly the established Church, from Archbishop Welby and Bishop Treweek who have started to address the issue, but in the non-aligned Church the silence is alarming. Why is this?

In large part it is because the problem is so hard to see – and to believe. Bishop Treweek has recently spoken to the House of Lords of the numerous occasions when victims say they their abuse was just not believed. This is common for survivors. Abusers are usually masters of manipulation, so friends of the couple see only the ‘honeymoon’ side of the abuser and nothing else. The story of abuse in consequence appears unbelievable.

Alternatively, confidants just cannot believe that it could happen in their community, friendship circle or especially church. Research conducted by the charity Restored in 2018 revealed that 71% of church-goers believed abuse happened in the community (out there) but only 38% believed it was a problem in the Church (in here). Yet the same survey showed that 1 in 4 women* within the Christian church had experienced at least one abusive act in a current relationship, rising to 42% if previous relationships were included.

So, the problem is very much in our own stable (#inchurchtoo).

Our first task is to accept that fact. Micah 6:8 reads “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Next week we will look at some of the ways the church can respond to domestic violence, and “do justice” for survivors. But for now, would you “walk humbly with your God”? Would you ask him to open your eyes and ears, to soften your heart and to be ready to listen. It is all too easy to turn a blind eye and think ‘It couldn’t happen here’, but statistics suggest that it could and does. Will you be ready to spot it in your friends, in your small group or in your church?

Ask God to help you and to give you wisdom.

Blog 2 - domestic abuse – How to respond: 19th March 2019

Last week we looked at some of the statistics around the prevalence of domestic abuse, and saw that it can be very hard to spot. If we will humble ourselves enough to believe that it could be happening even within our churches, there are signs we can look out for and things we can do to help.

We don’t have space here to fully outline the signs to look out for. They are covered in some detail in this resource booklet.

So how can the church respond and “do justice” for survivors of domestic abuse?

1.Understand the scope of the problem

In a recent survey that asked what constituted domestic abuse, 60% of responders indicated that there was no abuse if there was no physical violence. This would therefore exclude verbal, psychological and financial abuse.

The accepted definition used by the government is that abuse is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional.” And to that list I would add spiritual.

Therefore, to do justice we need to recognise three things:

1.The scope and variety of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional, spiritual.

2.The aim of abuse is to control someone else and force their will.

3.The abuse repeats as a cycle, commonly described as honeymoon, build up (or set up), explosion then honeymoon again.

This cycle of abuse ties a woman* to her abuser during the honeymoon period and cowers her spirit during the explosion, over and over again.

This flattening of a victim’s will is reflected in the estimate that a woman* will only report physical abuse to the police after 35 separate incidents of violence.

Even after seeking help, the act of ‘just leaving’ an abuser can be a complex tangle of psychological, emotional, financial and family issues that need to be carefully unpicked in order to keep the victim and her* family safe.

We can do justice first by believing victims and listening to their stories

— Peter Willson —

2.Believe the victim and make safe decisions

We saw last week that due to this cycle, and the manipulation of abusers, it can be very hard for victims to be believed when they do try to tell someone. We can do justice first by believing victims and listening to their stories.

Unfortunately, some of the advice given by the Church is misdirected and at worse dangerous. Although it has taken significant courage to expose an abusive partner the advice a woman* gets is often to go back to the partner, submit, forgive and win him round by being a good Christian woman for the sake of the marriage and children. Of course marriages are worth fighting for and saving, but this advice fails to recognise that abuse is about a cycle of control and abusive behaviour which for some can be life threatening.

The Apostle Paul is often quoted to the victim. She is told “wives, submit to your husband, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Yet this advice fails to recognise that the relationship has disintegrated at the point when her husband failed to “love [his] wife as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

Let’s not be like King David who did nothing for his daughter Tamar after she was raped (2 Samuel 13). The Church can help safeguard women through understanding, recognition and appropriate action.

Further help and resources

Restored is a Christian charity with the aim of ending all violence against women. Our website has resources for churches that will help you recognise domestic abuse and deal safely and compassionately with victims and survivors.

We have a Bible study series for individuals or groups that raises awareness of the subject among men. And we have produced a Handbook For Survivors, a reference work for abused women and those working with them which can be sent on request.

Finally I would encourage the vast majority of good and concerned Christian Men to engage with this hidden blot in our society and become a First Man Standing.

Let’s all be part of the solution.

Blog 3 - domestic abuse: The male response. 10th September 2019

In my last two blog posts for Jubilee+ I wrote of the extent to which women are affected by domestic violence in the UK*, its nature, its impact on impoverishing families and how the church can be a safe haven for victims and survivors through appropriate understanding and responses.

In this article I want to talk about where violence against women starts – that is, in the male mind – and how men in the church can respond with a Christlike masculinity.

Domestic abuse has two components

1. A sense of entitlement

2. Behaviour that promotes control

The two work together, usually in a cycle of escalating incidents that leads to a series of abusive episodes.

The cycle goes something like this in a relationship:

  • It’s all great; there is lots of attention and giving of gifts.
  • This changes to a period of moodiness or unexplained distance.
  • Minor criticisms mount and become more frequent.
  • There is a sense that you are walking on eggshells out of concern that something will snap.
  • A small event triggers an overbearing and abusive response or controlling event.
  • Your confidence and position are undermined as you attempt to appease your partner.
  • Your partner apologises, asks for forgiveness, and says it will never happen again.
  • The attention, flowers and gifts start coming again.
  • Then the moodiness or distance begin again…

In general, you can define this attitude as - 'Your will and your choices are mine'

— Peter Willson —

Male attitudes associated with abuse are often idealised to what a ‘real man’ should be. They promote self-sufficiency, toughness, physical attractiveness and adherence to gender roles. Within a group ruthless competition, suppression of any emotion except anger, rejection of dependency or weakness, devaluation of women and feminine attributes in men, and the building of male to male dominant hierarchies are all promoted. Therefore, a ‘real man’ is aggressive and if necessary violent, stoic in the face of difficulties, and expected to demonstrate psychological and physical strength in his pursuits. He takes risks, seeks adventure, makes everything a competition and demonstrates achievement and success. Many of the behaviours are directed towards making money and supporting the home. However, in scenarios where aggression is not likely to achieve success, such as within family life, abusers seek to change the culture of the institution or use personal persuasion in order to achieve domination.

In certain situations, it is possible to see some of these behaviours as positive. We value courage, fortitude, strength and resilience in sport, policing, armed forces and situations of adversity. However, abusers will use these sentiments to seek affirmation, while combining their behaviour with subversion and coercion of another person, which most would not condone.

Jesus’ attitude to others could not be more different.

Jesus’ behaviour showed that he was not afraid of emotion, shame or apparent failure. He demonstrated dependency on others and his anger was not dominating. He never demeaned anyone, manipulated them or sought to control them. He was not competitive, a thrill-seeker or motivated by success. Yet in all the accusations his opponents threw at him, never once did anyone suggest he was not sufficiently manly.

Regarding women, Jesus rejected both the Roman view of women as possessions and the Jewish Orthodox view of women as a source of spiritual impurity. He scandalously incorporated women into his discipleship group. He touched and spoke to women others considered ritually unclean or outcast, he taught women and encouraged them to spread the gospel, he confided in them, broke spiritual norms to comfort, heal and empower them, and saw them as integral to his mission – all of these would have been anathema to a society that saw women as chattels or unclean and inherently spiritually inferior.

In general, you can define this attitude as – ‘Your will and choices are yours’

— Peter Willson —

When dealing with abuse it is common, and understandable, to concentrate on the behaviours of abuse. These can be identified and challenged because they are obvious. However, dealing with the mind-set that gives one person a sense that they are entitled to submit another person to their will is far more difficult. This is a process that takes time, and requires mentorship and long-term demonstration of change in order to show that the sense of entitlement has gone and not just been hidden.

The support of men for each other in the church is vital for providing all men with appropriate role models, encouragement, mentorship and support. By demonstrating Christlike masculinity, we can be an example and help the effort to end behaviours and attitudes that lead to domestic violence. In this way, the church can play a vital role in ending violence against women.

Restored is a Christian charity with the aim of ending violence against women. Part of our work is to encourage men to engage with this issue by examining themselves, calling out poor attitudes or behaviour and getting involved in a project to promote an end to abuse. If you organise men’s meetings or breakfasts get in touch if you would like one of us to speak, and if you would like training apply to come on one of our training days or read our Survivors’ Handbook and then give it away as an act of grace – get involved.


If you have experienced domestic violence and don’t know what to do, or would like assistance with training for church leaders, members or men’s groups, please contact Restored.

* The vast majority of abuse worldwide is partner initiated and male on female. Restored recognises that domestic abuse is devastating for all victims of domestic abuse whether women or men, straight or gay. The causes of violence against men differ from those against women, require a different skill set and an expertise that Restored is regretfully unable to provide. If you are a man affected by domestic abuse, we can direct you to an appropriate organisation if you need help.