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Gwen's Story

How long was it from first experiencing abuse to actually leaving the relationship? What were the barriers to you leaving?

It was 10yrs before I finally left. The initial barrier was not recognising the abuse until many years had passed (and when I first thought about leaving I still didn’t actually label it as ‘abuse’). The second barrier was concern over the reaction of others, would I lose my support network (since he was seen to be so ‘nice’) and financial concerns.

What part did your faith play in your experience of domestic abuse and what effect did your experiences have on your faith?

My faith played a huge part in me staying. As mentioned above, I didn’t even recognise the abuse for what it was. I had a fairly strict Christian upbringing where divorce was only ‘acceptable’ if he committed adultery, or hit me. He’d ‘only’ slapped me once in the face very early in our relationship, and had apologised. My religious upbringing said that he’d repented and I should forgive. It was never mentioned again, and he never hit me again, but there was no need, he’d ascertained control by that point with no need to raise his voice or hit me again.

Throughout our relationship I was constantly undermined with “wives must submit” and “man is the head of the house” rhetoric. He was a fine speaker (national public speaking champion at school) and so in a debate I could never win, he would stay calm, I would become frustrated and end up shouting – ergo I was the unreasonable one.......always. Despite that, my faith said I should stick it out, it was best for the children if we stayed together, and “he hadn’t hit me” for many years.

What support services did you use and was there any support available from your church ?

I didn’t make use of existing support services as I didn’t recognise the abuse AS abuse until after I’d left. I was very much alone apart from my friends – most of whom were from church. In those early years, post separation/divorce, I needed to be able to tackle the “why?? God” questions. To come to grips with the idea that spiritual abuse can, and does occur – that I’d been sucked in with the “wives must submit” idea. I needed people to support me in prayer, I needed a friend that would send me verses of scripture in my darkest days.

My husband was the ‘perfect gentleman’ in church, helpful, well spoken, ‘great father’ etc. I had a couple of close friends who I would vent off to about things, but they never picked up on any of the (now obvious!) cues. The leadership of the church evidently didn’t spot it either and when a serious issue arose the line of questioning was “what did you do to cause it”. They simply weren’t equipped to spot the abuse. When new leadership arrived they very quickly picked up on what had happened and have since been a huge amount of support, talking through many MANY faith issues (trust, forgiveness, divorce, theological discussions on frequently misused scripture).

Survivors within the church need the support of other Christian survivors who have had to deal with issues of forgiveness, discussions on divorce, trust, faith. We need other women who understand where we’re coming from, to pray with each other. If the many survivors within churches were able to speak out and were able to network together then not only would this offer the spiritual support for them, but would encourage others who have so far remained silent to reach out. When more women reach out then churches have to start taking notice and realise this is an issue that is happening in churches. There are people within their congregation who need to be shown God’s love and support to re-discover their faith.