What to do if your loved one or an acquaintance has become a victim.
Lockdown has brought with it all kinds of relational challenges, including extreme loneliness, getting on each other’s nerves, and figuring out how to do work, home school, and family life within four walls. There is also a positive side, enjoying the time to grow closer to our loved ones.
But for some people, the biggest challenge is being trapped in their own home, 24 hours a day, with an abusive relative.
After a couple of weeks of lockdown in the UK, worrying reports began to emerge from some of the charities and organizations caring for victims of domestic abuse. Refuge is the largest UK charity helping domestic abuse victims. On April 6, 2020, the organization reported a 700-percent increase in visits to its website and a 120-percent increase in direct calls for information and advice.
This development stimulated a range of creative responses to the problem. One British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) newsreader wrote the phone number of the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on her hand so that she could show it to viewers. A large chain of pharmacies offered to help victims who asked for a personal consultation. They were then shown to a private room, where specially trained staff helped them to find a place of safety.
“As the Family Ministries director at the Trans-European Division, I don’t often receive calls and emails about how to deal with domestic abuse,” says Karen Holford. “But when I received several queries in one week, I realized that we needed to respond by offering some training to our union ministerial directors.”
The amount of training that pastors receive to help them respond to incidences of domestic abuse varies widely across the division, and so does the level of national and local support for victims. None of the pastors had ever received training in managing cases of domestic abuse in a pandemic lockdown context.
“I was learning alongside the workers on the ground,” Holford admits. “Most of them had never experienced domestic abuse situations before, so we were helping each other learn how to manage this challenge. One pastor had the creative idea to create an online Google document to share information about domestic abuse with an abused person in her home. Her abuser had access to her phone several times a day, so it wasn’t safe to send her messages. And she couldn’t search online for helpful advice unless the website had a rapid escape button that cleared the history.”
The Google document was used for sharing ideas, “chatting,” checking that she was still safe, and telling her to gather her vital documents, financial information, passport, clothes, and significant possessions in a safe place in case she needed to leave in a hurry.
Fortunately, this story had a happy ending, but only because the pastor was concerned about her, and the victim had the courage to speak out. There are potentially thousands of people in our churches, families, and communities that are seriously at risk of abuse at this time. By reaching out, you could become a lifeline.
How to Help an Abused Person During Lockdown
It’s important to understand several aspects of abuse as you consider helping someone who is at risk.
- Understand some of the different ways in which people can be abused: physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. They can also be deprived, neglected, or have their movements limited. If someone is experiencing a restricted or distressing life, or if another person is trying to have power over what they can do, this can also be a sign of abuse. Many women experience their first incidence of abuse when they are pregnant.
- Educate church members to look out for the signs that their friends, relatives, and neighbors might be at risk. These could be aggressive shouting; hearing a child or adult crying for unexpectedly long periods; hearing things being thrown or broken; or someone being hit or hurt. People might also be locked out of their homes without shoes or adequate clothing, and with no phone or money.
- Make it a priority to find out what help is available for victims of domestic abuse in your country and locality during the lockdown.
- List all the local and national helplines and services for domestic abuse on the front page of your church website, newsletters, church bulletins, and announcement screens.
- Share helpful information and news stories through your personal social media pages to alert victims to sources of help.
- Prayerfully focus on each member and contact on your church lists and consider whether you have seen any clues that they might be in an abusive relationship.
- When a victim of abuse tells you what is happening, listen carefully, and believe them.
- Never speak to the abuser about what the victim has told you. Be aware that the most dangerous time for victims is the moment when the abuser realizes that the victim has spoken out about their relationship.
- The victim needs to make their own choices about what to do and when to leave, because they need to make this decision freely and safely.
- Where possible, help the victim to make contact with the police or appropriate services if they feel unsafe and need to leave their home. Helping a victim to escape an abusive relationship is a skilled task, and if you try to do this yourself, you could escalate the danger to the victim as well as yourself.
- Choose safe and untraceable ways to communicate with someone at risk, such as through a password-protected online document, and let them know that they can call you any time they are free and safe to talk.
- Encourage the person to keep a diary of their abuse, in case they need to show evidence to the police or a lawyer. They should include times they were physically hurt, received verbal threats or abusive text messages, or were involved in threatening conversations, and so on.
- Once the victim is in a safe place, ask how you can help them with their other practical and spiritual needs.
The original version of this commentary was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.