Hope for Abused Women during Covid-19

DA picMental health experts remind us that a crisis brings out the worst in abusers.

In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently tweeted, “There has been an uptick in domestic violence incidents. We want you to know — if you are in a dangerous situation, New York will help you find a safe shelter. You are not trapped just because of Coronavirus.”

Why does domestic violence increase during a crisis? Because abusers are afraid of their lack of control.

This Covid-19 pandemic has stolen control of their stock portfolios, the security of their jobs and possibly — their physical health.

So they strike out at the nearest person(s) — those they are quarantined with — the wife and kids.

April is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is not a comfortable blog subject for many people. Certainly, it isn’t comfortable for the women who are experiencing it.

But cudos to Governor Cuomo for even mentioning it when he is so busy dealing with the virus in his state.

All of us need to be aware that domestic violence is happening all around us, to families we would never imagine having such a problem.

Women and children live in fear daily and in the insecurity of not knowing which person will walk in the door — the man who appears in public as a nice guy or the monster hidden within.

To be clear, domestic violence begins as some sort of abusive control. Some women aren’t even aware their daily challenge is actually abuse. It may look like the following:

  • Ridicule / Negative comparisons to other women
  • Accusations
  • Teasing and name-calling / Jokes at her expense
  • The Silent treatment
  • Destroying objects
  • Withholding approval or affection
  • Emotional detachment
  • Forceful sexual advances / Rape
  • Making her ask or beg for money / Snooping in her mail or purse
  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women

The above bullets are just some of the ways abuse may manifest. If left unchecked, it can quickly escalate and become more of a violent behavior. Any type of physical assault can be abusive, even excessive tickling or pinching.

One of the most insidious behaviors is The Gaslight scenario. He blames the woman when anything goes wrong. Anger escalates, then he acts like the victim. In his warped mind, it is NEVER his fault. This is typical behavior for narcissists.

After weeks and months of such behavior, she begins to feel as if she is the crazy one. She constantly second guesses herself, and the children grow up without any sense of emotional security.

So what can we do about this horrid situation?

Recognize that at least one out of every four women is being abused — right now. This includes women from every demographic, every financial situation and in every house of worship.

We cannot ignore the problem and we cannot abandon these women and their children to such a destructive life.

One of the best online resources is the website: leslievernick.com. Leslie is a licensed clinical social worker and a relationship coach. One of her books, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship is packed with advice and encouragement to help women recognize the abuse they’re living with.

Throughout the years, I have worked with multiple women in all levels of abusive relationships. These women feel alone and often abandoned by those who could help.

But even more insidious are the women who have been “taught” that abuse is okay, their role to play in a relationship.

Why are these women trapped?

  • They are waiting for God to release them.
  • They know the church will ostracize and isolate them because they have observed what happens to single moms in the church.
  • They have been indoctrinated into the “submit above all else” and the “a quiet woman will win her husband” themes.
  • They are afraid to hurt their children, not realizing how their children are already hurting. The children will often recognize the abuse before their mother does.
  • Single moms are the #1 poverty level in every country of the world. Women support their husbands by either working in the home and/or outside the home. Everything has gone into the joint checking account. If they leave, they will have no financial security and no options.

So what can we do to help the abused women around us?

Stop ignoring the problem. It’s in your family, in your workplace and in your church.

Support the organizations that help women escape. In the Kansas City area, we have Safe HomeNew House and The Single Mom KC.

Report any abuse that you observe.

Listen carefully and respond immediately to any woman who comes to you for help.

Help women know they are not invisible. They do not have to live in this type of entrapment.

And especially now — during this pandemic — be alert for the other pandemic happening around you: the tragedy of domestic abuse.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

No Visible Scars tells the story of a woman caught in abuse and her struggle to find the boundaries that will save her.

Hope Looks for the Good Guys

Disclaimer: I do not wish to vilify any pastors or church leaders. Please read this entire blog post before making a judgment.

A reader of my novel, “No Visible Scars recently asked me, “Is that Pastor Dennis in your book for real? Surely, a pastor wouldn’t act that way toward a woman who is being abused.”NVS Cover

“Unfortunately, that character was based on a true experience. And I could tell you stories….”

The following are snippets of other true stories about some pastors and the topic of domestic abuse:

  • A woman was locked in the basement and thrown scraps of food. When she escaped, she asked her pastor for advice. He said, “Well, if you’d lose 30 pounds, he’d like you better.”
  • Another woman whose husband refused to let her spend any money, gave her a weekly allowance. He then complained about the cost of groceries and regularly decreased the amount she could spend. Her pastor asked, “Are you giving him regular sex?”
  • From the pulpit, a pastor shamed single moms and their children after they escaped from abusive relationships. “If you get divorced,” he said, “your children will end up in prison.”
  • A woman related to her pastor how her husband belittled her, calling her ugly and stupid. The pastor said, “I don’t see any broken bones or bruises. The Bible says you should go home, be gentle and quiet and pray for your husband.”

In these scenarios, all the pastors were men. A woman pastor may have reacted differently, may have believed these suffering women and fought for them. Admittedly, some of these situations sound extremely harsh, yet I have heard versions of them multiple times.

Licensed Clinical Social worker, Leslie Vernick, recently taught a webinar titled, “Using the Bible to Rationalize Bad Behavior.”

In her newsletter, Leslie wrote, “Sadly, the Bible has often been used as an excuse to do unintended harm. It’s used to rationalize violence, abuse, ignorance, bigotry, inequality, and sexism—all under the guise of ‘The Bible says this.’”

To be fair, I also know about the following situations:

  • A pastor helped an abused woman set up her own checking account so she would have financial options and a plan of escape.
  • A pastor in the Midwest helped an abused woman move. He paid for the moving van out of his own pocket, arranged for church elders to lift furniture and bought pizza for everyone after the move.
  • When a single mom was being downsized out of her job, a pastor paid her salary for several months.
  • A pastor with a kind heart listened to the story from an abused woman, cried with her and counseled her to protect herself and her children—to leave. Then he helped her find a safe home.

All these stories are true. All these women exist and all of them went to their pastors for help.

Some of these women never returned to church because they felt invisible and condemned by the very leaders they trusted.

In the book of First Samuel, when the real Abigail was abused by her husband, God took him out. Nabal died.

God takes it seriously when his daughters are mistreated. Some of our pastors understand and take action.

Those who don’t are playing a dangerous game and someday, they will have to answer for it.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.” Then pass it on to a woman who needs to know she is not alone.

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.

Hope Finds Her Words

The communications rep from the White House began her statement with, “When we saw the pictures….”

abused woman - hidingShe referred to the black eye suffered by Rob Porter’s ex-wife. Displayed across news channels and social media sites, we all saw the extent of the domestic violence against Jenny.

Yet for those of us who work with women, we know physical violence is often the final humiliation.

The benchmarks of abuse occur much earlier, often with no indication that the end result will be a black eye.

  • Subtle put-downs about her weight or her hair-do.
  • The demand to “Submit!”
  • The control of finances, so she has to beg to buy a decent pair of underwear.
  • The dig in her ribs if she expresses her opinion about anything.
  • Calling her “My woman,” as if she is a piece of property he has purchased.

All these red flags represent emotional abuse and often are so subtle, the wife wonders if she misunderstood. Is she crazy? Or is he so skilled at manipulation, he can make her feel it is all her fault?

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. A particularly insidious type of abuse is called “gas-lighting.” Check out Leslie Vernick’s site for more information.

After all the stories I have heard and the women I have held as they cried, my emotions have become a bit jaded. Jenny’s black eye did not surprise me.

Often the men who abuse are outstanding citizens, hard workers, faithful church members. They seem to be such “good men.”

What disturbed me most was that Jenny’s truth was not believed until pictures were shown. Her voice was not heard until there was viable proof. Why not?

Surely the #MeToo movement is teaching us we must listen to children who tell us something is wrong at school, in the gym, in the youth group—no matter how hard it is to believe.

We must also expand our response to women such as Jenny. She was the second ex-wife abused by this man. Reports had been filed by both women. Those in authority knew the truth yet refused to act on it—until they saw the pictures—until ALL of us saw the pictures and demanded accountability.

Hope begins to flicker for the Jenny’s of the world as we listen to their voices and give them permission to share their truth. Surely we can learn how to believe them and help them find a safe haven where they can heal and start over.

Even before we see the incriminating pictures, we must err on the side of caution. Because women are made in the image of God. Because our daughters live in relationships and we want them to be heard. Because all of us have a voice that needs to be respected.

Hope has spoken her truth. So has Jenny. Who is listening?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In March, 2018, “No Visible Scars” will be released. This is my 10th book, a novel about domestic abuse within a Christian home. Share my blog posts with your friends and be the first to read “No Visible Scars.”

Hope Answers the Question

Several people have recently asked, “Why do women wait so long to accuse men of sexual assault?”

Three possibilities answer :

Answer # 1: When a young girl is sexually assaulted, she will often dissociate. She will mentally and emotionally leave her body, and the memory of that trauma will hide in her subconscious.

Shock and denial are powerful protectors. She may not remember the event until decades have passed and something triggers the memory – something like the “Me Too” movement.

Answer # 2: Abusers will often whisper, “Don’t tell” or “This is our secret.” If his victim has been raised in a culture of male authority, she will obey the whispered lie rather than speak the truth about what has happened to her.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to confront that lie. The reason we have seen more women speaking out is because strength resides in numbers. Women feel more empowered when they are not alone in their pain.

Answer # 3: Many abusers are particularly skilled at manipulation – sometimes called “Gaslighting.” A gaslighter will convince the victim that she is at fault. So if she tells anyone, she will be punished and condemned. If she speaks her truth, she may lose her job, the respect of her family — even her ministry.

Gaslighters use words such as “She really wanted it” or “She was dressed so provocatively I couldn’t help myself.” When these abusers blame their victims, they don’t have to admit they are criminals. For more information about “gaslighting” check out Leslie Vernick. 

Do women sometimes lie about being assaulted? Certainly. But statistics show the majority of the lies come from the abusers.

Why is a blog about HOPE dealing with the subject of sexual assault? Because so hope - scrabble lettersmany of us who can answer “Me, too” need to find hope. Some of us suffer from PTSD, from low self-esteem, from the strangle-holds of fear. And we can pinpoint the beginnings of that pain from the moment we were devalued, victimized, assaulted.

The only way to march forward and embrace HOPE is to tell the truth. The sexual assault was NOT our fault, and the numbers of encounters now being reported prove just how depraved mankind is.

This is why we humans so desperately need a Savior. For those of us who have experienced assault and reached out to Jesus – we know he is the one male figure we can totally trust. And in relationship with him, we find ultimate HOPE.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved