“Wrong things to say to a victim:
1. What did you do to provoke him?
2. Pray harder—prayer changes things.
3. Go home, cook your husband’s favorite meal, and give him some extra attention.
4. The Bible says you need to forgive him seventy times seven.
5. Things could be worse.
6. If you try harder and become more submissive, your husband will change.
7. God hates divorce, so you must do whatever you can to hold your marriage together, even if it means suffering for Jesus.
8. Your children need a father, so it is up to you to keep the family together.
9. If he has not hit you before, you probably aren’t in any danger now.
10. He is a good man and a good provider. He may be under a lot of stress at work. Maybe you need to be more understanding and provide a peaceful refuge at home.”
Violence among Us, by Branson and Silva
Photo credit to Sarah Faith Hodges
This list popped up on Facebook the other day and I just knowingly nodded my head as I read through it. How familiar it all sounded. I’d had most of these things said to me during my 20-year abusive marriage and even after my ex walked out on me. Words like these only caused me further doubt and did more harm than good. And haven’t we all heard that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything? Well, that certainly applies here.
Please be careful what you say to an abuse victim for they are already doubting themselves and struggling with what to do to save themselves and their children, and have often been dealing with abuse for many, many years. An abuse victim lives with constant doubts, heartache and the struggle to do the right thing. And any words spoken have the ability to cause either more confusion and doubt, or to uplift and encourage.
Please, do not…
…minimize what they are going through by asking, “Well, did he ever hit you?” like was asked of me. I can guarantee abuse is not just physical and when you ask that question you put more doubt into the victim’s already doubtful thinking because that is what her abuser has done for years. You show her your doubt of her and she feels even more alone.
…tell her to pray harder, submit more and respect no matter what because that will change her abuser. I say bull—t. No person can change another, period. And a victim of abuse CANNOT change her abuser.
…tell her to serve him especially in the aftermath of abuse. My then-husband and I once served at our former church’s kids camp. We took our travel trailer there and in some fit of rage after we got there, my ex left. He left me stranded there. But God gave me rest that day, I took a long beautiful nap free from his hate and coldness towards me. And when I got up to help serve dinner that evening to the kids, my ex showed back up and simply sat down at one of the picnic tables. One of the women in the food line made up a plate, handed it to me, and gave me a shove towards my husband saying, “Here, take him a plate.” I stood frozen for a minute and finally, walked the plate of food over to him, but not because I wanted to, only because I felt pushed to serve him. Would that woman have put a plate of food in the hands of a rape victim and had her serve her rapist? Would that plate of food been placed in the hands of a bullied child for him/her to serve their tormentor?
…tell her to keep the marriage together because her children need a father. A family is more than just a two-parent home, it should be a place of love and acceptance, not hate and abuse. Yes, her children would be better off having a father in their lives, but not one that destroys their hearts and souls.
…tell her to forgive, let it go and reconcile. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not go hand in hand. That is foolishness. A victim of abuse can and should forgive her abuser, but doing so does not mean she should be foolish enough to go back to an abusive situation. Forgiveness places the abuser in the hands of God who will deal rightly with them, taking that burden off of the victim.
…tell her God hates divorce. Just please do not say this to a victim of abuse who is most likely struggling greatly with the idea of divorce and often sees it as a last resort. Please read all of Malachi 1 & 2 and learn what is truly being said. God hates many things, especially the violence and abuse in a marriage which may make divorce necessary to save the sanity and soul of His child, the victim of abuse.
So please, if you must speak words to an abuse victim, only offer love and encouragement — choose your words wisely — or choose not to say anything.