Domestic Violence & Abuse FAQ

Seventh-day Adventists believe that domestic violence is unacceptable behaviour and that it has devastating effects on individuals and families. It results in long-term, distorted perceptions of self, family and God.

Seventh-day Adventists believe to remain indifferent and unresponsive to reports of domestic violence is to condone, perpetuate and potentially extend such behaviour.

About domestic violence

An assault of any kind committed by one or more persons against another in an adult, sibling, parent or other kinship relationship is domestic violence.

The assault can be verbal, physical, emotional, economic, social, sexual, or active or passive neglect. The persons involved can be married, related, living together or apart, or divorced.




Why do People Abuse Others?

  • Abuse is cyclical and carries through from one generation to another.
  • Children witnessing violence learn to deal with conflict violently - it is modelled as an acceptable way to live. Later in life they will generally become either a victim or an abuser. This creates a perpetuating cycle of abuse to the next generation.
  • Children brought up in violent homes are 74% more likely to commit criminal assaults. (Massachusetts Department of Youth Services) 81% of men who physically abuse had fathers who abused their mothers. (New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Division on Women)
  • The generational cycle can be broken if parents and families are willing to learn new ways of dealing with conflict.



 The Cycle of Violence

Many people who work with violent families have noted a pattern or cycle of violence. While there is no uniformity on how long a phase lasts, Lenore Walker suggests there is a pattern. The pattern follows these phases:

  • the tension-building phase
  • the explosion or acute-battering incident, and
  • the calm, loving respite

Phase One: The Tension Builds

The abuser becomes increasingly edgy during this phase. The victim, noticing this behaviour, may try to calm or appease the abuser in ways that have worked in the past.

There may be minor outbursts of violence for which the abuser may quickly apologise. Usually the victim forgives the abuser for these incidents. The victim will rarely become angry because they fear their anger would serve to escalate the violence.

The abuser is aware of their inappropriate behaviour even if they don't acknowledge it. This serves to make them even more fearful that their partner will leave. They attempt to keep their victim captive by being more abusive, possessive and controlling. Their ability to defend these assaults or to placate their victim becomes less effective. The tension builds to a point where an assaultive explosion is inevitable.

Phase Two: The Explosion

This is the shortest and most violent part of the cycle. It may begin with the abuser attempting to teach the victim a lesson. The intent is not to harm the victim physically although this is often the result. At the end of the episode the abuser cannot fully understand or remember what has occurred. Although the victim will often vent their anger during this phase, they do not usually fight back because they believe to do so will only bring on more abuse and injury. Although most victims are seriously beaten at the end of this phase, they consider themselves "lucky" for surviving. The victim will often placate the abuser by denying the extent of their injuries.

Phase Three: The Calm

Some victims, sensing that phase two is inevitable, will "encourage" its appearance and completion because they know that once the violence of phase two is over, phase three brings the "reward" of a kind, caring, if not contrite, partner/family member. The abuser is usually sorry for their behaviour even if they do not acknowledge this. They promise never to do it again. The victim wants to believe them. The abuser may become especially helpful. Just prior to this phase a victim may have sought outside help, perhaps in connection with treatment for injuries.

The appearance of the idealised, loving partner/family member during this phase provides the victim with a glimpse of what they hope for - that people who truly love one another can overcome all odds. The apparent calm and bliss of phase three often undercuts a victim's interest in seeking and utilising help. The cycle of violence inevitably continues as phase-one behaviour reappears.

Not all violent situations follow this pattern. Some abusers wake their victims up with physical assaults. In some cases, violence occurs only sporadically, while other abusers engage in violent behaviour of some form on a consistent or daily basis.

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Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

Generally people abuse because they have been abused.

But it is possible to break the cycle. Others have done it.

The fear, hatred, control and bitterness can be melted away by applying God's love and forgiveness to our life. The gospel is a rehabilitation program for both victims and abusers.

The great news is people can stop abusing and learn how to love! If you are abusing, you need to get help now, before we do any more hurting.

Talk to Jesus, contact a counsellor today.

God loves the abuser, but hates the abuse. Jesus did not come to condemn but to save. Jesus came to lift the burden of guilt and shame, to empower us to love one another. He knows that being abusive hurts you too. (Prov 8:36) 

What can everyone do to stop abuse?

  1. Correct information empowers everyone. The truth sets us free.
  2. Abuse can continue where there is a culture of secrecy and silence. "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Prov 31:8,9)
  3.  We shouldn't tolerate abuse. It is a crime and it is sin.
  4. God calls us to act. Abuse and violence flourish when good people do nothing. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." (Eccl 8:11)
  5. Educate our children about their rights and responsibilities. We can educate our young girls on what to look for to avoid abusive relationships, how to value themselves as God values them. We can educate our young men on how to love - how not to abuse.
  6. We can set up regional refuges and train people to work in this huge field of human suffering. We can educate through seminars on Domestic Violence, Anger Management, Learning How to Love, Healing from Abuse, Family Relationships, and on Parenting. (View seminars offered by the Adventist Family Ministries)
  7. We can help to pass laws in countries where there is no protection of domestic rights.

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Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

People who abuse others share some common characteristics. They:

  • Have intense, dependent relationships with their victims
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Believe all myths about domestic violence
  • Are traditionalists, believe in stereotyped male and female sex roles
  • Have limited tolerance for frustration and severe reactions to stress
  • Often present a dual personality - loving or violent
  • Have difficulty acknowledging or describing feelings
  • Deny and minimise their violent behaviour
  • Do not believe their violent behaviour should have negative consequences
  • Are extremely jealous, possessive, controlling and fear they will be abandoned
  • Are depressed and vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse
  • Have a history of domestic violence or child assault in family of origin
  • Have a history of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Impulsiveness, temper tantrums, jealousy, possessiveness, excessive dependence on partner
  • Are immature
  • Need to keep strong control over family and spouse's activities

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Characteristics of a Victim

Although the circumstances and characteristics of victims of domestic violence can be different, some characteristics appear to be common. These characteristics often correspond to the needs of their violent abusers.

Victims appear to:

  • Believe all myths about domestic violence
  • Be traditionalists about home, family unity and sex roles
  • Accept responsibility for the abuser's behaviour
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Feel guilt, self-blame and self-hatred and deny legitimacy of their own feelings and needs
  • Show martyr-like endurance and passive acceptance
  • Hold unrealistic hopes that change is imminent
  • Become increasingly socially isolated
  • Act compliant, helpless and powerless
  • Define themselves in terms of other people's needs
  • Have a high risk for drug and alcohol addictions
  • Exhibit stress disorders, depression and psychosomatic complaints
  • Exhibit chronic complaints of poor health and frequently visit the doctor
  • Have a history of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Use tranquilisers or abuse alcohol
  • Have suspicions that they are perpetrating child abuses
  • Have sleeping difficulties
  • Be severely agitated, anxious, nervous, depressed
  • Have erratic and inconsistent behaviour
  • Have flashbacks and nightmares
  • Have eating and sexual disorders
  • Have a distrust of people in authority
  • Have confused thinking, inability to make decisions, lack of eye contact

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Children who Witness Domestic Violence

Children who witness domestic violence often appear:

  • Sad, fearful, depressed and/or anxious
  • Aggressively defiant or passively compliant
  • Isolated and withdrawn
  • To have limited tolerance for frustration and stress
  • To be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, sexual acting out, running away
  • To have poor impulse control
  • To feel powerless
  • To have low self-esteem
  • To take on parental roles
  • To have psychiatric disorders
  • To have difficulties at school
  • To have night-time difficulties
  • To have physical complaints
  • To be self-destructive, accident prone
  • To act out escapist behaviour such as running away, alcohol and drug abuse, pregnancy etc.

Relatives, neighbours and others may not know about domestic violence, but children cannot escape it.

A home that is characterised by physical, emotional, sexual or property abuse is a frightening, debilitating and unhealthy place. The children in such a home often lose their ability to be children. They worry about protecting their parents and/or siblings.

Children do not want to become an additional source of stress or problem, and fear for their own safety and security. They have the burden of hiding a tremendous family secret.

Children from violent homes often suffer from depression. Some become isolated. Many do not want to bring friends home because of the shame and unpredictability of violence. They may spend much time away from home and get into trouble for truancy, petty crimes or disturbances.

Children from violent homes often experience nightmares, sleep disturbances and night-time bed-wetting. A child's ability to handle his or her school work the next day is often adversely affected. Domestic violence incidents often occur during late evening hours, just at the time a child is getting ready for bed, and often wakes them up with shouts and noise. Needing to feel secure and safe themselves and to know that their parents will return safely, they can refuse to be left and/or they will be disruptive in school.

Children from violent homes often feel responsible for everything bad that happens to themselves or to their parents. If they were neater, quieter, helped more or were smarter in school, maybe the violence would stop.

In all cases, a child is being educated in a regime of violence. There is some correlation between being raised in a home where domestic violence occurred and becoming an abusing or abused spouse.

One study reported 33 per cent of the victims and 49 per cent of their abusers had witnessed violence between their families of origin.




Why do Abused People Stay in Abusive Relationships?

Some people expect to grow up, get married and find a partner who will take care of them. They endure years of violence because they cannot imagine living under different circumstances and because they love their partner or family member when they are not violent. Often people are confused by the mixed messages of violence and love

For some people, physical punishment in their childhood was rare or mild, but their homes were controlled, traditional and authoritarian.

Other people experienced violence in their childhood homes and appear to expect it in their homes and relationships.

Both groups of people cling to the hope that it will never happen again and that the abuser's promise to stop is true.

Victims of domestic violence believe in conventional views of marriage and sex-stereotypical roles. They think they are responsible for their partner's or family member's wellbeing. They make excuses for their abuser's behaviour. They believe it is their responsibility to ensure the peace and success of the family. These people think they can change their partner's or family member's behaviour by acting more loving or being better partners themselves. They believe they can save their partners. Violence for many has been interpreted as "their cross to bear."

Victims of domestic violence also stay because they are socially and economically dependent on their abusing partner. Some victims with children often stay because they cannot imagine how the children will be fed and clothed without the income from their spouse. Others believe that a violent parent is better than no parent at all. Some victims have been told that the family must stay together at all costs.

These reasons combine into what author Lenore Walker has called "learned helplessness."

The victim becomes passive and submissive because they believe they have no control over the relationship's violence or their own children's safety.

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Myths About Domestic Violence

There are many myths, or commonly held misconceptions, about the nature of domestic violence.

These misconceptions serve to continue the victims' sense of isolation.

Myth 1: Only a small percentage of the population is affected by domestic violence

Incidents are seriously under-reported. It is seldom identified as a separate crime and therefore does not appear in statistics. Studies indicate that up to a third of the population may be involved.

Myth 2: Domestic violence is a lower-class phenomenon

Statistics do not accurately reflect the distribution of this problem as lower-class victims are more likely to come to the notice of helping agencies. Middle-class victims fear embarrassment and damage to their partner's or family member's career. Increasing media attention is resulting in more and more middle-class victims revealing the extent of the problem for them.

Myth 3: The relationship will get better (if you ignore it, it will go away)

Abusive relationships are stubbornly resistant to change and rarely change spontaneously. Change is usually a slow and difficult process even with the best therapeutic help.

Myth 4: Victims can always leave home

It is difficult for many people to understand why the victim does not leave. There are many factors that make their leaving very difficult:

  • victims are often brought up to believe that their true fulfilment comes from being partners and parents
  • family, ministers and counsellors often encourage them to stay
  • they do not feel they have the physical resources (money, house) to provide for their children, and
  • many victims are pursued and further abused when they leave.

Myth 5: Violence is a healthy release and is understandable

It is arguable that it is healthy for people to be aware of and to deal with their anger. There are strategies for doing this that achieve the "release" without endangering people.

Myth 6: Regret and remorse on the part of the abuser means he has changed

The regret and remorse, while genuine, is part of the cycle and is not indicative of change. The abuser usually has little insight into the complex motives for their behaviour and does not realise that change does not follow automatically just because they say they will never do it again.

Myth 7: It is best to keep the family together to work on the problem

The family system in violent relationships is extremely complex. Often it is necessary to have a physical separation of at least six months before the dynamics change. Work with the family can be done very effectively if the family is apart.

Myth 8: Once you split up, you'll never get back together

Separation can be a significant means of creating a new basis for the relationship that will enable productive reconciliation.

Myth 9: Abusers cannot control their violence

They often believe this. That is why they continue to avoid taking the responsibility for it. They are quickly able to take control when taught some strategies.

Myth 10: Victims deserve to get beaten

It is widely believed that the victim's "nagging" or other unreasonable behaviour pushes the abuser to breaking point. Studies do not support this. Even if the victim does nag or act unreasonable, there is no justification for the use of physical force.

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