When Faith Is Used To Justify: Helping Victims Of Domestic Violence -- By: Al Miles

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 15:2 (Spring 2001)
Article: When Faith Is Used To Justify: Helping Victims Of Domestic Violence
Author: Al Miles


When Faith Is Used To Justify: Helping Victims Of Domestic Violence

Al Miles

The Reverend Al Miles is an ethics consultant and the coordinator of hospital ministry for Interfaith Ministries of Hawaii at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. This article is reprinted with permission from AJN (American Journal of Nursing), May 1999, Vol. 99, No. 5 (pp. 32-35). Copyright © 2000-2001 Ovid Technologies, Inc. Version: rel4.3.0, SourceID: 1.5031.1.149.

Twelve million women in the United States—a staggering 25 percent of all American women—will be abused by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, according to a recent article in the Hawaii Medical Journal. An estimated two million women in this country are assaulted by an intimate partner every year. The actual numbers are probably much higher because the victims (whom I also refer to as “survivors”) often remain silent, fearing both the stigma associated with abuse and the threat of further violence from the perpetrators. In addition, because verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse don’t leave physical marks, they may be overlooked or dismissed as “not that bad” by caregivers and even by victims themselves. But the pain caused by harsh, sexist language meant to break the spirit is just as real as the pain caused by fists.

Domestic violence is as ancient as the family unit itself. Over the past few years, however, professionals from numerous fields have begun discussing the connections between domestic violence and what victims and perpetrators are taught in their faith communities about the roles of women and men in the home and society in general. Some men claim that their abusive behavior is justified by a faith that has taught them that God gives them authority over their female partners. Similarly, some women tolerate abuse because of religious instruction to submit to male partners.

This was amplified for me not long ago when five women—all of them nurses—visited my office and confided details of their abuse at the hands of husbands or boyfriends. Although during my 17 years of service I’ve had many victims share their stories with me, these disclosures were particularly unsettling, because in each case the perpetrator had cited Scripture to justify his abusive behavior. And each of the victims herself offered biblical explanations for why she “deserved” punishment.

For years, I’ve heard abused women blame themselves this way because of someone’s misinterpretation of biblical passages. My colleagues’ stories, however, were moving reminders that I need to continue speaking out against inaccurate and harmful interpretations of my own faith, while conjointly counseling victims and abusers that no belief system should be offered ...

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