Beyond #YesAllWomen: Caring for Victims of Misogynistic Abuse
The following was originally published at JTCochran.com and was adapted and republished with permission.
The #YesAllWomen trend is a stunning response to a saddening event that occurred when Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree near Santa Barbara California. Elliot Rodger is the son of filmmaker Peter Rodger, assistant director of the Hunger Games. He stabbed his three male roommates to death and then went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista killing 6 total and injuring 7 others. Rodger was found dead in his car after it crashed, a gunshot wound to the head.
What happens next for these women who for a brief moment felt heard? How is the church going to listen and respond?Shortly before this spree, Rodger released a youtube video that has since been removed. In that video Rodger blames women for what he will do next saying:
I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because…I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.
Twitter users began using #YesAllWomen to interact and respond to this event, campaigning specifically against misogyny. According to Time Magazine,
Rodger’s comments inspired an online conversation Saturday around the #YesAllWomen hashtag to criticize the way society teaches men to feel entitled to women at the expense of their health, safety and, in Rodger’s case, lives.
According to a Topsy search over 800K tweets have been accompanied by the #YesAllWomen hashtag. The response is overwhelming, with #YesAllWomen as the top trend on Twitter. If you spend anytime at all scrolling through these tweets, you will see graphic detail from victims of misogyny. You will also see a lot of anger and pain made public.
Events like this shooting spree often become watershed moments for a movement. Voices that often seem to be crowded out have the full ear of the media. If you search #YesAllWomen on google, you will find that nearly every major news source has covered not just the shooting but the ensuing twitter conversation.
But after it all settles down in a day or two, where do we go from here? What happens next for these women who for a brief moment felt heard? How is the church going to listen and respond? What can Christ followers do to love and encourage those who have felt such hate?
Some of these people will blame a Christian or the Church for their victimization. They may even blame God. How can those who have been abused by a father, a brother, a boyfriend, or a husband turn to a God who is portrayed as a father, a brother, and a lover in Scripture? These are tough questions to answer.
Our Story of Misogyny
This week marks nine years of marriage to Kendall. She is my bride, and I love her as dearly today as the first day I met her. Together we have three children, two of which are girls, all of which have never experienced abuse of any kind. I grew up in a loving, kind, and abuse free home.
My wife did not. She endured years of abuse, whether it was before she was taken away from her drug abusing, prostituting, natural mother at the age of four, or if it was during her years with an abusive adopted father, who eventually went to prison for his crimes. My wife’s life is riddled with pain from abuse of many kinds: neglect, disapproval, abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual.
As her husband, I’ve held my wife as she sobbed through nightmares in her sleep. I’ve encouraged her and supported her as she’s managed difficult days like Mother’s day and Father’s day. I’ve helped her navigate sensitive matters — matters where she asks herself what is appropriate and what is not — like appropriate affection to our children, how to properly bathe them, and how to change a dirty diaper with a clean conscience. This is all stuff normal moms and dads don’t think a thing about, but they bring back traumatizing memories for my wife.
When Kendall was in seventh grade she was rescued from an abusive home by her Uncle Rocky, whom we now affectionately call Dad and Papa. Kendall lived with him from 8th grade until she was sent off to college to live on her own. Our children call him Papa, and they are his grand kids. He and I are the two men with whom my wife has learned to rebuild her trust in men. We have become the marks of both a virtuous man and a godly man. Her image and understanding of God has been rebuilt, with greater confidence, by how Rocky and I reflect God’s image to Kendall.
I haven’t got this all figured out. I’m still learning each day as Kendall and I journey through life together. But here are four things that I’ve learned as we’ve progressed forward through life together.
4 Ways to Comfort Those Who are Previously Abused
1. Be unending in patience.
Patience is probably the most critical characteristics that you will need to possess. Along with this comes the reality that you should never expect full healing. Livable healing is what you will aim for. Full healing God may give with time, but it may just be that a victim will not truly drink this cordial until they reach paradise.
You will need to possess unending patience. If you ever think, “Well, we’ve gotten past that issue,” expect to see it come up again. Every time I’ve thought that we’ve moved on, I’ve discovered that wounds run far deeper than I imagined. Satan’s lies keep coming, and haunting memories are unlocked or rehearsed again.
Learn to be sensitive and considerate in all circumstances and to accept that certain emotions come with the territory. They may include such emotions or responses like a peaked level of jealousy, occasional suspicion, and questioning of self-worth. Regardless, your role is to be steadfastly present, reassuring, and patient.
2. Provide heaps of positive, healthy affection.
The level of the positive affection you give depends on the nature of your relationship with the abuse victim. I am a spouse, so I am charged with the responsibility to be the primary vehicle of affection. I am responsible for filling the deep well that my wife has for affection. This affection must come through various means.
Affection will include praise. Not just praise about appearance, though that is important. Many abuse victims will always feel ugly. They will require ongoing assurance that this is not the case. Abuse victims will also feel worthless and incapable of accomplishment. They need praise for their day to day accomplishments that went overlooked in their abuse situation. And they all need praise for their character. Abuse victims have been objectified and dehumanized already, so they will require focused attention towards their character. Heap praises upon the character of that person.
Affection will include tokens: whether it is a card, flowers, or a gift. They should not just come on special occasions but they should be spontaneous. They do not have to be costly. In fact, thoughtfulness speaks louder than costliness. For in their abuse situation, they were not thought of as being of much worth at all.
Affection will also include quality time together. They will starve for your attention and your time. They will be replacing dark memories that they want to push deep down and forget with cherishing memories. They will want their children to have a fill of quality time, the time they may not have been given as a child.
Affection will be physical. Now obviously this depends on the level of appropriateness based on the relationship. A friend will need a hug or an arm around the shoulder. A spouse will need so much more. If you are married to a victim of previous abuse there will be certain things that you will not do as a result of trauma. It may just be that some time will pass before those things are bearable. Spouses need to listen carefully and ask questions frequently.
3. Be sensitive to any triggers.
Every abuse victim has their own triggers. It can be a particular odor, like a cologne. It can be certain music or shows. It can be particular environments or enclosed places that give that person a sense of danger. It can be a certain day or holiday. It can be a particular town or home. Learning which triggers refresh hard memories is helpful.
You don’t necessarily want to run away from those trigger moments, but learning to walk through them together hand in hand is what is most necessary. Often these times permit for conversation where one person is given the freedom to share and process painful events that they have never been able to process with another.
4. Ground them in and point to their value and significance in God.
Don’t become the person that they rest their hope in. That place is only reserved for God. It is easy for abuse victims to put their trust in the person who is their knight in shining armor. Then it becomes really disappointing when that knight plays the part of an everyday sinner.
In my case, a husband makes a poor god, and so a husband should be intentional to constantly point his wife back to God for all hope, value, and significance. This is an unceasing practice for husbands.
Abuse victims grow much dependence upon others for hope and encouragement. They will have really down days. Depending on the normal disposition of that person, they may lead a melancholy life. They will search for optimistic, extrovert friends or spouses to bring them cheer. This is a great asset, but it becomes a dangerous, idolatrous substitute for God if not rightly grounded.
img via Georgie Pauwels.
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