By PAMELA WHITEHEAD
I talk with women every week who have been physically abused by people who say they love them. Simultaneously I see the highlight reel of others in a stream across social media – smiles, filters, angle just right. I see the posts proclaiming that “I would never” and “he knows better.”
Women who are being hit are suffering silently. And I’m just telling you – unless you’ve been a victim of domestic violence, you don’t have any idea what you would do.
People in crisis don’t always look like it
We can have a wrong idea of what a person in a “crisis” might be dealing with. Usually when someone says “crisis,” most often the assumption is that basic needs are not being met. We may think this person probably doesn’t have a job, is probably not married, and qualifies for government assistance.
But the truth is, we get calls from women who are professionals (lawyers, psychiatrists, teachers) and married, but are pregnant and being abused. We have women contact us who are stay-at-home moms who have no financial crisis, but emotionally they are overdrawn. We have Christian women who have multiple children and “seem to have it together” but are keeping their pregnancy secret and contemplating abortion because they are still nursing the last baby and they are so tired.
When we ask for people to join in our efforts to provide a safe path and provision for these women, many of the comments look like this: “Why did she go back?” Instead of simply praying for her, people judge her.
Women in abusive relationships sometimes just can’t pick up and leave
It is not always safe to call the police when a woman has been assaulted by her spouse or intimate partner. Here are just a few reasons:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline found that about 75 percent of survivors who called the police on their abusers later concluded that police involvement was unhelpful at best, and at worst made them feel less safe.
- A quarter of those surveyed said they were arrested or threatened with arrest when reporting partner abuse or sexual assault to police.
- About half of survivors never called the police at all, citing fear of discrimination by police, invasion of privacy, wanting to protect their children, not wanting their partner arrested, or concern that involving the authorities would exacerbate the violence.
- Women are desperate for an immediate response and find it hard to manage the delays in the process of getting a court injunction or having their injuries assessed.
- Survivors are told that calling the police won’t help them, or that they will only get themselves in trouble.
- The fear and shame that accompany domestic violence make it difficult for survivors to ask for the help they so desperately need.
- When the police threaten to have the children removed from the home, it closely mirrors the fear the survivor has already been facing at the hands of their abuser.
- If her spouse or partner is a law enforcement officer or works closely with the police department (prosecutor, attorney, probation, etc.), then calling the authorities may not seem safe.
Judging others is in no one’s best interest
We should be mindful and not judge the crisis of others. Even if you’ve been in a similar situation, your response and theirs may differ for many reasons. We connect survivors of violence with proper authorities when it is safe, but it is her decision.
It is quite disempowering to “tell her what she should do” as if we know her situation better than she does. She’s been living it. Trust me, she knows.
Despite criticisms, the police remain one of the key frontline services which survivors can use to prevent and stop incidents of violence and abuse. It is important to remember that it is the survivor’s choice of whether to involve the police.
No matter how a survivor decides to get help, the important thing is that they are reaching out. In seeking an immediate answer to an ongoing crisis, many women who are being abused see abortion as a “way out.”
Violence and abortion often go hand in hand
Experiencing violence, especially from intimate partners, is common among women having abortions, with 6-22 percent reporting recent violence from an intimate partner. Concern about violence is a reason some pregnant women decide to terminate their pregnancies.
Women who report violence as a reason for abortion describe not wanting to expose children to violence and believing that having the baby will tether them to an abusive partner.
Whether through law enforcement, a domestic violence advocate, a pregnancy center, a hotline or any other option, survivors should be met with support, love and safety. The solutions to their crisis should never involve more violence or dehumanization, and abortion is both.
Where to get help
The truth is, abortion is fear-based. It always says, “You can’t.” We are here to help with support in real-time. If you are a single or expecting momma and need assistance, contact Loveline at 888-550-1588. If you are in an abusive relationship and want help, text START to 88788. If you are struggling with the impact of a past abortion, we’ve got help for that too at Support After Abortion. If you’re on a healing journey and you’ve got something that can help, make yourself available and make sure people know you’re a safe person.
Pamela is the director of ProLove Ministries. She will speak at Pro-Life Mississippi’s LifeSpeaks Forum on October 30 at Foundry Church in Flowood. For more information, visit Facebook.com/ProLifeMississippi.