Alongside each history of abuse, there runs a parallel history of prudent, determined and often creative resistance.
This is one of the things I’ve learned from Dr Allan Wade & his colleague Linda Coates. They are Canadian counselors have worked with many survivors of oppression and abuse; they also train other counselors and victim-advocates.
Note: in their article Language and Violence: Analysis of Four Discursive Operations, Coates & Wade use the word ‘violence’ to refer to all kinds of interpersonal abuse and oppression. Here is a short excerpt from their article:
Alongside each history of violence there runs a parallel history of prudent, determined, and often creative resistance.
The manner in which victims resist depends on the unique combination of dangers and opportunities present in their particular circumstances. Victims typically take into account that perpetrators will become even more violent for any act of defiance. Consequently, open defiance by victims is the least common form of resistance. In extreme circumstances the only possibility for resistance may be in the privacy afforded by the mind.
Too frequently, victims’ resistance is recognized or treated as significant only when it is successful in stopping or preventing the perpetrators’ violence. We maintain that this is an entirely inappropriate criterion. Victims resist in a myriad of ways that are not successful in stopping the violence but nevertheless are profoundly important as expressions of dignity and self-respect.
Key concepts for working in the field of abuse
The following key concepts are used by Allan Wade and his colleagues when they are training helping professionals.
Dignity is Central to Social Life
Social interaction is organized largely around the preserving of dignity. Even inadvertent slights can be met with intense responses. All forms of violence are affronts to dignity, but not all affronts to dignity involve physical violence.
Fitting Words to Deeds
There are no impartial accounts. Professionals and personal accounts of violence influence the perception and treatment of victims and offenders. Where there is violence, the question of “which words are fitted to which deeds” is crucial.
Social Conduct is Responsive
Individuals respond to social context, the immediate situation, and micro-interactional events and orient to one another as social agents with the capacity to choose.
Violent Acts are Social and Unilateral
Violent acts are social in that they occur in specific interactions and involve at least two people, and unilateral in that they entail actions by one person against the will and well-being of another.
Violence is Deliberate
Perpetrators of violence anticipate resistance from victims and take deliberate steps to conceal and suppress it. Even so-called “explosive” or “out of control” acts of violence involve choice and controlled, deliberate action.
Resistance is Ever-Present
Individuals respond to and resist violence and other forms of oppression. However, open defiance is the least common form of resistance. In extreme circumstances, resistance may be realized solely in the privacy of the mind/spirit.
Further reading and viewing
On Violence, Resistance, and Power in Language — Allan Wade talks about how people who have been abused may be further traumatized by the negative social responses they receive from ‘helping’ professionals, authority figures, family, friends and neighbours.
Honouring Resistance – a video presentation by Allan Wade
Respecting & Listening to Victims of Violence — a handbook from Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. The people who wrote this handbook have worked closely with Allan Wade.
The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other labels which are used to discredit and pathologize victims of abuse – a synopsis of a video presentation by Allan Wade. The video is embedded in the post.
The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and how it was invented to silence an indignant young woman – Allan Wade interviewed the first woman who was labelled as having “Stockholm Syndrome”.
The website of Allan Wade and his colleagues is Response Based Practice.
You may be wondering why I am publicly articulating my concerns about various abuse advocates. I have searched my heart and don’t think I’m motivated by self conceit or sour grapes or a desire to be combative. And I certainly don’t do it because I relish being reprimanded on social media!
I do it because I care very much for victims of domestic abuse. And one way I can help victims is to help the wider body of Christ think carefully and biblically about abuse advocacy and counseling.
Victims do not all have the same views. You may think a particular advocate is fantastic. Another victim may think that particular advocate is teaching some things that are confusing, unhelpful or even hurtful. If you are a victim of abuse and have not sensed anything wrong with the teaching of the advocates I critique, please have patience and respect for those victims who have a different perspective. And vica versa – I will do my best to have patience and respect for those who do not share my views. And note: I far prefer to read your thoughts at this blog, rather than on Twitter or Facebook. Those platforms don’t encourage nuanced conversation.
It is all too easy to use words in ways that hurt survivors of abuse
My brethren, be not every man a counsellor, remembering that we will receive the stricter judgement. (James 3:1 NMB)
Even if you are an esteemed advocate or counselor who works with abuse survivors, it’s all too easy to use words in ways that hurt survivors – especially if you have not suffered that kind of abuse yourself. When advocates do that, I pick up on it very quickly. I can’t help it. This awareness is just something I’ve acquired over years of hearing from hundreds (probably thousands) of victims, plus being a survivor of abuse myself in childhood and adulthood.
When I see other advocates giving teaching that can hurt or confuse victims or send them down time-consuming false paths, it really worries me because I feel for all the victims who are being confused and hurt. So I sometimes try to give my feedback to those advocates. I give feedback as constructively as I can. I hope the advocates will reconsider their words, but they often ignore me.
I know that I’m not the only survivor who is bothered by the language of certain advocates. I know this because other survivors have written to tell me so. They tell me they sensed something ‘not quite right’ about the way that advocate put things, but they might not have been able to put their finger on what was wrong. These survivors tell me that my insight about that advocate’s approach has helped disentangle their own confusion…and thus helped their recovery.
Someone suggested to me that I just let the SBC and the wider church ‘muddle along’ in raising awareness about abuse. But if high-profile advocates are putting out ideas that are somewhat unbiblical (and are therefore not all that helpful to victims) and victims have told me that I help them analyse what is being taught so they are better able to differentiate the chaff from the nourishing grain, then ought I keep silent? Is it right or wrong to let the church just muddle along?
When we are talking about abuse, the language we use is very important.¹
Obfuscating the perpetrator’s responsibility
“To obfuscate” means to obscure the understanding or judgement, darken, throw into the shade, dim the sight, bewilder, stupefy.
When advocates use language that obfuscates the perpetrator’s responsibility, it worries me. One way in which advocates can do this is by referring to abusers and their allies as “we” – thereby suggesting that all of us are abusers or allies of abusers. In my view, Diane Langberg sometimes does this.
Another way advocates can obfuscate abusers’ responsibility is by advising victims to take on the burden of prompting or provoking the abuser to change. In my view, Leslie Vernick is one of the advocates who does this.
Concealing the resistance of victims
It worries me when I hear advocates use language that conceals victims’ resistance rather than shedding light on and honouring the ways victims have judiciously resisted the abuse.
To learn what I mean by “honouring the resistance of victims”, I encourage you to read Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships. It is a PDF booklet and it won’t take you long to read. Note: if you have been abused you might want a trigger warning because reading it may bring up memories for you to process. But I promise it will help you understand and see through the fog of all the labels that have been unfairly plastered on you.
It worries me when advocates use language that pathologises victims. To pathologise something is to represent it as a disease. By extension it can mean representing someone as wrong, as defective in some way.
One way in which advocates pathologise victims is by implying that victims who feel fear, timidity, resentment, or anger are wrong – so they need to change.
The “you are wrong” messages echo the accusations which abusers and their allies have hammered victims with. To tell a victim “you are wrong” sounds so close to “you are to blame; the problem is your fault; you should fix yourself and get your act together.”
All the ‘shoulds’ and victim-blaming messages pile up and bury the victim.
Advocates who tell to the victim to “work on herself” are inadvertently replicating the messages that abusers tell their victims.
Another way advocates can pathologise victims is by suggesting that victims are “enabling” the abuse. As I wrote years ago in my post Enabling? Sins of the victim? I do not object to a victim reflecting on her past and saying about herself, “I enabled my abuser”. But I do think it’s unhelpful when other people take the liberty of stating that victims are enabling their abusers.
When advocates say that victims enable abusers, they are not taking into account the meticulous brainwashing and mind control that perpetrators do to their victims. They are not taking into account how, with male on female domestic abuse in particular, the perp systematically disassembles the target woman.
Advocacy specialisation is inevitable and valuable – but it has its own risks
Advocates often specialise in different areas and modalities: sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, domestic abuse, system-analysis, psychology & counseling, theology, investigation, journalism, and the justice system. One thing I’ve noticed is that those who specialise or have experience in one area do not necessarily understand other areas very well.
Here are some examples.
- If someone grew up with a psychologically abusive parent they often don’t understand intimate partner abuse very well…though they may make the mistake of assuming they do.
- Someone who has specialised in sexual abuse advocacy may think they understand domestic abuse, but they may not.
- Someone who has primarily suffered or studied spiritual abuse will not necessarily have an in-depth grasp of sexual abuse, or intimate partner abuse.
- A Christian counselor who has devoted a lot of time trying to teach more conservative Christian counselors might speak to general audiences as if they are all counselors and church leaders…but general audiences include many survivors who are at various stages of awakening and recovery.
None of that is unsurprising. But it’s hard to get advocates to see their blind spots. When they have become so specialised and skilled in one area, it is easy to fall into the trap of being resistant to feedback from others who have different skills and perspectives.
The advocate comfort-zone
Furthermore, an advocate can easily fall into the comfort-zone that comes from being esteemed as an expert and getting paid for dispensing your wisdom to audiences who are less aware of abuse than you are.
If, as an advocate, you rely on income from corrupted organisations, you are less likely to boldly expose the corruption in those organisations. You might indirectly point to their obstinacy – by euphemism, by allusion, by generalities – but will you challenge and nail the corruption that you see in that organisation if you are enjoying or reliant on their payments? Will you tell yourself that it’s okay to compromise because, after all, you are influencing some people to be more aware of abuse than they were before?
The problem is, every compromise you make lets some victims of abuse down.
¹ I created the graphic about language from the work of Allan Wade and Linda Coates, especially their article Language and Violence: Analysis of Four Discursive Operations – link takes you to a pdf of that article which was originally published in the Journal of Family Violence (2007) 22:511-522.
My series on the ChurchCares teaching team. ChurchCares is the SBC’s upcoming video series which they are producing to help churches to respond to abuse.
Part 3, Diane Langberg – there is an extensive & illuminating discussion thread at that post
Part 5 (coming soon), Leslie Vernick
Other posts at this blog about advocacy
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I thank God for her fastidious care and perseverance. It is a massive job. We have many pages, posts and comments that will need to be updated.
Darby Strickland is raising awareness about domestic abuse, but… (pt 2 of series on the Church Cares program)
Darby Strickland is helping awaken the church to abuse issues. She is one of the teachers in the free videos which are soon to come out from Church Cares – the SBC’s attempt to start educating the church about how to identify and respond to abuse.
In Part 1 of this series I praised the people of conscience in the SBC who are spearheading Church Cares, then I discussed the strengths and shortfalls of Chris Moles who is a member of the Church Cares teaching team.
Here in Part 2 I’ll be talking about Darby Strickland who is another member of the Church Cares teaching team. In later parts of this series I will talk about two other people who are on the teaching team: Leslie Vernick and Diane Langberg. Then I will published a Digest which will gives quick links to all my posts about churchcares.com.
If you plan on watching the Church Cares videos, you can read my series to get a second opinion about what may be taught there. You may or may not agree with my views, but reading my posts might stimulate your discernment and make you aware of things to watch out for.
Here is my view of the strengths of Darby Strickland, and a few things which I recommend she modify to be even more effective.
I think all the posts I’ve read at Darby Strickland’s blog are pretty good.
I applaud and honour Darby for trying to educate pastors and counselors with her 3-part series titled Sexual Abuse in Marriage. However, it worries me that when she mentioned rape her wording gave an unclear idea of what constitutes rape. Here is the passage in question –
Violation. The worst sexual violation is rape, but there are many types of violation. Among them are sexual acts performed while someone is sleeping or intoxicated, unwanted sexual touch, being forced to engage in an unwanted act to avoid another abuse, or a husband ignoring tears or other expressions of discomfort. Sadly, I have heard many stories of Christian women who were raped on their honeymoon. They were conditioned early on in their marriage to be compliant or be terrorized. Sexual Abuse in Marriage, Part 1
Darby’s woolly wording can give the impression that ‘real’ rape is less serious than the penetration of person who is sleeping or intoxicated. But rape is the act of penetration of any orifice without the consent of the one being penetrated. A sleeping or heavily intoxicated person cannot give proper consent. That is rape. No buts about it. As I’ve said before on this blog: Consent is the “Yes” you say when you are free to say “No”. You’re not free to say no if you are asleep or drugged. If someone penetrates you while you are not free to say “No,” you are being raped.
It also worries me that that when Darby explained to pastors and counselors why women might not realize they are being abused, she didn’t give a strong warning about the dangers and risks of couple counseling in domestic abuse. I believe Darby is aware of those dangers, but she didn’t not sufficiently spell them out to less-educated pastors and counselors.
Darby’s post Twelve Ways to Help Victims is excellent. I highly recommend it.
A few women have told me their abusive husbands were counselled by Darby and she did a great job laying it on the line firmly with the abusive husbands. But it worries me that Darby says abusers “lack insight” into the harm they are doing and she offers pity to an abuser by saying to him, “It’s hard for you, given that your wife is nagging… how can you serve her better?” (podcast where Darby said those things).
Whenever we are talking about abuse, the language we use is very important.
Look at the bottom row in that table. By going along with the abuser’s narrative that his wife is a nag, Darby failed to contest the blaming of the victim. An abuser could think to himself: Ha! Darby agrees that my wife is a nag! I’ll store that away and say it to my wife next time she brings up a grievance and I have to crush her and put her back in her place.
Don Hennessy says that the skilled male abuser knows what he is doing from day one and is wholly intentional about selecting, targeting, grooming and abusing the target-woman. He says domestic abusers are like pedophiles — and there’s not much proof they’re redeemable. Don has dealt with over 2000 abusive men. He’s probably more experienced in this field than most Christian counselors. I wonder whether Darby has read Don’s work.
It worries me that Darby seems to think the abuser is “oppressed” because the abuser is “enslaved to the desire to be served, instead of serving the Lord” (link). By saying this, she is giving the abuser leeway to play the pity card. The proper response to abusers is to be hard as flint and not give them any opportunity to push the pity card.
Darby is a staff member of CCEF. It worries me that three senior men at CCEF say the Christian victim of abuse “needs redemption” (link) – they imply that the abused Christian is not in the Kingdom of God. For all I know Darby may be privately challenging those men about this, but I’ve not seen anything from her in the public domain which suggests she is not comfortable with their line on that.
Some counselors have told me that Darby’s ‘Counseling Abusive Marriages’ course enhanced their skills as counselors. But click here, here and here to see why I’m worried that the course might be offering bread mixed with stones.
Until very recently the Chairman of the CCEF Board was Dave Harvey. Dave Harvey has a track record of having to resign from top positions because of his character deficiencies and family issues – Brent Detwiler has been tracking the problems with Dave Harvey (link). While I was drafting this post CCEF appointed a new chairman, but Dave Harvey is still a member of their board (proof). I appreciate that Darby Strickland may be doing a balancing act at CCEF; she is obviously more aware of the tactics of abusers than most of the rest of CCEF are. I only hope she is not compromising her values and violating her conscience.
The table in this post is based on the work of Allan Wade & Linda Coates, especially their article Language and Violence: Analysis of Four Discursive Operations – the link takes you to a pdf of that article which was originally published in the Journal of Family Violence (2007) 22:511-522.