Is it Wrong to “Just Believe” Abuse Victims?
One of the best and very first things we can do to help a victim of abuse is to believe them when they come to us and ask for help. And yet with some frequency we see criticism of this point coming our way. “Oh, sure, believe her? How do you know that she isn’t just making the whole thing up, falsely accusing the alleged abuser? The Bible says we need two or three witnesses, doesn’t it? And what about Proverbs:
(Pro 18:17) The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
So let’s spend a bit of time answering these critics.
First, consider what Proverbs says, and do so in light of what we know about the mentality, nature and tactics of the abuser. We know that this saying is true – it is the Word of God. We also know, if we have educated ourselves about the dynamics of abuse, its facades and deception, that the one who states his case first, and seems right, is the abuser! Not the victim! Victims don’t readily speak up, but their abusers are quite active regularly working their deceptions. They work to gain allies. They work to blame the victim. Victims are in such a fog of confusion by all of this evil business that they don’t speak up and when they finally do, they are still not completely clear on what is happening to them. Yes, the one who states his case first seems right. But then comes the victim and we are supposed to have an “Aha!” moment when she does. Usually we don’t.
Next, let’s consider the charge that if we “just believe” a person who is reporting abuse then we are going to be duped, with some frequency, by false claims. To say that we should believe a person who alleges abuse is to play right into the hands of man-hating feminists or radical social-reconstructionists who hate marriage and the family. Here comes this wife who is rebelling against her head, so she is making all of these false allegations, you see. That is how the criticisms go.
Well, first of all these objections once again show a real lack of knowledge about the nature and tactics of abusers and of the effects of abuse on victims, especially upon victims who are Christians. What do we know about genuine abuse victims in the church? We know that they do not readily come forward. And this for many reasons, 1) They are confused by the crazy-making deception of abuse, 2) They still love their abuser and fear they may be exaggerating the situation, 3) They fear displeasing the Lord by not being a good, submissive wife, or a good self-sacrificing husband, and 4) They are ashamed. There are probably other reasons as well, such as just plain fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of the rage of the abuser if he finds out. Fear of “how are me and my children going to pay the bills?” So when a person, man or woman, comes forward with an allegation of abuse, it is simply not very common at all for them to be lying and simply trying to get revenge or to find some easy way out of a marriage they just don’t want to be in. There are easier ways to pull those kinds of motives off.
Think about it. Is the REAL problem in society at large and in our churches that false victims are coming forward and making false accusations against their spouse? Is that the elephant in the room that we are dealing with? Of course not. Be the abuse sexual molestation or domestic violence abuse, the real problem is that victims and witnesses don’t come forward, generally for a long time. And when they do, the abuse they have endured is minimized, discounted, and disbelieved. They suffer additional abuse at the hands of those they have turned to for help. THAT is the norm. You can’t argue with that.
Next, consider the Word of God and what the Lord has to say about how His people are to respond to the oppressed, weak, and needy:
(Exo 22:22-24) You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
Deu 24:17 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge,
Jer 5:28 they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
Psa 82:2-5 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah (3) Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. (4) Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (5) They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Anyone who knows even an inkling about Scripture is aware that we could go on and on quoting such passages. The frequency of these very clear and sobering warnings is that we have a tendency to not listen to the case of the downtrodden. To discount the suffering of the oppressed. To dismiss them, tell them to go in peace and “be warmed” while doing nothing really to help them. This is what God’s Word warns us about. Are there Scriptures that deal with false allegations? Yes. But clearly the main thrust of Scripture in this area is NOT to restrain some excessive thirst for righteousness and justice, but quite the opposite.
Finally, there is this matter of the Scriptural laws of evidence. In a courtroom proceeding, evidence must meet certain standards before it can be introduced into the trial. Physical evidence must be supported with an unbroken “chain of evidence.” Hearsay is generally excluded. And so it is in the Word of God. God’s standards are “two or three witnesses.” We see this in both Old and New Testaments and it is the basis even for church discipline (see Matthew 18:19-20, an oft-misapplied passage).
This divine rule of evidence is not limited to two or three eyewitnesses! We have seen this thing grossly misused by church leaders before. An allegation of sexual abuse, for example, is brought up and it is dismissed because “there is only the one victim’s testimony and you have to have two or three.” All other forms of evidence are dismissed. How many criminals would go free if the law required two or three eyewitnesses to convict!
So let me suggest other kinds of evidence that can “testify” in these cases:
- Financial records. Abusers often use money to virtually imprison their victims.
- Visible (to the trained eye) effects of abuse in the victim. These are by no means limited to physical injuries. Is the victim reluctant to talk about the abuse? Does she seem confused about what is happening to her? Is she fearful? Does she bear a load of false guilt and self-blame?
- Does the accused abuser evidence qualities consistent with the abuser persona? While he may hide behind a facade of saintly religion, there are always telltale signs. Study the qualities common to the sociopath/psychopath/narcissist and you will begin to understand what qualities we are talking about. (See our post on The Language of Abusers Who Portray Themselves as Victims and All of our Posts that discuss Language of Abusers).
Make no mistake, these things are admissible evidence!
Have we ever come across false victims? Yes. How often? Not very. In the last two years, for example, interacting with victims through this blog and other venues, I have personally only heard from three who I believe were not truly victims of abuse. And I recognized them as such. Not because I was so profoundly wise, but because I have studied abuse and spoken now with scores of victims – and some of their abusers. Frankly, I have simply not found it that difficult to hear that “ring of truth” that comes with a genuine victim.
So, to those critics who claim that we are being gullible and dealing probable injustice to falsely accused spouses, we say – set yourself to the study of abuse. Start reading. Learn about its mindset and motives and nature and tactics. Learn about the effects it has on victims. Admit that you don’t know, and start listening to people who do. After honestly and diligently educating yourself in this way, if you still think it is a great error to “just believe” victims, please let us know.