A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst


“The firefighters had 29 minutes to get out of the World Trade Center or die. Inside the north tower, though, almost none of them realized how urgent it had become to leave.” – 9/11 Firefighters Told of Isolation Amid Disaster

I was messaging a friend the other day. Her divorce was final just this year and she is still sorting through the emotions that come over her in waves.

Friend: My heart is broken. I really think it would have been better to just stay married and balance the cycles. I’d have my kids near me and under my influence instead of his family’s. I’d be more of an influence on my abuser than his family. And I’d at least have his up swings and good cycles. I wrecked us all by giving up. Everything is so wrecked.

Me: Cycles like this?

Abuse Cycle

Abuse Cycle

Me: You wrecked nothing. You can’t control him. You never could. Abusers want their targets to think we can. We can’t. His upswings cause as much stress as his viciousness. That’s because during the upswings you start to believe that he’s not that bad and you’re crazy. I am not the boss of you. But I REALLY believe you did the right thing. You are brave. You didn’t “give up.” You got legal protection. Now it’s time to use it. Please call the child support office and get the ball rolling there.

Your believing you could manage him is EXACTLY what he is after. Going no contact with him will help you to get out of this fog. He is not a Christian. He is not caring for you or desiring your well being. All he wants, ALL HE WANTS, is what he wants right now at this very minute, like a 2 year old (not an insult). And he has a big enough body and mean enough mouth that he will destroy whatever he perceives to be getting in his way.

Your children need you to pick a side and commit. You are being double minded. I’m not chastising you as though I haven’t felt the same emotions. You acted in integrity. You acted FOR YOUR KIDS. You are showing them how to love. A real life support group will be very good (I hope). I wish you could get into a Mending The Soul group. Your courage is pleasing to God. TRUST HIM. Trust that He is with you. Trust him. He is worthy of your trust and obedience. You didn’t sin. You didn’t abandon your faith. You didn’t give up. Your abuser is not safe. HE ISN’T SAFE.

I have an assignment for you. I want you to go to a fire station and talk to firemen. There are times that they can put fires out. And they stay and they FIGHT the fires, and there are times that they MUST evacuate a building and manage the damage from a safe distance. You evacuated. You didn’t give up. [Then I Googled for articles about firefighters and found this. It  has so many parallels to abusive marriages and the churches’ (rescuers’) responses (good and bad) that it gave me chills. The whole article will take your breath away.]

9/11 Firefighters Told of Isolation Amid Disaster – New York Times Oral histories reveal that firefighters in the north tower of the World Trade Center had no idea that the south tower had collapsed. “The firefighters had 29 minutes to get out of the World Trade Center or die. Inside the north tower, though, almost none of them realized how urgent it had become to leave.”

You fought the fire. You got out before the blaze collapsed on you and killed you and left your children completely WITHOUT an advocate. You DID NOT GIVE UP.

“In stairwells or resting on floors, they could not see what had happened or hear clearly stated warnings. Even after the south tower fell, when few civilians remained in the lower floors of the north tower, throngs of firefighters lingered in the lobby and near the 19th floor as time ran down, the survivors said.”

You and I are out and we can learn to see the warnings. We can learn to help others and equip them to hang onto their sanity, their health, their dignity, and GET OUT of collapsing buildings. You didn’t give up. You couldn’t hold that burning building up by yourself.

“Firefighters wondered aloud how they could have attacked a fire reached at the end of a four-hour climb.”

They couldn’t have. That building was coming down whether they were in it and fighting the fire or not. Your marriage was destroyed by your abuser, not you. You DID climb that exhausting climb. Like the firemen in the north tower, your communication devices (preachers teaching bad doctrine about marriage) didn’t work and almost got you killed. But you got OUT by God’s grace. You survived.

“On the 37th floor, Daniel Sterling, of Engine Company 24, had stopped with firefighters from Ladder 5 and Engine 33 – who did not survive – when the building rattled. A moment later, Firefighter Sterling said, Chief John Paolillo appeared. “He thought there was a partial collapse of the 65th floor of our building and that we should drop everything and leave,” Firefighter Sterling said. ‘Get Up and Go, Go, Go’ A few floors below, around the 30th or 31st floor, Chief Paolillo was spotted again. “He was yelling, ‘Leave your equipment and just get up and go, go, go,’ [Ellie’s insertion – I see that equipment as being the permanence teachings that we thought were gospel, or the earthly treasures we’d accumulated during the marriage, or the respect of others who we knew would think badly of us if divorced] like that,” Lt. Brian Becker of Engine 28 said. Chief Paolillo died.” Over and over, firefighters who had left the building in those final minutes, bewildered by the sudden retreat, the ruined lobby, the near-empty street, mentioned a chief covered in the dust of the first collapse, standing just outside the north tower on West Street. Some knew his name: Deputy Assistant Chief Albert Turi. “He was screaming, ‘Just keep moving. Don’t stop,’ ” Firefighter Thomas Orlando of Engine 65 recalled, adding, “I still didn’t know the south tower collapsed.” Chief Turi, he said, “saved an awful lot of people.”

I think Jeff C might be that guy covered in dust.

“We didn’t have a chance to do anything,” he added. “We didn’t have a chance to put the fire out, which was really all we were trying to do.”

We didn’t have a chance to have healthy marriages. And that was all we were trying to do.


  1. marriedtohyde

    Wow. What an insightful article Ellie.

    This brought tears to my eyes. Yes, we survivors were trying to keep our homes intact by putting out the fires started on purpose by our abusers. They meant to destroy the home and us too because they derive a sick pleasure from watching our scrambling and suffering.

    I watched a documentary about the 9 / 11 firefighters. Their not getting all the information/not knowing what was happening is quite a lot like the fog abusers cast around us. It can be lethal.

  2. Seeing Clearly

    Like 9 / 11 firefighters; we didn’t really have a chance and that was all we were trying to do. It is a deep tragedy and reality. You have great insight to have tied the two together. I feel very sad today. The misuse of power and devaluing of human beings.

  3. Valerie

    Wow, Ellie. This was very powerful. I cannot find more words right now.

  4. Cindy Rapstad

    Ellie this is so true I know that when you are breathing in toxic fumes you cannot think straight and many times the toxic fumes are added to by bad advice from well meaning people who do not have a clue of what a dangerous situation abuse is. So they are saying no stay in the “building” or the building will collapse without you there. Truth is the building is coming down and it will take you with it.

    I have a friend that was upset with herself that she thought she was being stupid and paranoid about a man that was in the library she say him get up about the time she did and if he was going to get in the elevator she didn’t want to be on it with him. She was upset that she felt like she wasn’t safe. I told her because we have been told so many times that was not safe was safe and we were told to listen to what others said was safe that we forgot to listen to the Holy Spirit telling us what is safe or not. It is ok not to get on an elevator when you don’t feel safe with an individual. It is ok to not be friends with someone that makes us feel unsafe, it is ok to leave a dangerous situation.

    Take time and listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to your intuition.

  5. Anon.

    Ellie – Thank you for writing this !

  6. Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

    Chills up my spine. This is an amazing piece.

  7. joepote01

    Ellie, this was so well written and such a good analogy! It brought both chills and tears, as I read it.

    Thank you, for sharing this!

  8. Searcher

    Many abusers lack the ability to love. Accepting abuse and staying with an abuser is like staying in a house that is burning down. The abuser is prepared to burn with the house. Should the wife and children suffer because of another’s selfishness. My pastor says yes and I have witnessed how his views have hindered his ministry.
    After a certain line has been crossed, the marriage ceases to exist in spirit. People are merely keeping up appearances. A divorce or seperation is a public announcement of what even casual observers realize. The marriage has become irrepably damaged.
    I am tired of seeing good women suffer guilt over leaving an abusive man or worse sticking around and being abused further.

  9. Becky

    I understand the victim’s perspective, you do have to think of your kids. If getting a divorce means the kids are going to be with him part-time without your protection, you have to stop and think through, is this the best thing for the kids. I don’t believe there is a cookie cutter answer to this as each situation is different. Protecting the kids from the abuser is the main priority, you need to limit the baggage they will incur. Life is hard.

    • NotHeard

      I believe Becky’s right. Stats show the risk escalates when leaving the abuser. When there are children involved, you are never totally free or safe, whether or not you have left the abuse. Monday mourning shows that a lot of damage can happen to children after leaving. My psychologist (who has met and talked with my husband, and told him that trying to have a constructive conversation with him was like trying to catch an eel -it can’t be done) admitted she could not advise me whether my children would be better off by me staying or going, but at least by staying, I could act as a conscience (regarding his parenting). I took this to mean I could protect them better by being there full time. I am speaking from experience: I have left (and gone back) three times, and he gets worse, much worse.

      • My psychologist . . . admitted she could not advise me whether my children would be better off by me staying or going, but at least by staying, I could act as a conscience (regarding his parenting).

        Hi NotHeard, I am glad that your psychologist realises your abuser is slippery as an eel. However the psychologist’s remark about how you could act as the abuser’s conscience regarding his parenting bothers me a bit. The psychologist may have amplified and explained what he/she meant by that statement, so I don’t want to be too critical, but if I may I would like to explain why it bothers me.

        I believe that abusers do not have a conscience much at all — their consciences are either non-existent or so badly seared that for practical purposes they do not exist. By remaining under the same roof as the abuser, the protective parent may, by their presence and vigilance, cause the abuser to slightly restrain himself from abusing the kids. That self-restraint which the abuser may excercise on himself is not because of his conscience, it is because of his fear of getting caught and having to face consequences for his wicked deeds.

        If the abuser knows the protective parent is being vigilant for the children’s safety and could report to child protection or law enforcement if the abuser commits any crime against the children, that may, sometimes, to some degree, lead the abuser to restrain himself from doing some evil acts on the children. However, that is not the same thing as saying that the victim is ‘acting as the abuser’s conscience’. It means that the victim is acting as one of the people who is prepared to hold the abuser accountable.

        The idea of victims acting as the abuser’s conscience bothers me because it blurs the boundaries of responsibility: it ascribes power to victims which they do not have, and it ascribes a burden of responsibility to victims that they ought not have to bear.

        Protective parents can indeed take responsibility to do what they can to protect their kids and themselves. But they cannot take responsibility to act as the abuser’s conscience. All they can do is their bit to hold the abuser accountable: and holding abusers accountable is a whole-community enterprise, it’s not just the responsibility of the victim. To hold the abuser properly accountable we need pastors and elders and police and judges and parole officers and the non-abusive members of the community to all pull together. And we still have a long way to go in society before that is the norm. 😦

        And even when all the mesh of the accountability net is held tightly and is working intelligently together to restrain abusers and keep victims and children safe, there is no absolute guarantee that an individual abuser will be restrained or an individual woman or child will be kept safe. Some abusers will get through the net, but society could certainly make that net a lot more tight, efficient, intelligent and effective.

      • Seeing Clearly

        Your thorough explanation re: ‘the psychologist’s comment’ is extremely helpful. So often, a professional comment doesn’t exactly make sense, but the victim goes with it anyway. Due to the fog and confusion that a victim lives in, it is more difficult to act on intuition. Victims are conditioned to believe and obey authority rather than question authority. This is one of the tragedies of abuse; erosion of confidence in self to the point of believing a liar before a victim will believe herself.

  10. anon

    “You fought the fire. You got out before the blaze collapsed on you and killed you and left your children completely WITHOUT an advocate. You DID NOT GIVE UP.”

    Needed this today. THANK YOU.

  11. KayJay

    Just looking at that graphic makes me feel very sad. The cycles are exhausting to deal with, even when there is no physical abuse.

  12. Healinginprocess

    Thank you Ellie…this was an awesome analogy. If we can get out, as the fog and dust settle only then can we begin to see the aftermath and damage the abuser and his abuse has caused.

  13. StandsWithAFist

    This. was. powerful. Well done, perfect metaphor.

  14. BeginHealing

    Great post. Really well written. I have no words. Thanks.

  15. so we have the fog metaphor. . . and now we have the toxic fumes and smoke metaphor as well.

    This is so helpful.

    A fire produces two thing that are really dangerous and potentially lethal:
    smoke, which stops you seeing clearly
    toxic gases which are invisible, but which can kill with or without the presence of smoke

    And of course, there is the flame. That is lethal too. But many people die in fires long before the flames have consumed their flesh.

    This is a post which brings up mourning . . . grief for all in 9 / 11, grief for all who’ve suffered domestic abuse. We grieve collectively. Thank you everyone for sharing.

  16. survivorthrivor2

    Wow, that was powerful for me in so many ways, Ellie. I will keep this post and refer back when necessary, thank you so much.
    I’m not sure I can express them all right now, but I feel I must try, mostly because it would be cathartic.
    My N husband was a firefighter, then an Engineer, then a Captain and then was asked (this is the only position he did not have to study and test for, this was an appointment) to be a Deputy Chief, by THE Chief of our Fire Department. He was, exemplary at his job, and always said that it was God that got him the Chief promotion. All the while, at home acting like a complete Narcissist! Don’t know if I will ever understand that, in a way I suppose I did benefit, and who knows if that wasn’t a way for God to provide for me at the same time? I never want to take away God’s faithfulness to me in any situation.
    We had gotten back together about 6 months or so when 9 / 11 happened. And even though I had a husband who was affected more than most because he was a Fire Chief, we never spoke of 9 / 11 at home. I went through the whole emotional, horrifying time in America’s worst crisis all by myself. It was so awful and lonely and devastating. He would talk, help, care and commiserate all day long with all kinds of other people about the tragedy, but when he came home he had nothing for me. I don’t know if he even gave it a thought! The person who should have held me, cried with me, prayed with me and just been there – wasn’t. Not at all, not once. I was totally discarded. I found a card that someone (I assume from work) had given to him, and inside the card it said, “I will never forget the time we prayed and cried together on 9 / 11.”

    I know that 9 / 11 was not about me, and I had such empathy for those who lost loved ones and the horrific time it was for our country. But, I have another tragic memory, which now, 13 years later I finally have the answer to….they say the truth will set you free, but when do actually get to feel free from all the injustice? It sometimes haunts you just like a bad dream…..

  17. Seeing Clearly

    I, too, am so thankful for ACFJ.

  18. Soldiergirl

    I hope you are working towards getting out Survivorthrivor, if you have not already done so.
    The people here have given me the understanding that once I do get free of my abuser, I will start to heal in all the areas he has affected me. Every morning I also have to wake up to my reality Nightmare too, but I am looking forward to the day that it will be no more, and I can wake up to the sounds of birds singing and I am free. I now have a job and it is helping me become financially independent of my abuser. My abuser hates multitudes of people- because he cant sway them all!! ( there is safety in numbers)
    I have faith that God will help me accomplish all I need to do as the people at this site have given me truth and vision to run with…
    Proverbs 29:18 ” Where there is no vision the people perish”.
    Thanks so much to the hard working staff at Crying out for Justice!

  19. Anonymous100

    This is one of my favorite postings! I will come back to read this time and time again.
    “We didn’t have a chance to have healthy marriages. And that was all we were trying to do.” YES, YES, and YES! Thank you!

  20. Ronda

    Hi, my name is Ronda,
    I finally am divorced from my abusive husband. I had been single for 15 yrs waiting for a man that “really” served God. Only to fing myself terribly decieved by a total imposter.
    He clocked me with both of his fists yet God didnt allow me to be hurt in any way.
    The strange thing to overcome is the spirit of the “bondage of this abuse”.
    I am proof YOU can and must resist it and RUN for your life!
    True humility is in the truth that this is a murderous spirit!
    Thank you for calling the devil what it really is! The book “A Cry For Justice” is awesome!
    Thanks Ronda.

    • Hi Ronda, welcome to the blog 🙂 Glad you find Jeff’s book helpful!

  21. Curly

    God showed me a very simple analogy the other day about dealing with evil people. When we touch a hot stove we feel pain and we learn to avoid that pain. When we deal with evil people they cause pain. The pain we feel is a sign to not interact with these people any more. So many times misled people tell us we must help these people. We must stick around and sacrifice ourselves. We must submit to the pain. But wisdom tells us dont touch the hot stove. We must remember to deal with evil people like we deal with hot stoves: dont touch them when we do we will only get burned. I need to go back and read the rebuttal to unjust church responses so that I can keep my mind renewed.

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