A Cry For Justice

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

When victims don’t look like victims: women burdened with sins and led astray by various passions

I work as a biblical counselor and have met many women who are in abusive relationships, physical and/or emotional. Usually women that finally seek counseling are ready to make a decision about whether to stay with the abuser or break away from a long-term domestic violence situation. Sometimes the woman’s guilt and self-condemnation has deterred her from making a decision about leaving the abusive husband. These are women that are not what the world would call “innocent victims,” because in some way they have fallen short of what people think a good wife should be like, so they believe they are unable to seek a divorce. But just as abusers are not stereotypical, victims do not always look like victims.

Most of us have read books or watched movies about what an abuser looks like, generally portrayed as the beer-drinking, lower socioeconomic bully who gets drunk, comes home and terrorizes his family by beating his wife and children. We have also seen (thanks to Hollywood) the other extreme, a well-dressed, professional, wealthy, and powerful abuser who uses intimidation and fear to control his wife and family. But what has been neatly presented to us by popular media is too stereotyped: abusers come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds and a variety of professions.

In the popular stereotypes, the victims are portrayed as either timid, submissive housewives who married a high school sweetheart, or as attractive, outgoing women who got bamboozled by a charming rich guy. Both of these types of victims exist, and I am in no way dismissing that their struggle isn’t real and valid. But here I am going to talk about what Hollywood does not present because it would be harder for people to sympathize with these victims. Women who may not be the sweet, demure, wife that did nothing wrong, and live with a brutal abuser who consistently uses her face as a punching bag. I am going to tell you my story.

My Story

I was married at age 20, two years before I was born-again, to a (self-proclaimed) Christian man who did not drink, smoke, take drugs, or chase women. He is well educated, a little geeky, funny, and loves to be the center of attention. And he is an abuser. He is a computer guy that attends church regularly and appears to be a good family man. When I met my husband-to-be, I was 18 years old and had not graduated high school. I had a low self-esteem and no prospects for a future. Because I came from an educated family, my academic failure was a source of extreme embarrassment and shame.

Into my life walks a man who pays attention to me, makes me laugh, and takes me to nice restaurants on dates. He doesn’t try to take advantage of me, and my parents love him because he is educated and has a good job. Since they, too, were concerned about my future, this man seemed like the answer to their concerns. So, not because I was in love with him but because there didn’t seem to be any other option, I married him. I wish I could say that I didn’t know he was abusive until after the wedding, but that isn’t true. While we were engaged, he threw me down a full flight of stairs. I learned later that victims return to their abusers an average of ten times.

After we were married, I lived with constant contention and fear of retaliation if I said something he didn’t like. As too many women know, the abuse consisted of so much more. But I was dealing with a lot of hurt and sin in my own heart. I felt a lot of disgrace because I did not graduate from high school. I was employable because I had some secretarial and bookkeeping skills, but the stigma of being a high school drop out was huge, and I carried the weight of that shame into my forties.

Socially, I am out going and can talk easily to people. I am adventurous and fun-loving. My ex-husband referred to me as feisty, and it is true – not a meek and quiet woman. I had a temper and a very sarcastic tongue. (I use the past tense because since I became a Christian, the Lord has done a mighty work in my heart and mind, but it took years to find victory.) I was sexually abused as a small child, and as a result, I had a warped view of sex. I was promiscuous during my teen years.

2 Timothy 3:2-8 tells us —

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (Italics mine)

This isn’t a photo of the author of this post. We chose this image to show a woman burdened with sins. Source of image: https://saint-lucy.com/conversations/suzanne-opton/

My Struggles

I developed a habit of using pornography soon after I was born-again, which piled shame on top of shame. The older neighbor man who abused me as a child exposed me to pornography at the age of five. Much of my anger stemmed from the embarrassment and self-hatred that I was a woman struggling with a man’s sin. (I’ve since learned that women are the fastest growing demographic who are getting into habitual use of pornography.) In the early 1980’s, pornography was not discussed almost at all in the church, and as the years went by and the internet made porn much more available, pastors would address their admonishment towards men. I felt more alone in my sin and shame, and the enemy had me convinced I was the only woman who struggled with pornography.

When the anger at myself was directed at others, I finally got help and admitted my struggle to my pastor’s wife. We met for counseling a few times before she and her husband went back to California, leaving me alone again in my sin. And during all of this time, I was experiencing the physical, mental, and emotional torment of an abusive marriage. My husband was not aware of my misuse of pornography. Seven years into the marriage, I committed adultery. He was not aware of my affair until I told him. Surprisingly to me, he did not hit me when he found out. He just called me an adulteress and would remind me of my transgression every time he was angry. The name calling and accusations continued for years, even after we were divorced.

“…weak women burdened with sins and led astray by various passions…” Not all victims fit this scripture. But I did. I want to clarify that during these years, I was regularly attending church, seeking God with all of my heart and mind, repenting and confessing my sin to my best friend who was my pastor’s wife, seeking counsel, and praying. I walked away from the man I was having an affair with and stayed with my abusive husband. One of the reasons I stayed was because I had a promise from God of a child. I dealt with ten years of infertility and ended up adopting a child, but that is another story. My husband accused me constantly because I could not have children and I did not have a job. And yet I was holding fast to my God and believing that He could do a miracle in my husband’s heart and heal our marriage.

My Decision

As is the rule with domestic violence abusers, my husband did not change and the abuse continued. When our daughter was a baby, he pushed her into a crosswalk with a car coming to prove he had the right of way, and if the car had hit the stroller, he would have sued the driver. This is just one of the ways he used our child to torment me and keep the control. It wasn’t until my daughter was four years old and she walked in on him pinning me down on the sofa with his 6’3” body, threatening me with his finger in my face, that I heard the Lord say our daughter was not to grow up thinking any man can treat a woman that way, no matter what his title. It was then that I had the courage to finally leave him and seek a divorce.

I did not give all the examples of his mental, emotional, and physical violence because I want to acknowledge how not all of us that are in abusive situations are innocent in our relationships. I was mouthy and knew how to push his buttons. Please understand that this does NOT justify any type of abuse. I say this to free women like me who may be “burdened with sins” and feeling there is no hope for them to get free of the abuser because of their own sin. When we confess and repent, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The difference with the abuser is there is no repentance or recognition of wrong doing. We do not “deserve” to be hit, kicked, slapped, punched, or emotionally tormented. Jesus does not treat His bride this way — EVER.

Well-intentioned Christians told me what many women hear in the Church, “God hates divorce!” It was not a decision I came to lightly because I did believe that divorce is not God’s heart for us. But the problem is the Church has wielded this scripture as a weapon and has destroyed any hope for us to ever be free of physical and emotional abuse. We are stuck, even though it is the abuser who has broken the covenant, and condemned to a life of misery and bondage because he (or she) does not repent. Even if the Church supports the victim getting to safety and separating from the abuser, divorce and remarriage are not an option.

I had begged my husband for years to divorce me since he had a “biblical” reason because of my adultery. He refused. Abusers do not want to give up the control they have over their victims. When I filed for divorce and had him served with a restraining order, he called our pastor and told him I was the only woman he would ever love. He was remarried six months after our divorce was final.

My Recovery

At the time of my divorce, I had only had a high school education and some administrative skills with which I could obtain a job. I had no financial recourse. But the Lord showed me He wanted to do so much more IN me, FOR me, and THROUGH me. He gave me the scripture from Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will give to you as well.”  He changed my heart from hating the idea of going back to school to loving it. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and a Masters of Science in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy. I obtained extensive training in domestic violence victim counseling. I accomplished all of this as a single mom, working full time, and attending school full time. I remained single for 13 years as I focused on raising my daughter (but still having to deal with the abuser regarding parenting time).

I did not get remarried until my daughter was 18 and going off to college. I am now married to a wonderful man who respects and cherishes me, something I had never experienced. We are going to celebrate our sixth anniversary in August. I entered a Christ-centered recovery program for my irresponsible behavior regarding pornography (my struggle with sexual sin is another story that I share to encourage women who deal with that shame), and have experienced sobriety for four years. My encouragement to victims who are “burdened with sins” is to seek (good) counseling, work through the sin and shame, and find the freedom for which Christ set you free (Galatians 5:1) — in all areas of your life.

There is a hope that burns within my heart – Stuart Townend.


Many thanks from the ACFJ team to the woman who wrote this guest post.

With Confidence, Draw Near is a sermon by Dr Liam Goligher which may be helpful for anyone who is trying to break an addiction or mortify a besetting sin. The sermon is part of Liam Goligher’s Hebrews series.


Related posts

God hates divorce? Not always.

A Journey Through the Pornography Sinkhole (Part 2 of Wendell’s Story)

She did not cry out while being raped … so is she guilty?


  1. Helovesme

    I, too, was (and still can be) “mouthy” and had (still struggle!) with a very sarcastic tongue. I too am not proud of those characteristics and it can get twisted around to where I’m part of the “problem” when I was attacked or victimized. Or, I AM the problem and the other person is virtually innocent. It’s me who has to change. I do not think it’s a praiseworthy thing to “push buttons” or be combative, but it brings freedom to my soul to read her words: “Please understand that this does NOT justify any type of abuse.” You can “know” such things as much as you want in your mind, but if it doesn’t translate into real life, it’s meaningless.

    May I just point out how stereotypes are alive and well everywhere I look it seems? Just the other day my husband & I were discussing that it’s very hard for us to socialize or fit in at work and church. We just don’t seem to fit into the “stereotypes” that are out there and while we have tried, as a way to attempt to meet people—it hasn’t worked out. This is just a side note, and to possibly encourage others and reassure them that they are not alone.

    Divorce isn’t something to “celebrate” (as if it’s something we are excited about? No one feels that way!) but my goodness, God hates watching someone He died for, covered with His precious blood, someone He loves in a way we can’t find words for—-slowly and painfully being destroyed. I am so proud of this woman for sharing her story. It is not only precious to hear stereotypes being torn down, but also how God spoke to her and brought her through.

    So I do not struggle w/ pornography, but I have to be very, very careful what I look at because I know that sin is a real temptation for me. It is utterly ridiculous to think that only men struggle with sexual sin in all its various shapes and forms. I have had to learn to look away FAST, turn off the TV or movie ASAP (do NOT hesitate) if something comes on that might stay with me, And even look away from scantily clad women, not because I am sexually attracted, but because I start comparing my body to hers, and I start idolizing her “perfect” body. Or I start to “minimize” her and become very jealous and petty. Maybe that’s not seen as “serious” as lust, but it’s serious before God. I am, in a sense, “lusting” after her b/c I want to have her figure, her life, her attention and her so-called worth as a woman. This has taken me a good part of a decade to learn, so for many years, I left myself incredibly open to temptation. I tend to not share such struggles, because this lady is right—it’s not discussed much and it’s usually kept in the closet, for fear of shame. It’s so good to know I’m not alone.

  2. Anotheranon

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It takes a lot of courage to face sin and failings in our own lives, and then to take action and correct it. And it takes more courage to admit being abused and do something about it.

    I, too, had low self-esteem from being constantly criticized by one of my parents and siblings. I got married at 18 because I didn’t know what else to do. I was too afraid to go to college and / or move to a different city.

    Little did I know I would marry someone even more abusive than my parent. Thank God He got me through those many, many years until I found this website and realized divorce was a possibility for me.

    Romans 8:28 (NASB1995) is a verse I turn to so often for comfort–

    And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

  3. Song of Joy

    Thank you for having the courage to share this thoughtful post.

    Domestic abuse doesn’t happen in a life vacuum. There are a lot of common patterns with abuse… yet we are all individuals, our situations are personally unique and we all have our own private struggles.

    Praise the Lord we have a Savior who loves us and can deliver us from our enemies…. and ourselves.

    Psalm 23:3 (NKJV)
    He restores my soul;
    He leads me in the paths of righteousness
    For His name’s sake.

    • Eagerlabs

      And He does! Amen Song of JOY! He is faithful! 🙂

  4. UnderTheWaterfall

    Thank you so much for your courage and honesty sharing your story. Your story defies the stereotypical notion of the Christian experience: I got saved and then all my problems and struggles with sin just vanished and now I am happy all the day…glory to God! Most churches are not places where it is safe to openly admit to a struggle with sin, unless it is with something socially acceptable like “” am a workaholic or a perfectionist” or some rot like that. But actually, your story is more the norm than the sanitized version of Christian reality we are sold in church.

    I grew up in a home where my father had a sexual addiction among other things. Pornographic literature of every sort was all over the house and could easily be found. I viewed my dad’s mags and porno-themed novels as a child of nine or ten who had already been sexually abused at the age of five by an older man, the husband of a babysitter. These kinds of experiences can open you to some really difficult spiritual issues that others find difficult to understand unless they have either personally been there, or they have had their eyes open to the reality of depravity and evil – theirs and that of others. I think that’s why sometimes we don’t find help in church; because its churchianity, a Christian social club for nice people who only need pseudo saving from respectable “sins”, not Christianity. Or as AW Tozer said, Christless, Crossless Christianity. Sinners need Christ and the cross. Those who don’t think they need saving won’t reach for a life preserver and won’t swim out to rescue someone else by offering them one either. Glad you shared. You are not alone.

  5. leaningonhope

    This post stirs up so much in me- both memories and emotions.

    I struggle in my mind with all these thoughts of what’s happened to me in my life that has affected my thinking, which in turn caused me to make really poor choices and commit sins that have had life-long consequences.

    And I would say, yes- who among us is without sin?? Because we’ve all sinned. There’s a difference between a person who sins, and has their heart pointed in the right direction, and is able to apologize, and a person who sins and whose heart is pointed toward self or evil (or both) and the “sorrow” is ingenuine at best, if there is even a suggestion of an apology, and the patterns of relating are all manipulation to control or abuse.

    My husband, who has been emotionally, verbally, and financially abusive almost our whole marriage, has now just been confronted with having an emotional affair with a coworker. And has now decided to reveal a physically abusive side [property damage – details redacted].

    We are going to marriage counseling individually. I am told (by the counselor) things will get worse before they get better, if they get better. I am told to have tough love, tell the truth, don’t let him manipulate me, stop playing the game or doing the dance. The new instances of property damage are my “consequence[s]”.

    I feel like my mind is thick, full of mud.

    Interestingly, my church family is telling me, “don’t give up on your husband, he’s young in his faith”. Or, “you are seeking worldly counsel, it’s not biblical counsel”, or “what you’re doing is wrong, you’re supposed to surrender everything”. “You are blaming him too much, you commit sins, too”.

    Who is “giving up”??

    Well, they also know that he had this affair, so who sought worldly counsel??
    Since when is telling the truth unbiblical?? I’ve been down the road of pastoral counseling, and it was also abusive. He was ill-equipped and he gave my husband ammunition.

    They ask what’s happened, I tell them the facts, and then it’s interpreted as me “blaming” him?? I don’t get it.
    I don’t know what to say to those “surrender” comments. Except that I am just not going to do that. Sorry. I am not laying down my life and personhood for this abusive fellow sinner who claims to know Christ. If he knows Christ then where is his accountability?

    Yes, I have made many, many mistakes in this marriage. I fully acknowledge that. I am daily, situation by situation, introspective – wondering what I did wrong or what could I have done better in this or that moment. I know I have tried too hard and too often to make my husband see my heart – my hurt, the pain that our situation is causing me (or is as a family), but he doesn’t want to know about my hurt.

    I am on the verge of losing not only my husband, but his whole family, and his children. I have not yet come to the point of accepting that. And no, they are not perfect. There are problems there, too. But they love and care for each other and are committed to staying close to each other through thick and thin.

    I am estranged from most of my family — my family is a real big dysfunctional abusive mess, so I mostly stay away.

    If I choose not to stay in this marriage, I will be facing being completely on my own. I am facing the facts here of what I will have if I choose to stay.

    I am so grateful and thankful that I found this site. These articles and others’ stories are like a balm on a wound. They inspire me to stay strong.

    • romans818

      leaning on hope,
      Stay strong. I’m so sorry you don’t have more support, but you are right: that’s abuse and stating what he is doing is not “blaming.” I got that for years from my ex-church’s “biblical” counseling. It is pernicious.
      Maybe I am misunderstanding, but counsel to hang in there while he gets worse before he gets better sounds like terrible, dangerous advice.

    • Dear leaningonhope, since you’ve been reading the blog for some time, you probably already know that couple-counseling (aka marriage counseling) is dangerous in domestic abuse. But you might find it helpful to review this FAQ of ours:
      What about Couple Counseling?

      You might also find it helpful to read our resources page: Deciding to stay or leave

  6. UnderTheWaterfall

    It’s funny reading a comment I wrote some time ago under a different name. And rereading this article. Wow. I sure would love to talk a bit with this lady, I am sure she would understand some of the mental knots I’m trying to untangle. In my comment I referenced porn in our home, but at the time my mind was so foggy that I forgot some things. But I experienced a resurfacing of previous issues and behaviours that overtook with a vengeance. I was left alone with this because frankly there was no one who I could tell these things to without them reacting as if I was radioactive.

    I experienced spiritual things as well that were quite out there and scary and the Christians in my semi-Charismatic church wanted nothing to do with it and left me alone with these terrifying experiences. So somehow it was like boarding a train on its way to hell and picking up speed and not knowing how to get off without getting hurt worse. The longer it went on, the more my sense of hopelessness increased, the more I was under such accusation, endless self-recrimination and demonic oppression, the harder my heart got and the farther away from God I felt until I struggled to have any desire at all for the God who I once had said I wanted to live the rest of my life for. It was like dropping off the face of the earth into a deep dark pit and the fact that it was the second time I’d gone down this road and wound up in bondage only added to the sense of shame, terror and hopelessness, as it seemed that this was one lost sheep no one was looking for.

    • Gany T.

      UnderTheWaterfall – a very sobering comment and experiences. I’m stopping now to pray for you. May God continue to guide, deliver, heal, and give you answers.

    • Oh wow, UnderTheWaterfall!

      I will pray for you.

      I too have experienced spiritual things that were quite out there and scary. For me it was a big break-through when I learned that I could rebuke and command demons with the authority of Christ, because Christ is in me and I am in Him. I could then deal with demonic attacks I was occasionally being subjected to during my sleep. Before I learned how to rebuke the demons and command them to leave, I had not been giving in to temptation (and sinning) because of the attacks, but I had certainly been scared by the attacks.

  7. UnderTheWaterfall

    Thank you, Gany T., I most certainly need the prayers and appreciate them. Still trying to get free from such a terrifying place of oppression so will take all the prayers possible. 🙂

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