Social abuse has multiple aspects: isolation from friends and family; recruitment of bystanders; and punishment of the victim’s allies. I’m also including here legal abuse, because it is a special form of recruitment: the perpetrator recruits legal and social authorities to assist him in his project of abuse.
2 Sam. 13: 19-21 And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.
Tamar exposed the crime by rending her garment, but Absalom, Tamar’s brother, tells her not to be too upset, not to worry about it. He discounts her feelings. This silences her – a form of social abuse. Many victims can report a similar experience – that the first time they told someone about the abuse they felt discounted and cut off, and so were not brave enough to talk about it again for a long time.
Here we see how isolation is often effected: the abuser does not exactly forbid his victim from social contacts with others, he just makes her feel so terrible that she has no heart for talking to anyone else. It is too risky, too painful. She shuts herself away, as Tamar did. Moreover, Tamar’s father King David, although he was wroth, did not one single thing to bring justice or make the perpetrator accountable. Tamar was let down by all her family.
1 Sam. 20:30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?
Running down your family
Prov. 16:28 A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
Sowing slander about you to your friends and family.
Recruitment and collusion of bystanders
Other people can collude with (or passively comply with) the primary abuser. An extensive example of this is in the book of Job, where Job’s three ‘friends’ give him religious advice which is not from God, and only serves to hurt Job as he feels more and more misunderstood by them.
Acts 7:58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Tacit approval of abuse being perpetrated by others.
Luke 23:12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day [of Christ’s arrest] for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
The Jewish authorities who wanted to kill Jesus enlisted Pilate to be their ally, and Pilate roped in Herod. Such alliances can shore up rifts between parties who previously had been at odds with each other; they find common ground in all persecuting the victim.
Mt. 27:20-22 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”
The congregation was persuaded by the leaders to collude with the abuse.
John 12:42-43 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
The motive of those who tacitly comply with abusers is that they love the praise of men.
The Jews, having arrested Jesus, seek a judgement from an outside authority (Pilate). They want the outside authority to condemn Jesus, because they know he is popular with the people and they don’t want to attract the people’s wrath to themselves. They want the authorities to do the dirty work for them. They make a number of false accusations (Mk. 15:3; Lk. 23:2, 5). Jesus answers little, and the answers he makes are not comprehended by the authorities, and not believed (Jn. 18:36-37). The accusers coerce Pilate into acceding to their wishes. They threaten Pilate with condemnation from the civil hierarchy in Rome, and public uproar among the population, if Pilate were to decide against the accusers. Pilate gives in. After all, these Jews were the leaders of their people. Jesus is surrendered back into the hands of his persecutors. (John 19:1-16 ) .
The victim or the couple may seek help from an outside authority (like church leaders). The perpetrator makes a number of false accusations. The leaders do not understand or believe the victim’s answers. The authorities fear public disgrace and condemnation by the denominational hierarchy, and uproar from their own congregation, if they were to decide against the perpetrator. After all, he is so well thought of by the people. The church leaders give in and the victim is surrendered back into the hands of the persecutor. Now the persecutor’s position has been bolstered and given official approval by outside authority. (A similar scenario often happens with the police, especially when the perpetrator is well known in the community.)
Mt. 28:12-14 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
Primary abusers invent lies; those who cooperate with the primary abusers are bribed, told to repeat the lies, and are given protection by the corrupt system.
Ps. 38:11-12 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague and my nearest kin stand far off. Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long.
In Ezra 4, the Jews were starting to rebuild the temple. Outsiders tried to obstruct the work. First they tried to manipulate the Jews into letting them work together (If they had managed this, they would have undermined the work like termites from within.) The Jews refused an alliance. So the opposition troubled the work from without and weakened the Jews’ hands. Then, to increase the pressure, they wrote slanderous lies to the Persian King and persuaded him to issue an edict that the building be stopped.
Likewise, the abuser tries to keep the victim in alliance with him, not let her be independent. If this is unsuccessful, he may enlist counsellors and government authorities in his next objective, which is to undermine the victim’s work of rebuilding her life according to godly principles. If the authorities believe his lies, the woman’s progress may be brought to a halt by the imposition of court orders which hold open the avenues of abuse indefinitely.
Ezek. 13:22 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life,
See also Ps. 3:1-2; 35:14-16; 94:4 – 7; Mal. 2:17 and 3:15.
Those who assist the victim can get abused themselves
1 Sam. 22:16-18 Saul slew the priests who helped David.
1 Kings 3:16ff – The story of the two women who contested custody of the infant
Mk. 14:55-59 and parallels – The rigged trial of Jesus
Acts. 23:2, 20-21; 24; 25:7 – The rigged trial of Paul