Domestic Violence: A friend in need

Helen Thorne | 20 Mar 2014

It can be a shock, it's always hard, but it's a huge privilege when someone tells you they're being hurt. To be trusted to such an extent that someone is willing to tell you that their closest relationships are on the rocks is an opportunity to show the love, wisdom and practical support that we are called to exhibit in the local church. But what exactly is going to be helpful? Here are our ideas:

1. Thank you
Your friend may be terrified that you will doubt them or run away in terror, simply thanking them for sharing their life with you is a great way to start.

2. Would you like to tell me more about what has been happening?
It's never a good idea to pressurise, but it's great to give people an opportunity to share what is burdening them.

3. You do not deserve to be treated in this way
No-one deserves to be hit or verbally abused. Reassure them that what is happening to them is wrong - in the sight of God and in the eyes of the law. They may feel it's all their fault but it isn't!

4. God loves you - and so do I
Abuse can leave someone feeling profoundly unloved and isolated but the truth is that God loves them immeasurably. They are not alone. Tell them that you care too. And reassure them that you are willing to do what you can to help.

5. Do you need any medical assistance?
The level of abuse that people experience varies - sometimes a trip to a&e is needed, on other occasions a visit to the GP may be more appropriate. Either way, why not offer to go with them?

6. What practical steps do you want to take today?
Sometimes people want to pack their bags and move to safety immediately. If that's the case, pick up your car keys or your phone to see who can give a lift. Others want to stay but may ask you to hold their passport and cheque book for safe keeping. Some may want your help to go to the Police or call a helpline. It's great to encourage people to take appropriate steps but it's usually only right to force decisions on someone in a life-threatening situation.

7. Can we read a Psalm together?
It can be tempting to head to a passage of the Bible on marriage - and, of course, there are times when these need to be read! But when someone discloses abuse, what they need to know most is that they are loved and that, while the world is full of painful sin-induced suffering, God is ultimately good and sovereign. I tend to use Psalm 46 but there are plenty of other passages too.

8. Who else should we tell?
Your friend is going to need support from more than one person. You are going to need support yourself. So, together, think through who else could helpfully be told? Home group leader? Pastor? Women's worker? GP? Specialist agency? It's best not to promise confidentiality - but always promise discretion.

9. Can we agree a "safe word"
Decide on a word that can be used in emergencies. If your friend uses this word in a text or over coffee after church you know things have deteriorated badly and that's your cue to call the Police with their permission.

10. Let's pray
Ask God for wisdom to know the best course of action, for strength to take that course of action and for faithfulness and spiritual growth through the whole, desperately difficult, situation.

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK. She formerly worked with the London City Mission and has written Hope in an Anxious World, Purity Is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.