Are the Police or the Courts the Answer?
IT IS one thing to know that home violence is widespread, but it is another thing to avoid being part of it. It is one thing to learn some causes behind it, but another thing to know how to cope with home violence or to prevent it in your own home.
Persons who have not lived in a violent home may be quick to say that the solution is simply to call the police or, if necessary, just get a divorce. But is it that simple?
Many an abused wife (or husband) knowingly chooses to stay despite the mate’s brutality. Why? For some, it is because of the children, feeling that a violent home is better than a broken one. Others fear losing a sexual partner or companion and living out their lives alone. Fear of subsequent vengeance holds a number. Some brutalized wives have a lingering love for their husbands, buoyed up by hope that they will change. And many are held captive by worry that they couldn’t support themselves.
Suzanne is an example. She was 18 when she married Alex. Shortly thereafter his violent side surfaced. “He ordered me around,” she relates. “He couldn’t take any criticism, especially when he drank, which was most nights. He expected me to cook, clean, take care of the children, have sex, do whatever he wanted when he wanted. It was really like living in a jail cell. . . . He’d hit me and hurt me if I didn’t obey him.” Why not leave? “I really loved him. I thought he’d change. . . . Later, when I finally woke up and realized he’d never change, I had no place to go, no money.”
Battered wives often resort to calling the police. However, when the police come, usually the most they can do is stop the present battle. How can they, in 20 minutes or so, change the basic home situation? A wife’s next step might be to get the courts to issue an order of protection or a peace bond. Many abused women threaten to do that, but do not follow through. When it is done, however, it does sometimes tend to make a violent husband hesitate, realizing: ‘If I beat her up again, I could wind up in jail.’
After trying such protective approaches (or without even trying them) some battered mates apply for a legal separation or divorce. In a Cleveland, Ohio, study 36 percent of the women gave physical abuse as their reason for seeking a divorce. However, Mrs. Eileen Mack, supervisor of probation for Family Court in New York commented about couples with violent marriages:
“If you rush people into court, you’re doing them a disservice. The answer is not to break up families, but to get them both in to talk it over.”
Furthermore, what about the Christian who is battered, yet knows that God’s Word discourages divorce? Jesus said that the only ground for divorce that leaves one Scripturally free to remarry is fornication (adultery) on the part of one’s mate. (Matt. 19:9; Mal. 2:10-16) And the apostle Paul urged Christians to remain with their unbelieving mates in hopes of saving them.—1 Cor. 7:12-16.
This counsel can be weighed in the light of God’s plain disapproval of brutality and cruel anger. “Anyone loving violence,” says Psalm 11:5, “His soul certainly hates.” The Bible calls strife, fits of anger and contentions “works of the flesh” that can bar one from God’s kingdom.—Gal. 5:19-21; Matt. 5:22.
Understandably, then, Paul wrote: “A woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:13) Wives have asked themselves: ‘Is a husband’s violently abusing his wife evidence that he is “agreeable” to living with her?’ Some Christian victims have concluded, No. And they have gone ahead and sought protection through a legal separation or divorce even though aware that they did not have Scriptural freedom to remarry.
As we have noted, some abused spouses feel that they have compelling reasons to try to remain with their mates. Particularly when there are minor children, some Christian wives with violent unbelieving husbands have hesitated to seek a legal separation or divorce. They have been concerned with retaining their opportunity to teach the children life-giving Bible truths. So the valid question arises, Is there an alternative approach to coping with home violence? That may be the question also in any marriage where both mates have been guilty of violent outbursts. Can changes be made and the violence be overcome?