Chapter 1.
The Prevalence & Severity of Abuse Against Women

Our purpose in writing this book is to challenge the evangelical Christian community to listen to the voices of women from around the world—including their own backyard—talk about the violence they have suffered. We want to address the problem straightforwardly: to offer information so that church people and pastors will be ignorant no longer, to offer advice on effective biblical ways to respond to victims and their families, and then to offer a challenge that congregations and their leaders take up positions among community and national groups committed to eliminating violence in our midst, encouraging violence-free family living, and responding with the mind and heart of Christ to those who suffer violence.

Christians should not be ill-informed about the nature, prevalence and severity of abuse that characterizes our churches, our neighborhoods and our world. We believe that most Christian people, when provided with both the biblical teaching condemning violence and social science data about its consequences, will want to do something about it. We do not believe that the Spirit-filled life should include abusive acts, nor should it turn a blind eye to the suffering of another. Violence against women is a reality. It exists in every country of the globe, among all people groups. Abuse occurs within every faith community. And it knows no socioeconomic boundaries. Rich women, poor women, black women, white women, educated women, illiterate women, religious women, beautiful women—all women are potential targets of violence, and all women are at some degree of risk.

In a study of women in Britain, up to 25 percent of women reported having experienced physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. Violence was associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and fetal injury, including fetal death.

(Mezey and Bewley 1997; Source)

Governments around the world are recognizing the devastating consequences of violence against women, and researchers and health care professionals are being called upon for expert advice and guidance for both community-level actions (like emergency response teams) and national policy initiatives. Large sums of money are now being directed toward research on the elimination of violence, reforming the judicial system to respond to the needs of victims and perpetrators, and ensuring that health and other social services offer effective coordinated responses to the needs of abused women and their dependent children.

There is immense documentation, from academic researchers, women's organizations, policy analysts, health care providers and victim support groups, of the prevalence and severity worldwide of violence against women and the girl child. Since 1995 and the Beijing Conference, many nation-states have sought to take seriously the challenge to reduce women's risk of physical or sexual assault. Professional organizations like the Association of Physicians and Gynecologists have responded with protocols for their members, and umbrella organizations like the World Health Organization have held consultations, created task forces, produced training materials and conducted research among their member groups. The World Bank has documented the enormous cost of violence. Some political parties in power, or in opposition, have sought to address violence against women through policy statements, zero tolerance declarations, directives, government grants and community initiatives.

Amid growing world recognition of the problems women face, everyday fears, the bruises and battering they experience, and the needs of their children for safety and security, where are the churches? Why have religious groups been so slow to recognize violence against women and so slow to respond to victims' cries for help? Indeed, amid the ever-increasing number of men and women worldwide who recognize the severity of woman abuse and have personal and professional commitment to work toward its elimination, where are God's people, called in God's name to bring healing in the midst of suffering?

Canadian women with a violent father-in-law are at three times the risk for spouse abuse as women with a nonviolent father-in-law. (Statistics Canada 1993 Violence Against Women Survey)

By and large, a "holy hush" pervades religious organizations. Violence is ugly, and most churches and their leaders feel uncomfortable talking about it and ill-equipped to respond to its victims. The issue is very sensitive, and many people and pastors alike would prefer to sweep it under the proverbial church carpet. Moreover, violence touches many people at the core of their being, because they either recognize in themselves the tendency to control others or have suffered humiliation at the hands of someone else.

Let's face our reluctance head-on: the reality and consequences of violence make most Christian people—indeed most any people anywhere—very uncomfortable. As the people of God, we would prefer to think abuse does not occur in our churches' families. So we act as if it were someone else's problem, something we do not need to contend with ourselves.

But violence is everyone's problem. It is an issue that is not going away. It is prevalent in our churches and in the communities our churches serve. We need to crawl out from under the church carpet and admit that we have been hiding from the problem, sometimes contributing to it, and not very committed to being part of its solution.

Many voices declare that the church has either caused men to be violent toward their wives or at least provided fertile soil for men's mistreatment of power within their families. They argue that since the church is part of the problem, it cannot be part of the solution. Thus when violence against women is being discussed, God's people are seldom consulted. Since we speak out so infrequently about violence, our collective voice is never heard on this issue. Generally speaking, leaders in religious organizations and those involved in community pastoral care are never even invited to participate at the secular consultation table. The silence of our churches and our leaders is often interpreted in the public square as complicity with violent acts.

It is assumed—we think erroneously—that Christian people do not have a biblical response to the suffering of women worldwide. It is assumed—we think erroneously—that the healing journey of a victim has nothing to do with her walk of faith. It is assumed—we think erroneously—that pastoral care has nothing unique to offer and could be damaging to a woman's search for health and wholeness.

The time has come to challenge the contemporary evangelical church to wake up to the prevalence of violence in its midst, to take up its role as part of a community-based response, and to offer the healing balm of Gilead to those who suffer the devastating consequences of abuse. Men and women filled with devotion to God can play a vital role in proclaiming this message: every home a safe place, every home a shelter. There is no place like home. When abuse strikes, there is no home.

As we enter a new millennium, we believe the time has come for a renewed prophetic voice to emerge from the pew and from behind the pulpit—voices that want to change our communities, challenge our people, and to offer new strategies to ensure that our world is a safer place in which to live. Christian people ought to be men and women of hope and of vision—binding up the broken-hearted and showing all people everywhere a more excellent way. It is in that spirit of hope that we share our vision—a vision where the evangelical church worldwide would join hands to condemn all types of abuse, to recognize in particular the suffering of women, and its consequences for children, and to commit our time and our passion to work toward the elimination of all forms of family violence—with God as our guide, Jesus as our companion, and the Holy Spirit as our comforter. We need God's direction, the companionship and blessed example of Christ, and the Spirit to both strengthen us in the struggle and to apply the healing balm. In the pages to follow, we present the data (individual narratives and national statistics), followed by the challenge to change the world, one home at a time. Let us not forget, the home is no place for abuse.

Woman Abuse in the Church

Statistics are an important component in the story of abuse worldwide. Narrative accounts of the lives of ordinary women give context to those statistics, enabling researcher and reader alike to visualize real women living in a specific time and a specific place amid very real problems. Later on we will present quantitative data gathered from large-scale studies from many of the major countries of the world. These reveal the extent of violence against women in every corner of the globe. But first we present accounts of the lives of four women, all evangelical Christians, all victims of violence. Their stories reveal several pieces of the puzzle, component parts of a complex web of faith, family, fear and violence. As in all the stories told in this book, names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the women; the details of their abuse, however, have not been altered.

One in four women in Latin America is a victim of physical abuse; 20 percent of women's work absenteeism is the direct result of violence in the home. (Source)

Janice and her family moved to Sydney, Australia, from western Europe when she was a child. Her missionary parents settled into a nomadic existence, working among aboriginal peoples. In time she met a newly converted aboriginal man, and some years later they were married. With a thriving ministry, life was very exciting for them.

An unplanned pregnancy, though, began to exacerbate some of Janice's husband's problems with anger. Whenever he got angry, he hit her. Janice knew there was a cultural component to her abuse, for often she had bathed wounds of aboriginal women who had been battered by their husbands.

Before long a six-week cycle developed: calm, growing discontent, violent outbursts, an apology—and the cycle began again. Life was growing very difficult for Janice, she suffered a cracked skull from beatings to the head and broken ribs from blows to the chest.

Authorities within the hierarchy of their denomination were called to give counsel. There was much prayer but no firm reprimand for the husband's violent ways. On one occasion Janice gathered up her six children and fled her home, fearing he was going to kill her. Eventually he was temporarily removed from church leadership when his threat to murder her was voiced in front of influential church leaders.

While her husband is no longer in pastoral leadership and the frequency and severity of the violence have begun to decline, Janice has never received the supportive services she needed from either local police or community organizations, and the church family too has let her down. The violence she suffered has never been condemned, nor has healing been offered to her broken body and spirit.

Macy had a heart for God and had worked in a Christian mission organization most of her adult life. Trained as a nurse and later as an administrator, she felt moved by suffering around the world and responded by offering her time and her talents. For years Macy struggled with depression and low self-esteem. Finally she decided she needed to find a more caring church family, to help address some of her malaise and offer her more opportunities to use her gifts.

Macy was drawn to a small fellowship with a set of programs for seniors in low-cost housing. She quickly established herself as a hard worker and a committed follower of Christ. Before long the pastor and his wife, both in their fifties, took a special interest in her life. But the pastor's interest developed in ways both unanticipated and unwelcomed. He engaged in sexual indiscretions with her, then weeks later raped her, taking advantage of her loneliness and the emotional vulnerability she had expressed to him during counseling sessions. Because he was highly respected in the community, no one was willing to believe her story of sexual abuse, and no one offered to help her seek healing and wholeness in its aftermath.

The stories of Janice and Macy exemplify violence against Christian women around the globe. No multinational studies have collected statistics specifically on the prevalence of woman abuse among evangelical believers. But as we shall see, there is growing evidence that violence is all too common an experience in the life of women believers within ordinary evangelical and mainstream churches.

What we do know is that violence against Christian women has impact on the spiritual journeys of individual women and their families, and often on the life of the congregations to which they belong. While abuse may be committed behind closed doors, its shock waves extend well beyond the family context. Like their secular sisters who have been battered, religious victims of abuse bear the scars of physical and emotional pain. Janice's physical and emotional abuse and Macy's sexual abuse have brought long-term consequences for both women, their ministries and their families. But their pain has spiritual overtones as well. Each woman has been silenced by elders in her faith tradition. Each woman has learned that her spiritual leaders care more about the reputation of the abuser than the scars of the abused. When each woman gathered the courage to tell her story of betrayal, she was dismissed by those who might have helped to chart her healing journey.

In Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, the Reverend Al Miles says that two themes emerged from his nonrandom survey of over one hundred pastors: the importance they attach to saving marriages at all costs and the pastoral temptation toward quick-fix solutions for abusive men and abused women.

In a small study of 187 American women who qualified as being abuse-free for at least one year, Anne Horton, Melany Wilkins and Wendy Wright found that 54 percent of religious victims and 38 percent of nonreligious victims sought help from a religious professional in the aftermath of violence in the home.

During the fall of 1989, the Christian Reformed Church in North America conducted a survey among a random sample of one thousand adult members attending their churches. Of the 643 responses they received, 28 percent had experienced at least one form of abuse. A total of 12 percent reported physical abuse, 13 percent sexual abuse, and 19 percent emotional abuse; as these numbers reveal, many had experienced more than one form of abuse. Converting these prevalence rates to the actual number of people victimized, the Christian Reformed Church estimates that between forty-eight and sixty-two thousand adult members have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

A research initiative involving evangelical clergy in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada revealed that pastors perceive violence rates among married couples in their current congregation to be 19 percent, just under one in five. These same pastors estimate the rate of violence in the secular culture to be about 29 percent, a full ten percentage points higher than in their congregations. This is despite the fact that researchers in the field of family violence have consistently argued that abuse crosses all religious boundaries and that the rates inside and outside the walls of the church are similar.

In Romania, 29 percent of women between fifteen and fifty-five who sought treatment at the Bucharest Forensic Hospital were beaten by an intimate partner; of these, 87 percent had been assaulted by an instrument that pierced the skin. (Source)

Violence among families of faith reflects the cultures they inhabit, but interweaving the narrative is their faith and religious identity. The role of religion in helping women find their voice is both curious and critical. Macy and Janice had the courage to speak the words that name their experience, though their cries for help fell on deaf ears. Some women do not live long enough to disclose their abuse, and others are prevented by a lack of social, economic and religious power.

Susan Pickles never had the chance to tell her story. Death robbed her of life and a voice. But just one year ago, an American paper told the details of her death to the world. Scott Pickles, a former lawyer in his early forties, took the lives of his wife and two children in New London, Connecticut. According to the Norwich Bulletin of October 28, 1999, the guilty man, a born-again believer, apologized in court to the victim's family, his family and his clients. But his remorse could not bring three dead bodies back to life. Apparently Pickles was experiencing severe debt, limited professional success and fear that his wife would leave him. In a final act of control, he had determined their fate.

Before Pickles was handcuffed and taken away, the father of the slain woman asked the judge to deliver a message to the man who killed his daughter and grandchildren, "Tell him I don't hate him... I do forgive him." With his voice cracking, the elderly man gazed heavenward and said that he would look forward to joining his slain family members—all of whom were evangelical Christians—someday in heaven.

For many American Christians, it is inconceivable that an evangelical man in their country would be found guilty of murdering his wife and children. For many nonevangelicals, it is inconceivable that the father of a slain woman and grandfather of two slain grandchildren would want to give a message of forgiveness to the murderer. Most people around the globe would find it hard to understand why someone with so many resources and opportunities at his fingertips would feel so hopeless. It is a multilayered story, to be sure—the desperation, the control, the faith and the consequences. As we shall see in later chapters, the issue of forgiveness is central to understanding the complexity of the relationship between religion, abuse and the healing journey.

According to Anne Horton and Judith Williamson in Abuse and Religion: When Praying Isn't Enough, more abuse victims, perpetrators and family members seek help from ordained ministers and other religious leaders than from all other helping professionals combined. In 1988 Lee Bowker reported the results of two studies of religious abuse victims and the help they reported receiving from ordained ministers. One-third of the women who responded to his survey in Woman's Day magazine reported that they had been the recipient of some form of pastoral counsel; in terms of effectiveness, the women rated the assistance from clergy as less helpful than that from other sources of support.

Vimla's story was told only to a researcher; otherwise it was sheltered from public knowledge by secrecy, shame and silence. Vimla is the wife of an evangelist, a man who travels throughout southeastern Asia spreading the gospel. They met at a church youth gathering when they were both in their teens. According to Vimla, they married out of love, feeling an initial attraction to each other and the sense that God would bless their home. During the early years of their marriage, Vimla reports, her husband was very kind, and during this time she bore him two sons and one daughter. His ministry began to flourish, but his treatment of his own family began to deteriorate. For several years Vimla has been the victim of repeated beatings. "He is very kind and good to people outside the home, but not to us," she confides. "Somehow he does not beat me up in the presence of our children, which I appreciate." She feels frightened and very alone.

While there are many features in common between Vimla's life and the lives of battered religious women in other contexts, there is a cultural reality that we need to consider. Recently four hundred evangelical women participated in data gathering in India and other parts of Asia concerning woman abuse. Three of every four women reported some form of physical abuse by their husbands. Women whose marriages were arranged by parents were less likely to report physical violence. One reason for this seems to be the level of involvement by the extended family when a marriage is arranged.

In an informal discussion session held in India among religious leaders from many faith communities and a variety of nations, it was disclosed that one reason Asian men beat their wives is that men do not like women to be assertive or articulate or to answer back to their husbands or other elders in the family. While the cultural contexts vary, the devastating consequences bear a marked similarity: the body is harmed, emotions are damaged, the relationship dies and the spirit is crushed.

As we consider statistics from countries around the globe, let us remember the lives of Janice, Macy, Susan and Vimla representing evangelical women, some with voice, some without voice, bearing the marks of violence and suffering its consequences.

Woman Abuse Across the World

Violence against women is a worldwide problem. Although abuse takes many forms, happens in many places and affects women differently, the first step in understanding the magnitude of the problem is to look at its frequency. Researchers from all corners of the globe have demonstrated that domestic violence threatens the physical and mental health and security of millions of women. A woman living in the First World or the developing world is more likely to be injured, raped or physically threatened by a current or former intimate partner than by a stranger or any other person. That is why many women's organizations have claimed that violence is the number-one fear or reality of women worldwide.

The statistics are startling. Violence against women is a pervasive problem in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. In every country where woman abuse has been studied using a large-scale sample and consistent measures, at least one in ten women reports that she has been physically abused by an intimate male partner, such as a husband or ex-husband. These figures do not include verbal abuse, sexual assault or threats of violence. As such they are very conservative estimates of violence against women. Moreover, data like these rely on women's self-reports of victimization. The abuse of women who are unwilling to admit to themselves what has happened, or unwilling to disclose their pain to an outsider, simply goes unreported.

One in every four South African women is assaulted by her boyfriend or husband every week. (UN Children's Emergency Fund, quoted in YOU magazine, January 26, 1995)

Physical abuse includes behaviors such as kicking, biting and punching. Sometimes an object is used to inflict harm, such as a knife or gun. It is not uncommon for women to sustain serious injuries at the hands of a partner; sometimes they die as a result of abuse. All victimized women feel shame, betrayal and fear. Some try to hide the secret of their abuse; others gather up enough courage to escape.

As table 1 reveals, in every country where reliable data has been collected, large numbers of women have been physically assaulted by a male intimate partner. When the referent point is physical assault by a male intimate during the last twelve months, at least one in every five women (20 percent) in Australia, Chile, Korea, Nicaragua, Peru, Rwanda, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip responds in the affirmative. When the referent point is during the course of the relationship

Country Year of study Sample size Percentage of adult women who have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner Publication information
AUSTRALIA (Metro Melbourne) 1993-1994 1,494 22.4% in past 12 months Mazza et al. 1996
AUSTRALIA (national) 1996 6,300

23.0% ever assaulted by a spouse

2.6% in past 12 months

McLennan 1996
BANGLADESH (national villages) 1992 1,225

19.0% in past 12 months

47.0% ever in any relationship

Schuler et al. 1996
CAMBODIA (six provinces and Phnom Penh) 1995 1,374 16% by current spouse Nelson and Zimmerman 1996
CANADA (national) 1993 12,300

3.0% in past 12 months

29.0% ever in any relationship

Rodgers 1994; Statistics Canada 1993



1991-1992 420 27.4% ever in any relationship Randall et al. 1995
CHILE (Metro Santiago & Santiago Prov.) 1993 1,000 26.0% in current relationship Larrain-Heiremans 1993
CHILE (Santiago) 1997 310 22.5% in past 12 months Morrison et al. 1997
COLOMBIA (national) 1995 6,097 19.3% ever in any relationship DHS 1995
EGYPT (national) 1995-1996 7,121 34.4% ever in any relationship DHS 1995



1996 6,000

23.0% ever assaulted by a spouse

4.2% in last 12 months

British Crime Survey 1996; Mirrlees-Black 1999
ETHIOPIA (Meskanena Woreda) 1995 673

10.0% in past 12 months

45.0% ever in any relationship

Deyessa et al. 1998
INDIA (rural areas in 2 states) 1993-1994 1,842 40.0% in current relationship Jejeebhoy 1997
KENYA (Kisii District) 1984-1987 612 42.0% in current relationship Raikes 1990
MALAYSIA (national) 1989 713 39.0% in past 12 months Women's Aid Organization 1992
MEXICO (Durango City) 1996 384 40.0% ever in any relationship Alvarado- Zaldivar et al. 1998
MEXICO (Metropolitan Guadalajara) 1996 650 15.0% in past 12 months Ramirez et al. 1996
NETHERLANDS (national) 1986 1,016 20.8% ever in any relationship Römkens 1997



1993 360 27.0% in past 12 months Ellsberg 1997



1997 378 30.2% in past 12 months Morrison et al. 1997
NIGERIA (not stated) 1993 1,000 31.4% ever in any relationship Odujinrin 1993
NORWAY (Trondheim) 1989 111 18.0% ever in any relationship Schei 1989
PAPUA NEW GUINEA (national; Port Moresby; low income) 1984 298 56.1% ever in any relationship Centro Paraguayo de Estudios de Población 1996
PAPUA NEW GUINEA (national; rural) 1982 628 67.0% ever in any relationship Bradley 1988
PARAGUAY (western state, except Chaco) 1995-1996 6,465 9.5% ever in any relationship Centro Paraguayo de Estudios de Población 1996
PERU (Metropolitan Lima) 1997 359 30.9% in past 12 months Gonzales et al. 1997
PHILIPPINES (national) 1993 8,481 5.1% ever in any relationship DHS 1994



1993-1996 7,079 12.8% ever in any relationship Departamento de Salud y la Escuela 1998



1990 874 21.0% in past 12 months van der Straten et al. 1995


(Eastern Cape)

1998 403

10.9% in past 12 months

26.8% ever in any relationship

Jewkes et al. 1999
SOUTH AFRICA (Mpumalanga) 1998 428

11.9% in past 12 months

28.4% ever in any relationship

Macro Int'l and South Africa Department of Health 1999


(Northern Province)

1998 475

45% in past 12 months

19.1% ever in any relationship

Jewkes et al. 1999
SWITZERLAND (national) 1994-1996 1,500

6.3% in past 12 months

12.6% ever in any relationship

Gillioz et al. 1996
THAILAND (Bangkok) 1994 619 20.0% in current relationship Hoffman et al. 1994


(East and Southeast Anatolia)

1998 599 57.9% ever in any relationship Ilkkaracan et al. 1998
UGANDA (Lira and Masaka districts) 1995-1996 1,660 40.5% in current relationship Blanc et al. 1996


(North London)

1993 430

12.0% in past 12 months

30.0% ever in any relationship

Mooney 1993
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (national) 1998 8,000

1.3% in past 12 months

22.1% ever in any relationship

U.S. Department of Justice 1998
WEST BANK & GAZA STRIP (national; Palestinians) 1994 2,410 52.0% in past 12 months Haj-Yahia 1998

Table 1. Violence Against Women Around the World

Compiled by reference to the listed studies and The World's Women 1990, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224, p. 18; and "Population Reports," Issues in World Health 27, no. 4 (1999). See also

in which they are currently involved, at least one in every five women (20 percent) in India, Kenya, Thailand and Uganda reports physical abuse. Finally, when the referent point is physical abuse at some point in her life, at least one in every five women (20 percent) in the following countries has been abused: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, and West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Studies may differ in their funding base, their research design, the exact wording of the questions, or how the research instruments are administered, but the overwhelming evidence of physical abuse of women worldwide cannot be ignored. Though the names of the researchers differ, as do their countries of origin and their training, the data gathered from the lives of ordinary women present consistent findings that women from every nation suffer physical violence at the hands of men with whom they have exchanged marriage vows or shared intimacy and residence.

The World's Women 1995, compiled by the United Nations Secretariat, has obtained internal studies from many additional countries. They report that the percentage of adult women who have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner exceeds one in three in Zambia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Japan, Suriname and Sri Lanka. The percentage falls between 25 and 30 percent in Antigua, Barbados and Belgium, and is 17 percent in New Zealand.

Sexual Violence

We turn from physical abuse and its impact on women to an examination of sexual violence. Table 2 presents data on the prevalence of sexual violence by intimate partners. "Sexual violence" refers to attempted or completed sexual intercourse that is performed against a woman's will. The proportion of women who report sexual violence range from under one in ten in Canada (8 percent), Chile (9 percent), Puerto Rico (6 percent) and the United States (8 percent) to rates well over one in five in India (28 percent), Mexico (23-46 percent), Nicaragua (22 percent), Norway (17 percent), Peru (49 percent), Rwanda (33 percent), Turkey (52 percent), United Kingdom (23 percent), West Bank and Gaza Strip (38 percent), and Zimbabwe (25 percent).

Rape and Sexual Assault

While large-scale studies investigating rape and sexual assault are rare, those that do exist reveal the high proportion of women and girls who have experienced a rape or attempted rape at some point during their lifetime. Within both developed and developing nations around the globe, rape and other forms of sexual assault are an ever-present fear for scores of women, female children and teens. An article in the World Health Statistics Quarterly in 1993 reported that statistics on sex crimes include many victims aged ten or under. Age data from research in Peru, Malaysia, Mexico, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea and Chile reveal that from 36 to 62 percent of sex crimes are perpetrated on victims aged fifteen or younger, and 13 to 32 percent involve victims ten years old or younger. Comparable data from the United States reveal that 62 percent of the victims of sex crimes are under the age of sixteen and 29 percent have not yet reached eleven.

Although sexual assault may be committed by a stranger, in the vast majority of cases the victim and the aggressor know one another. A sense of betrayal, then, is a central feature of the violence.

Country (coverage area) Year of study Sample size Percentage of adult women who have been sexually victimized by an intimate male partner Publication information



1993 12,300 8.0% sexual assault in any relationship Rodgers 1994; Statistics Canada 1993



1991-1992 420 15.3% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship Randall et al. 1995



1997 310 9.1 % attempted or completed forced sex in past 12 months Morrison et al. 1997


(Uttar Pradesh)

1996 6.926 28.0% completed forced sex ever in any relationship Narayana 1996


(Durango City)

1996 384 42.0% sexual assault in any relationship Ramirez et al. 1996


(Metropolitan Guadalajara)

1996 650

15.0% sexual assault in past 12 months

23.0% sexual assault in any relationship

Ramirez et al. 1996



1993 360 21.7% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship Ellsberg 1997



1997 378 17.7% attempted or completed forced sex in past 12 months Morrison et al. 1997



1989 111 17.1% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship Schei 1989
PERU (Metropolitan Lima) 1997 359 48.5% attempted or completed forced sex in past 12 months Gonzales et al. 1997



1993-1996 7,079 5.7% completed forced sex in any relationship Departamento de Salud y la Escuela 1998
RWANDA (Kigali) 1990 874 33.0% attempted or completed forced sex in past 12 months Van der Straten et al. 1995
SWITZERLAND (national) 1994-96 1,500 11.7% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship Gillioz et al. 1996
TURKEY (East and Southeast Anatolia) 1998 599 51.9% completed forced sex in any relationship Ilkkaracan et al. 1998
UNITED KINGDOM (North London) 1993 430 6.0% attempted or completed forced sex in past 12 months 23.0% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship Mooney 1993
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (national) 1995 8,000 0.2% attempted or completed forced sex in past 12 months 7.7% completed forced sex in any relationship U.S. Department of Justice 1998
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Houston and S.E. Texas) 1991 300 14.7% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship McFarlane 1991
WEST BANK & GAZA STRIP (national; Palestinians) 1995 2,410 37.6% sexual assault in past 12 months 27.0% completed forced sex in past 12 months Haj-Yahia 1998


(one province)

1996 885 25.0% attempted or completed forced sex in any relationship Watts 1997

Table 2. Prevalence of Sexual Violence by Intimate Partners

Compiled by reference to the listed studies and The World's Women 1990, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224, p. 18. See also

When the sexual violence is perpetrated by a father, uncle, brother, grandfather or another adult male relative, the victim must sort out myriad feelings, ambiguities and contradictions. She may feel both love and hate. She may be dependent economically on the abuser or fear reprisal should her tale of abuse be voiced. Other times the violator is not a family member but a trusted adult—a coach, teacher or religious leader. Here too betrayal occurs: the sense of trust has been broken, and the victim's vulnerability is marked.

Moreover, thousands of women worldwide are coerced or otherwise abducted into forced prostitution or sold through other forms of trafficking in women. Domestic workers and migrant women are especially vulnerable to rape and violent attack by their employers, who may withhold not only their wages but access to important personal documents and passports.

The desire to keep rape or sexual assault a secret is especially powerful in cultural contexts where a woman's virginity is a sign of personal and family honor, not to mention a prerequisite for marriage. Since shame is attached to rape, the victim may wish to protect both her future and the honor of her family.

In order to deal with the multitude of pressing problems that surface after sexual attack, many countries have set up rape crisis hotlines and rape crisis centers. In some jurisdictions there are special rape crisis emergency rooms at local hospitals or uniquely trained teams of women officers and healthcare workers who deal with victims of such trauma.

Violence against women and children is also a byproduct of armed conflict and can include random acts of aggression—including sexual violation—by both enemy and "friendly" forces; sometimes mass rape is even a strategy of war. Where there is displacement of large numbers of women and children as refugees, suffering can take the form of the demand of sex for survival—a woman may be forced to exchange sexual favors for food or shelter or the protection of her children. Gang rape (more than one perpetrator per woman or girl child) and forced pregnancy are also more common situations involving armed conflict and military personnel. Sometimes women are seen as "territory" to be conquered or plundered; the violation of women and girl children is meant to exacerbate men's humiliation and pain.

There are many forms of exploitation directed toward women and girl children, including female genital mutilation (FGM) and son preference. Victims of FGM are estimated at more than 130 million individuals around the globe, with a further two million girls at risk of this practice. In several areas of the world, boy children are more highly valued than girls. In extreme cases this may lead to violence against the girl child or female infanticide; less extreme cases can include less access to food, health care or education for girl children.

The Dynamics of Abuse

This section addresses some of the frequently asked questions related to violence against women and other forms of family violence. For those who have not experienced abuse themselves or witnessed it in their family of origin, it is often very hard to understand why abuse occurs, why victims do not leave abusive homes and why the cycle of violence is so often repeated in the next generation. While our treatment of these issues cannot possibly be exhaustive, we believe it is very important for Christians to become as informed as possible on abuse, its manifestations and its consequences.

Why do so many men abuse their wives? Three main sources of data help researchers learn about abusive men: in-depth interviews with abused women who report on the behavior and personal characteristics of the men who battered them; regional or national surveys (like those reported in table 1) in which men self-identify their abusive behavior; and statements from those who are participating in programs for men who abuse their wives or girlfriends.

Women in the United States are about six times more likely than men to experience violence committed by an intimate; women of all races are about equally vulnerable to abuse. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1995, based on U.S. Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey, 1992-1993)

In their book Behind Closed Doors, Murray Straus, Richard Gelles and Susan Steinmetz argue that the greater the gap between the economic and prestige resources of a husband and a wife, the greater the man's tendency to maintain his dominant position in the marriage and the family by resorting to force. As a result, abuse may follow a man's problems with work or periods of unemployment. Abusive husbands are more likely to perceive their wives' behavior as threatening their sense of self, so men who have low self-esteem to begin with have a greater tendency to use force when they perceive their power challenged. Other researchers claim that higher levels of general aggression in abusive men interact with certain features of their families of origin, like violence, poor communication skills and a lack of self-confidence. Estimates suggest that between 50 and 75 percent of the men who batter their wives experienced or witnessed abuse in their own childhood home. One family research laboratory has argued that young boys who have watched their father beat their mother have a 1,000 percent greater likelihood of violence in adulthood than boys who never undergo this painful childhood experience. There is compelling evidence that violence is learned behavior, and most often it is learned in the home.

One in five women in Switzerland has experienced physical or sexual violence, and 40 percent have suffered from psychological violence by a husband or intimate partner. Women who are victims of such abuse are twice as likely as other women to be taking sedatives or tranquilizers. (Amnesty International 1995)

In a small-scale study conducted in the Boston area, James Ptacek explores how abusive men themselves understand and account for their violence. Participants in a program for men who batter rationalized their violence through both excuses ("It was the booze") and justifications ("She bruises easily"). According to Ptacek's research, abusive men resort to violence to silence their partner or to punish her for failing to be the "perfect" wife.

While there is evidence that some couples initiate violent acts equally, in the majority of cases it is the man, not the woman, who controls whether there will be abuse in the home. According to Larry Bennett, a professor of social work, many violent men claim that their wives can be violent at times too, but none of the violent men he has counseled have ever reported that they "were afraid to go home at night."

The role of alcohol is often overestimated in explanations of why men batter. While many abusive husbands blame their battery on excessive drinking, actually the husbands who batter when drinking also batter when sober. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, in more than 50 percent of abuse cases there is no consumption of alcoholic beverages at all.

Why do women, remain with partners who abuse them? Whether we are teaching in the university classroom, delivering a paper at a scholarly conference, offering a workshop for clergy or social service providers, speaking at a women's retreat or preaching in a Bible-centered church, people always ask why women stay in abusive relationships. Sometimes the question is asked in a public setting; sometimes it is voiced in private. Those who have never experienced violence personally find it hard to understand the ties that make it difficult for women to extricate themselves from an abusive environment. On the other hand, the question on the minds of those who have direct experience is voiced like this: "How can a woman ever muster the courage to actually leave?" Thus personal experience of abuse frames one's understanding dramatically.

For any individual woman, of course, the reason it is difficult to terminate a violent relationship (temporarily or forever) is complex. In just a few paragraphs it is impossible to cover all the reasons staying put seems more beneficial than leaving. We are not necessarily advocating that all women must or should leave an abusive marriage permanently, but we would never suggest that a woman ought to remain in a context that puts her life at risk or threatens the safety of her children. But why is leaving even on a temporary basis such a difficult decision?

Fear is the number-one reason women do not leave abusive husbands and violent homes. A battered wife fears for her future, fears further violence and fears for the lives of her children. In fact, fear permeates her life and is often experienced as a paralyzing terror, ruling her day and destroying her sleep through nightmares. Fear makes women lie about the reality of the abuse ("the bruise on my face is because I fell down the basement stairs"). And fear hampers women's ability to see the choices they might make to enhance their personal safety. So they spend what energy they have left trying to keep the secret rather than trying to escape.

Finances—economic dependency—keep many women from perceiving that there are any options to life without their violent husband. Many abusive men are good providers of the food, housing and clothing their wives and children need. A woman's lack of personal or economic resources, coupled with the fact that she might never have been employed in the labor market, means she cannot see any alternatives. How would she provide for her children without money or a job? How could she obtain employment if her skills have been used primarily at home since the children were born? Where could she flee and who would offer her refuge? Thus some battered women believe that the violence they experience is their "payment" for food, housing and their children's schooling. Added to this, many abused women feel so poorly about themselves that they actually consider that they deserve their husbands' battering. Family violence researchers have argued that a woman's level of economic dependence on her husband is a major factor in whether she will remain in an abusive environment, or return to a violent husband after a temporary respite.

Fantasy of change, or the hope that someday the violence will cease, keeps many women with violent husbands for years or for a lifetime. After abuse there may be remorse. After the violence there may be pleas for forgiveness. After the pain there may be promises of change. Although the evidence suggests that few batterers do alter their abusive ways, many women cling to that hope, that fantasy, year after year. Religious women are especially likely to cling to the belief that their violent husband wants to and will change his violent behavior.

As Nancy has argued in The Battered Wife: How Christians Confront Family Violence, religious batterers often manipulate pastors and other Christian people by employing religious words, including Scripture, to ensure that there is reunion between their wives and themselves, the violated and the violent. The minister with little counseling experience or training in responding to abuse may find it difficult to distinguish between the inauthentic plea of a manipulative man and the genuine repentance of a husband sorry for the violence of his past and committed to altering his abusive ways.

In essence, women remain with the men who abuse them because they are fearful, because they lack the economic or social resources to leave, and because they cling tightly to the hope that someday he will change. In addition, some religious women feel that God does not permit them to leave, that marriage is forever no matter how cruel their husband's treatment, that this may be their cross to bear, or that perpetual forgiveness of their husband for his repeated behavior is God's expectation. For women such as these, it is often very difficult to sort out the difference between long-suffering in honor to Christ and to their marriage vows and actively contributing to the danger of their own lives. The wise pastor will help such a woman navigate these troubled waters.

It is estimated that twenty-five thousand women are victims of rape each year in Peru; the majority of these women have not yet reached fourteen years of age. (Source)

Consequences of Woman Abuse

Violence against women exacts an enormous cost, especially for the victim and her children. Often not considered, though, are health care costs, judicial costs and the effects on productivity and employment. For the victim, there are immediate and longer-term physical consequences. Most dramatic in this regard are homicide statistics. Numerous studies worldwide examine deaths caused by the violence of an intimate partner. In a study of 249 court records in Zimbabwe it was found that 59 percent of female homicides were committed by an intimate partner of the victim. Where arranged marriages and dowry practices exist, women who are unable to meet the demands for gifts or money sometimes sacrifice their own lives through suicide, or die at the hands of a husband or his family.

Women sustain a variety of injuries as a result of violence perpetrated against them. In Papua New Guinea, for example, 18 percent of all married women sought emergency-room treatment in the aftermath of domestic violence. In Cambodia it was found that 50 percent of all women who disclosed that they had been the victim of wife abuse sustained physical injuries, while in Canada the figure was 45 percent.

A study of 1,203 pregnant women in the American cities of Houston and Boston found that violence toward a mother during pregnancy was a significant risk factor for low birth weight of her child. Moreover, unwanted and early pregnancies are sometimes the result of rape, as are sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

There is also growing evidence of the longer-term psychological consequences of violence, such as suicide attempts, mental and emotional health problems, and the effects on children of witnessing violence against their mother. When other factors are held constant, abused women are six times more likely to experience emotional and psychological distress than nonabused women. Children who watch the victimization of their mothers are five times more likely to exhibit serious behavioral problems than other children.