Sally Challen probably doesn’t go to your church. She might, but since there are a lot of churches and her faith is her own business, we won’t presume. But who does go to your church? Is coercive control’s next victim in the seat next to you on Sunday morning?
Sally Challen killed her husband with a hammer. At the time, no-one considered the 31 years of what Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 would now recognise as coercive control – a criminal act. She went to prison. She thought she would die there.
Now, in a landmark case, Challen has been freed after serving nine years for committing an act which she deeply regrets. An act which she says she never thought herself capable of.
The cloaked dagger
The deep danger of this type of abuse – make no mistake, it is abuse – is how difficult it is to see from the outside. How easy it is to turn away from each of the small cuts, which can lead to death by a thousand. The behaviours which can lead to acts of suicide as the seeming only way out, or, as in Sally’s case, murder.
Official guidance around Section 76 to public prosecutors is, ‘that a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour can be well established before a single incident is reported. In many cases the conduct might seem innocent – especially if considered in isolation of other incidents – and the victim may not be aware of, or be ready to acknowledge, abusive behaviour.’
So, that woman (or man) next to you in church – the one smiling, taking communion, saying she’s fine – she could never be a victim, could she? Because you know her lovely christian husband (or wife) and they couldn’t possibly be… no… they could never be that.
We can just pray.
Watch and pray
Well, of course we can pray. And we should. But what else should we be doing? What else should we be looking out for? Inside our lovely, holy, righteous sanctuaries, where we conveniently insist that the outside world’s abuse statistics don’t apply to us because we have Jesus.
Domestic abuse statistics for the UK suggest that one in four women and one in six men will experience some sort of abuse in their lifetime. Coventry University and the University of Leicester conducted a study on this with a sample of churchgoers. The statistics remained the same...within the church.
Remove the blindfold
The statistics do apply to us. Thank heavens we have Jesus. And as the body of Christ, we are his eyes and ears to see, his loving arms to comfort and his hands to provide. His voice to speak out for those who can’t.
Yes, he loves the man (or woman) being abusive, but he does not excuse their behaviour, or turn a blind eye. Nor should we.
Often we don’t see because we don’t understand, but we need to. We could literally be saving a life.
- Read up so that you can be aware of what to look out for. Restored's Church Pack provides practical information and guidance on indicators of abuse and how to respond appropriately. You can download here www.restoredrelationships.org/churchpack
- If you are experiencing this type of abuse, or know someone who is, please visit www.restoredrelationships.org/ for help, information and a reminder that there is always a way out.
- Pray for hope for men or women who feel trapped – living with someone who chooses to abuse them. Pray that they will see a way out.
- Pray for courage and strength for those who need to make the decisions which will transform and possibly save their lives. Pray for loving supporters to come alongside them.
- Pray for understanding. For those stuck in difficult situations – that they will understand their worth. For those of us who aren’t, that we will stand with those who need us.