In my own study of over 100 female, Hispanic Adventists, I found that 42 percent of the women identified as survivors and 33 percent reported their abuser was an Adventist. While DV includes threats, as well as physical, spiritual, sexual, emotional, financial and other types of abuse, all are traumatizing. Our Creator did not design us for violence — not to perpetuate it, experience it, or even witness it.
Only recently has science begun to realize how abuse damages our brains and bodies. We used to think that only physical wounds left their marks on our bodies, but even the words we speak changes the structure of our brains and the ways it works. Therefore, when there is violence in our homes, all family members are hurt and the family unit is devastated. Survivors of DV are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, like soldiers who go to war. Survivors also are more likely to experience anxiety, panic attacks and depression, and are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke, use drugs and overeat in an attempt to self-medicate. One study found that 90 percent of women with substance abuse problems had experienced physical or sexual violence (womenshealth.gov). Additionally, survivors are also more likely to attempt suicide.
Children who grow up in abusive homes suffer many consequences, depending on their age, gender, the types of abuse they experience and how much abuse they witness. Young children may experience bed-wetting, anxiety, stuttering or sleep problems. Older kids also may have problems learning in school, and may experience a lot of headaches and stomachaches. Teenagers can display more behavioral problems, truancy, low self-esteem and risky behaviors including drug use, unprotected sex and depression. In their lifetime, children who witness violence growing up are also at greater risk of developing obesity, diabetes and heart disease (womenshealth.gov).
There is not a lot of research on how abuse harms the abuser, but we know they themselves get hurt in the process. Proverbs 3:31 says, Do not envy a man of violence, and do not choose any of his ways. Violence is not of God. Some abusers experienced violence growing up, which has already harmed them. Genetic differences were recently found in some people who commit violent crimes (www.goodtherapy.org). Science doesn’t know enough yet about all of the consequences of violence in aggressors, but we know that a God of love did not design us to hurt others or ourselves.
Abuse can be prevented, and those who have been hurt, can get better. To raise awareness, teach church leaders and members how to prevent and intervene in cases of abuse, the NAD is hosting the free, live-streamed, 2019 summit on abuse on September 4 (September 5 in Spanish). Register at enditnownorthamerica.org and encourage others to participate. Together, we can work to end the violence, and restore peace in our families and homes as God intended.
Melissa Ponce-Rodas is an assistant professor of Psychology at Andrews University. She and her husband, Segundo, have twin boys, Samuel and Jonathan. Her research and advocacy revolves around the intersections of religion and domestic violence.