12 steps church leaders can take to help domestic abuse victims

By Lynette J. Hoy

U.S.-based domestic abuse counsellor Lynette J. Hoy answers the following question: What specific steps can church leaders take to help domestic abuse victims?

  1. Allow the woman to tell her story by assuring her that you believe her and want to hear about her experiences. Let her know that you care about what happens to her and that you believe in her worth as a human being. Assure her that you will keep her story confidential so as not to put her at further risk of harm.
  2. Help the woman to identify her feelings during and after she has told her story. This may be difficult because: (1) our culture discourages the expression of our feelings, and (2) battered women often cope by remaining in a state of helplessness that may camouflage their anger or other strong emotions while in violent relationships. They often do not express or face their emotions. Thus, it may be helpful if you label her feelings with words that she understands.
  3. Alert the woman to the danger she faces. Help her understand the danger she has experienced and may experience in the future. Explain the facts of abuse – the consequences that further harm can have on her and any children. Let her know, however, that alternatives do exist.
  4. Help her understand the societal context of her situation. Society has long taught that men should have superiority over and the right to control their wives/partners. The Bible, though, teaches that husbands and wives are to respect each other and that males and females are one in Christ.
  5. Help her identify how the violence in her life has changed or affected her behaviour. The power and control issues in the relationship may be causing her to feel helpless and depressed. She may not feel like she has the choice to get help or to protect herself.
  6. Tell her about her rights and the services that are available to her. Sources of help include: (1) a family violence hotline for your area, and (2) the local police (911).
  7. Help her identify her strengths and weaknesses. Most victims of abuse have great survival skills. The woman may have developed endurance and determination. These strengths – though positive in some situations – have a negative side in an abusive situation. “Putting up with” disrespect and abuse actually encourages perpetrators to continue the pattern of abuse.
  8. Help her and encourage her to accept responsibility. Be careful not to attempt to “rescue” her. The victim must make the choice to protect herself, to be assertive, and to get help. Encourage her. On the other hand, if any children are in danger, this must be reported to the state’s Child Protective Services.
  9. Be sensitive and respect the cultural values and beliefs that affect her behaviour. Let her know that you desire to support her values and beliefs, but you hope she is open to challenging any beliefs that contradict scriptural principles and personal safety.
  10. Help her establish a positive approach to assertive behaviour. Most victims are reticent to assert themselves, and they fear the consequences of doing so. Encourage her to take a small step in assertiveness by calling the domestic violence agency for counselling and support.
  11. Don’t convey disappointment if the woman chooses to return to the violent relationship. Respect her decision and assure her that she is always welcome to come back for help. Many women go back several times to an abusive relationship before they finally make the decision to leave permanently. Be supportive and affirmative, yet continue to gently remind her of the potential danger.
  12. Pray fervently for and with the victim. God can do the impossible. God can strengthen these weakened individuals and protect them. God is their “refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).


Lynette J. Hoy is a licensed, clinical professional counsellor. As a domestic abuse counsellor, Lynette has counselled many involved with domestic abuse situations.

© 2004 Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC with Caringchurches. com. Published January 17, 2008, on Crosswalk.com.