Early in my ministry, I didn’t know that a third of all dating teens experience violence in their relationships. When a young couple from my church came for premarital counseling, I asked only about this couple’s arguments and how they settled disagreements. I didn’t probe beyond their simple answers and neglected to speak to either of the individuals separately. Months after officiating at their fabulous wedding, the bride had to leave the marriage to escape the violence. Her fury at me broke through my denial, and still haunts me today: “Couldn’t you tell? How could you let us get married?!?” Lacking the proper training in prevention of relationship violence, I had missed the verbal and body-language cues that would have alerted me that something was amiss with the couple.
The statistics cited at our domestic violence training in April were dumbfounding: Most women who are killed die at the hands of someone they know, most likely with a gun. Those whose partners have tried to strangle them in the past are seven times more likely to eventually be killed by that partner. In more than 75% of completed or attempted domestic violence homicides, offenders stalk their victims in the year before murdering them. Forty-five percent of victims are killed while trying to leave the relationship.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these numbers. Instead, we can and should listen and observe more acutely in our conversations. If we get a sense of an unspoken concern or subtle hint that someone wants more than a caring nod from us, we can gently follow up or ask questions in private: Are you afraid? Do you feel you’re being followed or watched? Has your partner ever threatened you or put his or her hands on your neck? Are there guns in the home? Do you know about the resources in this county that exist to help someone in your situation?
For those who want to learn more in order to ensure they don’t overlook or underplay the subtle signs of violence in their own or someone else’s relationship, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with that request.