Today I’m talking about: Inadequacies of family court for domestic abuse survivors and children. What all abusers have in common. Ways family court is weaponized against victims. What can be done about these problems.
Number of people per minute who experience intimate partner violence in the U.S.: 24 Number of workplace violence incidents in
Abuse comes in many forms and knows no boundaries. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse during
The last time I wrote I gave you my observations on the Shanann Watts case; specifically my thoughts on the
I think these were likely heinous, violent, selfish, dark acts of murder from a cold, calculating, evil, angry, and controlling man who looked normal, nice, caring, and nurturing to those watching on the outside.
I’m sure you’ve seen it all over the headlines: Husband kills pregnant wife and their two little girls.
I’m involved in an online community of domestic abuse advocates so when this story broke I immediately took interest. You know me…my first thought was that the husband is statistically most likely involved. I immediately watched the interview done by a local Denver, CO news station.
Here were some of the red flags about Chris Watts that caught my attention:
The detachment in one of his statements when he referred to his family as: “everybody”, “anybody”…it was off. His demeanor during his interview was non-emotional about his family and detached from the gravity of them being gone…just words; which seemed empty to me. He appeared to be smiling during some of it; almost giddy with underlying excitement…which to me speaks the age-old adage that he possibly believed he’s so special and smart that no one would ever catch him at what he did. His grin told the story of how proud he was of his deception. He exuded arrogance and assumed people would believe him.
With word spinners you have to pay attention to the grains of truth woven throughout the lies… “It was like I walked into a ghost house.” Hmm, could this be because he killed them and was haunted by what he did?
He talks about himself…his feelings, his needs, and his thoughts. He lacked the emotions that go with trauma and fear, and instead smiled through most of the multiple interviews.
He mentioned the empty house but showed no emotion about the loneliness or fear of why the house was empty.
“When I got home yesterday it was like a ghost town…it’s like a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from.” Why is he speaking of a nightmare so early in the investigation of which he says he knows nothing and has no inclination of what happened or where they are? After all, the possibility exists that they are with a friend or family member? What’s so nightmarish about that?
“I had every light in the house on.” Perhaps because he couldn’t live with what had taken place during the night?
I noticed how tightly he had his arms crossed in front of him as if to say I am bottled up, I’m lying, and I am not telling what I know.
He was shaking his head no, while stating he wanted his family to return.
When Chris Watts stayed with friends Monday night he referred to his wife in the past tense. They notified police that they didn’t think Chris was doing enough to actively look for his family.
His body language, words, emotions and actions didn’t add up to innocent.
Chris Watts arrested for the murder of his wife and daughters
When news broke that Chris Watts had been arrested for the murder of his wife and children, people were asking, “what made him snap?” The public and the media seem shocked that this nice looking, well-spoken man could be responsible for murders while smiling at the camera and stating, “Shanann, Bella, Celeste, if you’re out there, just come back. If somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody; I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.”
I wonder how the police obtained a confession from him. Perhaps they had overwhelming evidence from the crime scenes.
A next door neighbor said Chris Watts was a normal helpful neighbor, “He would reach out and help anyone who needed help with anything.”
A reporter asked, “How a man who appeared to be such an adoring husband and father could do this?”
If you’ve read my blog for long you know this is a major issue I’ve tried to address. I also addressed it when I spoke in Dallas at the SBC: For Such a Time as This Rally.
These types of men “are grand actors and magnificent manipulators. They may be sitting next to us in worship, Sunday school, or small group. They can be pastors, Sunday school teachers, and our best friend, charming, smart, and biblically brilliant. They can be high functioning in their job, helpful in our time of need, and financially generous if hardship strikes us; all while destroying the wife and/or children at home.”
What’s worse is that often times the women don’t realize they are being abused. How can this happen? you may ask.
The victim may be confused about what is wrong, or who is in the wrong in the relationship. For me, and for other countless women, we believed our spouse’s lie that everything wrong in the relationship or home was our fault. Chris and Shanann hadn’t been married many years. It’s possible this may have been her experience…or maybe she was waking up to the idea that something was wrong in her marriage.
Here is an excerpt from a journal of an abused wife in the first years of marriage. She believed all the anger and control problems her husband had were going to get better as he became accustomed to being married.
“Thank you, Heavenly Father, for a godly husband who loves me. He’s a good daddy and an excellent provider. Please help him adjust to married life quickly, and help me to be the wife he needs and wants.”
In the above case; years would prove that she wasn’t the problem and that no matter how wonderful a wife and mother she was, it wouldn’t meet with his approval or kindness, or satisfy his need for power over her and control of her.
Other possibilities: 1) You can live with a person and not know if they suffer from mental illness or a personality disorder. 2) The wife is usually the last person to find out about an affair. 3) Maybe Shanann had decided to leave her husband.
Whatever the case; make no mistake, Shanann and her daughters did nothing wrong to provoke anyone to murder them. I don’t believe this was a snap decision, but likely numerous issues building up over time. This is why I recommend the free MOSAIC threat assessment. What is MOSAIC? A combination of factors that are associated with escalated risk and danger requires that you know what questions to ask, and then know how to consider all your answers in a way that enhances insight. The MOSAIC method works by breaking a situation down to its elements, factor-by-factor, and then seeing what picture emerges when the pieces of the puzzle are put together.
As many women have learned; it’s difficult to leave an angry and controlling man…sometimes impossible.
I think it’s safe to assume that Shanann confided in a friend that something was deeply and fearfully wrong with her husband. Her friend Nickole Utoft, who dropped Shanann off at home around 2 AM after a business trip, tried making contact early that morning by text, phone, and going to the house. When Nickole couldn’t make contact with her friend she called the police and asked for a welfare check that afternoon. When Nicole discovered Shanann’s purse, phone, and keys in the house she filed missing person’s reports. Nickole knew something!
I’m grateful Chris Watts confessed early and disclosed where he placed the bodies. When a woman ‘disappears’ it’s usually at the hand of her significant other. When children are killed it’s usually at the hands of a parent or guardian.
- 3 women are murdered every day by a current or former male partner in the U.S.
- The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war.
- Annually about 450 children are intentionally murdered by a parent.
- More than three decades of FBI homicide data shows patterns stand out when parents kill their children: Three out of four child victims are younger than 5. In 56% of all cases, fathers are the killers. In murders with multiple victims, fathers are the culprit 70% of the time.
Next time I will address lessons I learned about domestic abuse.
If you question the possibility of being in danger, please go to MOSAIC and take the free threat assessment test.
I was invited and had the privilege of speaking at the For Such a Time as This Rally in Dallas,
DALLAS, TX – June 5, 2018 – Discussing and responding to the epidemic of abuse within Protestant Christianity’s largest denomination
Read Part 1 here… Part 2 here… Part 3 here… Part 4 here… You, Lord, hear the desire of the
Part 4 is a continuation of a series on what scripture has to say about a woman’s worth and role.
This is a series of writings from women living in difficult, disappointing, or destructive marriages…or leaving destructive marriages/relationships. When women
Today I’m sharing the reasons for my interest in the Lynn Messer case.
Many Christian counselors, pastors, and lay leaders are still woefully ill-equipped to handle this issue. Leslie Vernick is changing this!
This is for those of you who don’t have time to watch the almost hour long video attached at the end of this article. If you are in an abusive relationship and you do have time to watch; you will be greatly validated and encouraged. You’re not crazy…it’s really happening…you’re living through untold trauma, and you are incredibly strong to have endured for so long. My prayers are for you.
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I present to you, Patrick Doyle, counselor at Veritas Counseling and theDOVE.us
Recognize and Prevent Emotional Abuse
The core of marital counseling revolves around emotional abuse.
I was aware of a situation involving a woman in another state. Her husband was a very well respected man who early in the marriage; and thereafter, was abusive. He was a stalwart member of the church who was well respected. The abuse kept going on until finally the woman realized through some counseling, and finding out her husband had a longtime porn addiction, that she needed to speak up. Well, her church didn’t really get it; they didn’t understand what she was trying to say. They genuinely wanted to help but they thought maybe she was making this stuff up…how could this be; we all think this guy’s great. As time goes on and she becomes more and more bold about revealing the truth to the pastor of her large mega church, he finally gets it. She actually went in the pastor’s office and had him watch my (Patrick Doyle) video on emotional abuse. Here are some excerpts from a letter that he wrote to his leadership after watching the video and ‘getting it’… about what the church is going to do to deal with this issue because he’s starting to see that they’ve missed the boat on this.
I am disturbed by the fact that women are coming forward telling me sad stories of long-term calculated abuse by their husbands. I’m aware of 6 or 7 cases that are current. These are good women who have experienced long term, 10-25 years, of abuse to varying degrees. In some cases the abuse has been physical leading to domestic assault charges and imprisonment. In other cases the abuse is more subversive yet no less damaging. Emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, roll abuse, financial abuse, and sexual abuse. Sometimes I wish they would all just walk into my office with a black eye so I could see the indisputable evidence and call the police. Instead they tend to walk in with blackened and bruised hearts that bleed pain. It is more difficult to discern the extent of non-physical abuse but I am becoming more attuned to the signs of an emotionally and psychologically battered woman. These are not crazy women who are trying to find some sinister way to get out of a marriage; thus, submitting false charges against their husbands. I’m talking about good and godly women who over time have lost hope that they will ever be treated with honor as a wife, a woman, or a fellow heir of the grace of life. I am typically taken off guard thinking that their husbands were charming, gentlemen of God. Oh, what a false front an abuser is able to display.
We all know there is a difference between a difficult marriage and a destructive marriage. We all have difficult marriages to some extent. There’s no such thing as a pain-free, argument free marriage. There is anger in every marriage leading to disputes, hurt feelings, and the need for healing. I have not called this meeting to discuss difficult marriages, but I am talking today about destructive relationships where one person is being systematically and consistently broken down by the other.
I am most deeply disturbed by the fact that in several of these cases these men are protecting their place within our church while the abused is made to feel like an outcast. The abuser sings in the choir, sits in the front row, leads in the men’s’ ministry, carries the friendship or support of a pastor or an elder, serves on some ministry team, plays in the band while the wife is made to feel like an unforgiving, un-submissive, self-willed, hardened sinner. The wife feels embarrassed around our church people while the abusive husband smiles and drinks coffee with his boys (church members).
Here is a transition: This man wants to do the right thing, but it’s hard because people come in and you don’t know if they’re trying to work you, manipulate you, or what.
Listen, someone who is in an abusive relationship…one thing abusers do is they never take responsibility.
Abusers never take responsibility. This is a key to recognizing one. As Christians we should be leading the way in taking responsibility. With abusers you can never get a clear answer in a question, or there is a constant blame shift, avoidance, minimization, justification, and spiritualization. They shift blame and everything becomes your fault.You start to feel crazy and doubt yourself which empowers the abuser all the more.
In the church what is said is, “If you’ll just love them more, if you just cook them the right meal, if you just have more sex with them, if you’ll just be patient then this will clear up.”
Listen, if you allow an abuser an inch they will take a mile. The more you submit to their abuse the more they are going to abuse because every abuser I’ve worked with is in abject denial. The abuser believes their own rhetoric. They will stand in front of you, look you dead in the eyes and believe what they are saying. When this happens; listen to your spirit!
For outsiders who wonder if someone is in an abusive relationship; listen to your spirit. You may want to ask the woman or her children, in a safe setting, if there is abuse in their home and ask if they need help.
When someone says they are a believer but they have no conviction or comfort—they don’t have the Spirit. I don’t care what they say, how many church services they go to, how much Bible they know—the evidence is in whether or not they are convicted. The conviction will lead to the fruit of the spirit. Right? You can feign the fruit of the spirit for moments at church, in front of your pastor, in Sunday School, at a pot-luck dinner—but behind closed doors with the person who knows you the best…if they aren’t the ones seeing it, then I’m really concerned.
If your wife (and kids) are feeling abused (and I don’t care if you’re an abuser or not)—that’s real—and we have to deal with that. If the wife, or kids, are misinterpreting something it will be easy to fix, but if they’re not then maybe we can heal the marriage before it absolutely is destroyed.
Sometimes they do this sham of responsibility taking…”I’m sorry. I know I did that.” Then they just keep on doing it. Listen, the evidence of conviction is a change in your behavior not just words. God does not convict in general; He convicts specifically. So when the abuser comes to you they need to confess specifically the sinful words, thoughts and actions (to God and to their spouse). Changed behavior is the evidence of conviction. Conviction, repentance and changed action all have to take place.
Are you abused and feeling trapped (which is part of the abusers arsenal) but you’re at a point where something has to break, something has to stop; you recognize that it’s coming to a head?
I say this with all due respect. Don’t call the church. (Yours may be the exception, but there are tragic stories about women who went to their church and were placed under church discipline for talking poorly of their husband, and/or removed from the church for separating from or divorcing their abuser.) I don’t know if the church is prepared for this; you’ll have to make that assessment. Somebody has to know what they are doing and someone has to be willing to get involved. If somebody comes to counseling he can get involved in a certain degree, but really where the church has the ability to be transformational is to get involved in a big way on a day-to-day basis. That’s how we can really help these people. In my church we’ve set up funds to support women temporarily; to give them money so the abusive husband can’t control them financially. I’ve seen it a thousand times if I’ve seen it once. They start controlling the money. How’s the woman going to live? Those are real questions. That’s where we can come (help) balance the power.
If you think you are, or might be, in an abusive relationship talk to somebody who knows what they’re talking about. If you’re going to go to someone who gets involved and then they back away; that is way worse. In that case, don’t even broach the subject until you know you have support that’s going to stay. This is where the church has done a lot of damage. They get involved and then they back out because they get uncomfortable, in over their head, or whatever.
Do your research, ask around the community, take the knowledge you’ve learned to find long-term support because I’ve never seen an abuser who has gone that far and said, “Oh, you’re right. I’m going to quit being abusive.”
It’s possible churches get it and they do want to help; such as the pastor who wrote the email read at the beginning; earlier. They recognized it and set up something in the church to address abusers and the abused. The pastor; along with church staff and leadership took training for it because they care about the people.
Much of this teaching can also apply to parent/child relationships.
This is Carolyn speaking: There aren’t many Christian counselors out there who know how to handle abuse in the Christian home. Most will want the abused wife to attend counseling with her abuser. THIS SHOULD NOT BE. When calling a counselor’s office ask them what their policy is for helping abuse victims and their abusive spouse. Separate counseling is best. I’ll give you three recommendations for the St. Louis area at the bottom of this post. They do not take insurance; so you have to file ‘out of network.’ If you’re local and have an excellent referral please comment with contact information at the top of this post. There is also a link in the margin for Focus on the Family: Counseling service and one time free referral.
Counselors in the greater St. Louis area:
Terri Dempsey – (West county & Farmington) Encouragement, validation, and practical application for setting boundaries…with humor. Double majored in Psychology and Theology receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Blue Mountain College. Received Master of Arts degree in Psychological Counseling from Southeast Missouri State University in May 1991. The combination of a Christian and secular education allows her to understand and fit into both worlds. Scripture tells us to be in the world but not of the world.
She treats most mental health issues and specializes in trauma, personality disorders, and difficult cases in adults, adolescents, and children. She is certified in EMDR. In treating anxiety and depression whether in adults, adolescents, or children, there is often a common thread – trauma. Trauma can be the basis of eating disorders, anger management issues, and severe stress as well as identity issues in children and adolescents. If your spouse suffers from a personality disorder you will find help for staying, or leaving.
(314) 983-9300, by text at (314) 960-7589 and by email at email@example.com
St. Louis Office
Castlewood Baptist Church
1220 Kiefer Creek Rd. Ballwin, 63021
#7 South Jefferson
Farmington, MO 63640
Dr. Clay Coffee (St. Louis County) received his Ph.D. in Family Therapy from Saint Louis University and his Master of Arts in Counseling and Masters of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary. He is a Counselor in Training working with couples, families, and individuals. For typical marital issues he does couples counseling. For family issues he does group family therapy. He has served as a pastor and counselor in church-based settings for over fifteen years: working with couples and families in conflict
providing premarital education and counseling
caring for individuals and families walking through divorce and remarriage. His additional areas of clinical interests and experience include working with adults experiencing grief and loss
anxiety and depression
the trauma of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse
spiritual transformation and relational distress
parenting issues and season of life transitions.
Clay has also taught graduate courses on ethics and counseling and presented at national conferences on topics such as addressing family violence in the church and coordinating care between counselors and churches for the well-being of clients. His dissertation explored the influence of at least one partner’s religious conversion on the marital relationship and developed a tentative theory for helping both partners navigate potential loyalty conflicts.
Clay has a wife, 3 children and a black lab named Pepper. He enjoys playing tennis & golf with his wife, co-managing a fantasy football team with his sons, watching and discussing movies with his daughter, and playing his guitar. (314)720-2710 ext 5 firstname.lastname@example.org
Christy Brimm (St. Charles county) at Kaleo Counseling: kaleostl.com – Her bio states she works mostly with kids, but I’ve been told she is terrific, due to her passion and personality, for women who are in extremely difficult and abusive relationships.
Christy received her Master of Arts in Counseling from Missouri Baptist University and her Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary. She has gained extensive experience working with children, adolescents, women, and families via her 20+years serving in the Church. Her ministry experience has come in the form of working in children’s ministry, youth ministry, leading a life group for young families, and through leadership in Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS). Christy has training in both school and clinical settings and is interested in offering gospel-centered counseling to youth and adults who find themselves in need of healing and wholeness. She also has a special interest in doing play therapy with children and working with families on parenting and relational issues. Christy is a Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor and is supervised by Martha Ankney, LPC. She sees clients at the St. Charles office and is an out-of-network provider. You may email Christy at email@example.com.
Do you realize something isn’t right in your relationship or marriage? Not just inconvenient or annoying, but seriously wrong…hurtful, mean or controlling? Or are you aware that you’re already in an abusive relationship? Do you have friends, who have witnessed what they consider possible abuse, ask you if you are abused? Do you have family members who are concerned for your safety?
A caring childhood friend of mine, who also has a heart for people in abusive relationships, brought a new method of measuring abuse and safety, the MOSAIC method, to my attention. Thanks, Michele!
MOSIAC, created by Gavin de Becker, is fascinating and helpful in that it “looks at the key elements of domestic violence and all the factors relevant to safety and puts them in context with each other. In the process, it helps filter out personal bias and denial.”¹
“Much like de Becker’s book Gift of Fear stresses the importance of listening to one’s intuition when fear signals arise in the body, in order to avoid dangerous people and situations, “MOSAIC is artificial intuition,’ says de Becker in one of his online videos. He says the test takes all the pieces of a potentially dangerous situation and puts them together, like a mosaic, to see what image emerges.'”²
“MOSAIC an ‘eye-opener’ in that it can help survivors more clearly see the reality of their circumstances, and helps advocates come up with the best safety plan for each survivor.”³
A situation might call for assessment as the result of someone’s intuitive feeling of risk, maybe because of threats or other sinister expressions, maybe because of verbal or emotional abuse, maybe because of violence, or maybe because friends or family are concerned about risk or danger.
The MOSAIC assessment needs to be taken on a computer that cannot be compromised—hacked. One thing most abusers have in common, which most victims or wives aren’t unaware of, is that abusers regularly hack into your emails, social media accounts, and phones. As of right now, every abused woman I’m in contact with shares story after story of her abuser hacking/spyng through avenues of technology.
Consider using a friend’s computer or go to the public library to use a computer. Use a safe password that nobody could know or figure out. And lastly, don’t tell your abuser or difficult person that you are taking the assessment; not for any reason! You don’t know the immediate or long-term reaction you might receive. Also, allow at least 30 minutes for the questionnaire.
The Mosaic treat assessment covers several types of threats and violence.
- Domestic Violence (male offender)
- Domestic Violence (female offender)
- Workplace Violence (concerning a male)
- Workplace Violence (concerning a female)
- Threat by student (school)
- Threat by student (university)
- Threats (against public figures)
- Threats (against judicial officials)
If you or someone else is currently in danger; leave and/or seek help immediately and call the police.