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  • Writer's pictureKrista Bontrager

Handling Domestic Violence and Abuse in the Church

Krista interviewed Monique and their mutual friend, Ariel Bovat, about their experience with domestic violence, as well as how to respond biblically to these tough situations.

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Interview with Ariel Bovat

Ariel has personal experience and professional training in the areas of domestic violence and family violence. She is familiar with physical abuse herself, having grown up in a single parent family where violence was present. She was also a victim of sexual abuse; then she entered the military, where she met her first husband who was abusive. After leaving the military and her first marriage, Ariel was saved 6 months later. From there, she began her journey in the study of theology and trauma healing.

Today, Ariel is married to a godly husband! She is a homeschooling mother and a professional therapist where she integrates counseling and theology into her practice. Ariel provides Biblical Clinical Counseling for professing Christians who have a history of trauma and abuse.

Some considerations for Pastors, Elders, and other ministers who may be assisting couples/families in potentially abusive situations:

What do you look for to find out what's really happening in an abusive situation?

  • It is difficult to be able to determine who is telling the truth.

  • Bias is very real! For example, women can tend to be more biased to believe the woman in the relationship, and men have similar tendencies to support the man's perspective. For pastors or anyone who counsels, we need to be aware of the gender biases we carry!

Pastors/elders need to know what questions to ask and be able to sort out the truth of how to recognize domestic violence. Pastors are often the first people victims will go to. Yes, we recognize that Scripture is sufficient, but a Bible verse cannot be slapped onto a problem and be expected to make the problem go away.

Investigation and asking the right questions is critical!

Ariel is direct with her clients and specifically asks questions that look for abuse.

For example:

  • Do you feel safe in your relationship?

  • Do you feel understood in your relationship?

  • Has anyone resorted to physical violence in the relationship?

  • What about childhood trauma and your childhood home?

  • How did their parents handle disagreements and family stress and any family hardships?

  • What about substance abuse problems and mental health problems (in their childhood home and current home)?

  • Ask about how their salvation and redemption in Christ informs how they interact within their marriage and in their relationship with their kids.

  • Ask about personal expectations regarding home life, chores, parenting, sex.

  • How do they handle stress and how do they handle situations when their expectations are not being met? Are they confrontational, show grace, feel cheated?

Be sure to look at body language and facial expressions!

Nothing is too trivial to ask when it comes to trying to get a clear picture of the dynamics of the home. There can be no hint of a side being taken!

How do we define abuse? What qualifies as abuse?

  • Any repeated pattern of behavior that terrorizes family members. This includes obvious objective forms of physical violence or threats of physical violence towards the spouse or the children. It could also include forms of abuse that are more subjective in nature, such as verbal abuse, relational abuse, emotional abuse, or spiritual cruelty.

  • Drug or alcohol abuse is also considered abuse, and gambling addiction (because it often involves lying and may lead to financial ruin for the family).

  • Porn addiction can also be a form of abuse.

  • Sexual abuse falls under a different category and should NEVER be tolerated! Intervention should happen as soon as possible, especially regarding children; children should be removed from the abuser immediately.

BUT, we're living in the age of the #metoo movement and the mantra "believe all victims" do we navigate this?

Although the #metoo movement started out with good intentions to help sexual abuse victims, it has since morphed into activism and social advocacy encompassing a wide range of issues (for example, sexual harassment or crude jokes in the workplace). It is not helpful and can be dangerous to conflate sexual abuse with ALL types of harassment toward women). Yes, it is important to listen and believe the victim, but asking good questions is critical to get clarity on the situation.

What about the men? How do we include the men as victims?

It is important to include ALL people, ALL humans! In the body of Christ, we need to participate with our brothers differently than what culture says.

One danger of the #metoo movement is that being a victim of sexual abuse, does not erase the victim's sin nature! An aspect of counseling and care should be to help the victim to get to the root of their symptoms and not allow their abuse to fill the victim with untethered perpetual rage, anger, vindictiveness, or revenge. BUT, social media outrage promotes these reactions and this is actually unhelpful for victims.

How do you counsel someone about staying in a relationship that is abusive or get to safety?

Remember the love-abuse dynamic is difficult (it can take up to 7 attempts before the woman is ready to leave). When abuse is disclosed and a woman finally decides she is ready to leave, it's important for pastors/friends to support the decision to leave, without accusation (and the same is true for men in domestic violence situations).

How can churches support these families during these times of urgency/emergency?

  • Important to remember that 1 in 7 families are experiencing abuse!

  • Church/members could help provide temporary safety

  • People in the congregation may have expertise in domestic violence situations (pastors/elders should know who to call)

  • Pastors should be trained in recognizing sexual abuse/domestic abuse (OR identify someone in the congregation who is willing to be trained)--not for the faint of heart!

Be sure to share this show with your pastor or friends!

Segment #1 Resources

Check out Monique's conversation with Kat Elias from The Rooted and Edified Show. Monique shares her personal testimony of growing up in a home with domestic violence and addiction:

Connect With the Guest


Have you checked out The Off Code Podcast?! This is a brand new podcast hosted by Monique Duson and Kevin Briggins where they bring real talk to the kitchen table! Check it out on YouTube or on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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