Her husband's comments were so routine that for 20 years, Brenda Branson didn't realize she was a victim of verbal and emotional abuse.
"You breathe too loud," her husband would tell her. "Your smile is silly. You look terrible. Don't you have anything better to wear?"
It wasn't until Brenda realized his comments weren't true that she approached him. And that's when he picked up a chair and hit her with it. Brenda knew she had to do something, so she went to her pastor. Unfortunately he wasn't equipped to handle domestic abuse; his suggestions about submitting to her husband only made her home life more difficult. "Our church didn't know what to do with us," Brenda says. "They just wanted the problem to go away."
Brenda got the help she needed by forming a support group with another domestic-violence victim. Then in 1995 she cofounded Focus Ministries, one of the few Christian organizations devoted to helping victims of domestic violence while also training churches on how they can assist members who are being abused.
According to Detective Sgt. Don Stewart, a retired police officer who handled domestic violence cases for 25 years, one out of every four Christian couples experiences at least one episode of physical abuse within their marriage. In fact, battering is the single largest cause of injury to women—more than auto accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that 3 to 4 million women are beaten in their homes every year. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 2,000 women are murdered every year by an intimate partner.
"Domestic violence has become an epidemic," says Brenda, who is no longer married to her husband. The enormity of the problem, combined with the fact law enforcement officials and church leaders often lack the skills to address it, led Don to author Refuge (New Hope), a book helping victims understand and flee from violence in their homes. "I consider Don to be a missionary who offers hope to hurting women and presents a wakeup call to the Christian community to get involved," says Brenda.
Kyria.com spoke with both Don and Brenda on how battered women can get help as well as how Christians can respond to this crisis.