A critique of a Christian book on domestic abuse

I was asked to review a recently published book about domestic abuse by a feminist campaigner, Natalie Collins: “Out of control: couples, conflict and the capacity for change”. I was troubled by my impression of this book, because this is such an important issue, and the book does have some good and useful aspects. However its adoption of radical feminist ideology and the information it uses to argue for a this stance are questionable, in my opinion. I’ve gone into more detail on the Premier Christianity blog.

There is a lot of statistics and research cited in the book, though often from newspaper articles and reports rather than academic research. So I started to check the citations and investigate to find out how well the information has been represented.

To fact-check a whole book would require three books to do so. And no book, nor article, is perfect. However I give a few examples here because they were used to argue for quite an extreme position. I do not believe that the ideology promoted in the book is justified by the research and statistics used. I believe that a more even-handed look at the relevant data and research would be cautious about using an ideological model such as radical feminism to explain the causes of abuse or identify solutions.

Fact-checking selected stats in ‘Out of Control’:

  • The book states: “Research has found that far from being small, shrivelled up, old and ugly [does anyone really believe this?], it is well-educated and highly paid women who are much more likely to be subjected to abuse than lower paid women, particularly if they earn significantly more than their partner.” I don’t think this is a good representation of what the newspaper article cited says, and the research itself isn’t cited.
    In any case, there’s plenty of information to bring it into question. A 2015 Office for National Statistics report that is used elsewhere in the book also contradicts this claim. It states: “Women with a degree or diploma were less likely than women with other qualifications or no qualifications to be a victim of any domestic abuse in the last year,” and “women living in the lowest income households (less than £10,000) were much more likely than those within higher household income brackets to have experienced any domestic abuse in the last year.”
  • In a chapter that gives horrifying details of sadistic abuse, Natalie says: “You may think the abusive behaviour listed here is extreme. Something that few women are subjected to. Sadly, that is not the case.” She cites 2014 Office for National Statistics numbers that “30% of women have been subjected to this kind of abuse.” She doesn’t mention the figures for men.
    In fact, the previously mentioned ONS report says: “27.1% of women and 13.2% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims.”
    However – this definition of domestic abuse includes abuse from other family members, as well as partners. If the report gives the lifelong figures for partners only, I can’t find them.
    For abuse from partners only in one year, the ONS says: “6.5% of women and 2.8% of men… reported having experienced any type of partner abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.1 million female victims and 500,000 male victims.”
    Of these: “Female partner abuse victims were more likely to experience non-physical abuse (emotional, financial) (63%) than to experience physical abuse such as force (29%), or threats (45%). Male partner abuse victims were also more likely to experience non-physical abuse (56%) than force (37%), or threats (31%).”
    So 319,000 women and 185,000 men said they had had experienced physical abuse from a partner during that year – in other words, just over one in three of the people who reported physical abuse from a partner in this survey were male. The book says that the “one in three” statistic is incorrect.
  • The book uses the shocking data that of girls aged 13-17, 72% said they had experienced emotional violence. However, the NSPCC report cited says 51% of boys reported the same.
    This definition of ‘emotional violence’ included ‘made fun of you’ and ‘shouted at you’. Other forms were rarer: 11% of girls and 4% of boys said a partner had threatened them with violence to do something they didn’t want to do; 1% or less of both sexes said they’d experienced this regularly. 30% of girls and 13% of boys had been told who they could see and where they could go by a partner: 7% of girls and 3% of boys said this had happened regularly.
  • Clearly the above statistics show a gender difference in victims of domestic abuse. But is it enough to justify the author’s decision to exclude men from the statistics she uses the book, which she says is a “pragmatic decision based on the vast majority of situations where someone chooses to perpetuate domestic abuse”?
    She cites ONS statistics to suggest a bigger gender gap: for example, that 44% of female homicide victims compared with 6% of male victims are killed by their partner or ex-partner.
    The use of homicide statistics to discuss the incidence of domestic violence is questionable, but this is also a misleading representation of the numbers, because overall in any one year, more men are killed than women: elsewhere in the recent ONS 2015 report it records that just under two-thirds of homicide victims were male.
    In fact, the ONS says 81 female victims aged 16 or over were killed by their partner/ex-partner; 19 men were killed by partners or ex-partners, in the year ending March 2015. So, one in five people killed by their partners were male.
    Natalie cites a campaigner who claims that women who kill male partners are “nearly always” victims of his violence or abuse. There is no evidence given to support this claim.
  • There are a range of ‘treatments’ that have been designed for perpetrators of domestic abuse. But only one is mentioned favourably in the book, an approach that uses gender-based, feminist principles to re-educate men and according to Natalie, “challenge their beliefs of ownership and entitlement”. She describes this method as “proven to be effective.”
    She cites a blog, but these statistics are from a report with claims of startling improvements: 30% of the women said that before the training, their partner had made them do something sexual they didn’t want to do; afterwards, none experienced it. Before the programme, 87% of the women reported that they’d been slapped, pushed or had something thrown at them; after the programme only 7% reported this.
    Sounds dramatic, but upon investigation, again, sadly these statistics do not “prove” anything.
    The study compares what a group of women say about their partners, before and after this feminist re-education. But in the “before” group, the statistics included between 94 and 97 women; the ‘after’ group had between 61 and 62 women.
    In other words, it’s possible that the third of women who had been forced to do something sexual had all dropped out. There’s no way of knowing from what’s said in the report, which is why another academic described these particular statistics as “useless”. Research that has been published in a reputable academic journal would carefully apply statistical tests to try to discern the significance of the results. This is not present in this report.
    Sadly, other analyses of treatment programmes for male perpetrators, that is more thorough in comparing ‘like with like,’ found that feminist programmes such as these, as well as other kinds of ‘treatment’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), show only a small effect in reducing violence against women.
  • For traumatised victims of abuse, the book claims that CBT, talking therapy, and prescriptions drugs “doesn’t work”, whereas EMDR and the ‘rewind technique’ does. She cites Dutch psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk’s interesting book for these opinions. He has an unusual perspective about trauma, and promotes yoga as a treatment.
    For the sake of those who need help – therapists trained in CBT or ‘talking therapies’ can be trained in the “rewind technique” or EMDR, and people vary in what they find helpful. So please don’t be put off. Therapists may have a range of techniques that you could find benefit from.
    But I am confused as to how Natalie comes to her conclusions on the basis of the book she has cited to justify them.
    To use Van der Kolk’s own words:
    “finding words to describe what has happened to you can be transformative, but it does not always abolish flashbacks or improve concentration, stimulate vital involvement in your life or reduce hypersensitivity to disappointments and perceived injuries.”
    He also notes:
    “There is no one “treatment of choice” for trauma, and any therapist who believes that his or her particular method is the only answer to your problems is suspect of being an ideologue rather than someone who is interested in making sure that you get well.”

Such issues are a tiny snapshot of all of the research and studies published on the subject of domestic abuse, or trauma for that matter. There is plenty more information that could be used to argue for various positions on the causes and solutions. Such is the case for any kind of research into social issues: I believe that caution is the best policy.

As I say in the main blog for Premier Christianity: I believe there is much to learn from what Natalie says about what churches should do practically in situations of abuse. However, I hope this aspect of what she is saying can and will be disentangled from her ideological positions.

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Stop worrying about new atheism, and start watching ‘woke’ atheism

I wrote a blog for Christianity magazine on the tenth anniversary of the ‘atheist bus’ campaign. This milestone made me think about how much has changed since then. While ‘new atheism’ seemed to be a threat to many Christians at the time, it’s since died down. But ‘woke’ atheism, or identity politics, that I’ve written about a few times recently, has surged in that time – and I think this is a trend that the church really needs to address.

I like Richard Dawkins, and these are some reasons why

I’m a Christian, and so naturally, Richard Dawkins sometimes gets right up my nose. However, there is a lot that I really like and respect about him, even though I consider his arguments against Christianity to be false.

I also think that in many ways, he has been good for the church. So I wrote for Christianity magazine, on “10 reasons for Christians to thank Richard Dawkins”. Hope you enjoy it!

Radiant smiles, and forgiveness in the face of cruelty: the Charleston church is showing the world the face of True Christianity

When I heard of the Charleston shooting story broke, I was asked to write a background piece on the State Senator who was killed, Clementa Pinckney. I was touched by the photos of this man, which suggested a loving and humble character. I was touched by the tributes, that he was kind, without cynicism and served others. I was touched by his words about service to the community.

Why would God allow such an outrage in a church? My answer to this is not about whether God ‘allowed’ it, but more what the people of that church are demonstrating – the real face of Jesus Christ.

Clementa was clearly a man of faith. When I saw the faces of the other victims, all I could see was that radiant joy that you see when people are really close to Christ. They are beautiful:

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All the more in contrast with the angry, confused and hateful expression on the killer’s face. He is reported to have said that he nearly didn’t kill them because they were so nice to him.

The legacy and fruit of that Bible study group is next displayed in one of the most extraordinary expressions of Christ I’ve ever seen. One by one, the family members of the victims spoke at the killer’s bond hearing, and told the killer, whose impassive face is seen in this video, some extraordinary words:

I forgive you. You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. God have mercy on your soul. You’ve hurt me, you’ve hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you, and I forgive you.

I would like you to know that… I forgive you and my family forgive you. we would like to take this opportunity to repent. And give your life to the One who matters the most, Christ, so he can change you. He can change your ways no matter what happen to you. And you’ll be OK. Do that. You’ll be better off than you are right now.

We welcome you Wednesday night in our Bible study, with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. I’ll never be the same. [My son] was my hero. We enjoyed you [in the Bible study]. May God have mercy on you.

Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. But everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies live in love. And, hate won’t win.

I’m a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I am very angry… we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate… may God bless you.

If you don’t think that Christianity is true, and Jesus is real – I don’t know how you can deny the reality of Christ living in these people. The ability to forgive while in such pain and grief is the power of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. What an amazing community.

Boxing star Manny Pacquiao: from booze, girls and gambling to a devotion to Jesus Christ

I loved researching this story for Christian Today before the weekend and the big fight, do take a look!

Boxer Manny Pacquiao used to go to church – but he also cheated on his wife, drank and gambled. Then he had an amazing encounter with God and his life changed. Now he tells people of the importance of obeying God, and being born again. He said:

When you have Jesus in your life, when you have God in your life, the things in this world are not important to your heart. The most important is God in your heart

I read around the guy and his conversion seems to be very sincere. Great that he can see that God is so much greater than all the money and trappings of fame.