"If the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being of the woman is intact, so too is that of the family, community and society."
How Faith Leaders Can Help
When religion and faith are part of deeply held beliefs, the support of a faith leader is vital to the safety and overall well being of domestic violence victims. Sometimes, helpers feel as though they are not doing enough, but they fail to realize that a non-judgmental kind word or gesture is often the key to making another person feel valued and cared for. Linking victims to the local domestic violence program is of critical importance and may be offering them a lifeline.
Plan for addressing abuse in your faith community
- Learn about the issues around battering and domestic violence. It is essential to know the dynamics, facts, barriers to leaving/getting help, impact on children and the roots of the violence. The domestic violence program in your area is an excellent resource.
- In speaking to your congregation and others, encourage serious reflection on why and how domestic violence is a religious problem.
- In shaping your approach for addressing domestic violence with your congregation, keep in mind:
- Most people are not aware of the obstacles victims face when they seek help. Nor do they understand the legal, financial, and emotional traps that bind someone in the violent relationship.
- Resources for abusers who seek counseling to change their abusive behavior are limited. You can contact the local domestic violence program (Find_help/in_pa) for assistance in locating one near you.
- It is important to consider the impact of witnessing domestic violence and the extent of emotional and perhaps physical violence on children in these relationships.
- Domestic violence happens in same gender relationships too.
- Pursue collaborative leadership. People need vision and guidance and it can be provided best by those who have knowledge and experience in the field. The local domestic violence program (Find_help/in_pa) offers a variety of FREE and CONFIDENTIAL services to victims, as well as support, education and materials for non-abusing family members or others in the community. Religious leaders can in turn offer education about the tenets of their faith to domestic violence advocates so they are fully prepared to provide support to victims who draw comfort from their beliefs.
Don´t Wait To Take Action
Don't wait for someone to be in crisis. Directly address domestic violence as an issue of concern for your faith community. Make it clear that anyone can talk with you about violence in the family or relationship.
(1) Help the entire religious community be more aware of the issue.
(2) Make a library of books available to your church, temple or mosque. (Ask the local domestic violence program for suggestions.)
(3) Abusers often use scripture and religious tenets to justify their actions. Faith leaders can be prepared in advance with excerpts from areas of scripture that neither support nor justify abuse.
(4) Invite a speaker from the domestic violence program to offer a program on domestic violence at your church, temple or mosque.
(5) Incorporate this issue into sermons, religious school and other classes.
(6) Share applicable areas of scripture throughout your congregation and religious community.
(7) Post information about domestic violence resources in your buildings, mailings and videos.
(8) Provide resources, pamphlets and information from the local domestic violence program.
(9) Collaborate with the local domestic violence program in serving as a spiritual resource to victims needing that form of support.
(10) Encourage members of your congregation to volunteer or support the local domestic violence program.
Some Considerations for Faith Leaders about Domestic Violence in Rural Communities
Victims of domestic violence who live in rural areas face special challenges. While all batterers tend to isolate their victims from friends and options, for victims in rural areas, this isolation is often even more severe. They may live miles from their nearest neighbor, friend or family member. Lack of available child care, few job opportunities, inadequate public transportation, distance from shelters and services, poverty and economic dependence are just some of the barriers that can make escaping a violent relationship even harder for rural women.
Faith leaders can help lessen the isolation and facilitate contact with a local domestic violence program by developing a safe home network, where victims in crisis can go temporarily, until they can make contact with the local domestic violence program. Providing childcare while they make phone calls or offering transportation to court hearings or counseling sessions are other ways to mitigate some of the challenges. Addressing the issue of economic dependence on the abuser is vital.
In small towns, it can seem as if everybody knows everyone else, especially the faith leader, congregation members and legal system personnel. The lack of anonymity and confidentiality makes it more difficult for victims of abuse to come forward and seek help. It is important for faith leaders to recognize this and create an environment that offers maximum privacy and unwavering support to the victim. In rural communities, faith leaders can be the first to take a strong public stance against domestic violence.
A close relationship between faith leaders, law enforcement and domestic violence program staff is essential, especially taking into consideration the limited resources often found in rural communities. If these professionals are continually working together, they will be better prepared to assist victims of domestic violence through the difficult process of dealing with the violence in their lives.
The following issues often arise and are inherent in situations of domestic violence:
- Escalation of abuse and violence, possibly life-threatening
- The victim's sense of shame and humiliation
- Issues of trust and betrayal, particularly as they relate to our capacity for a relationship to a Higher Power
- The need for others to provide and for victims to accept help in healing the wounds.
- The need for abusers to accept responsibility and be accountable for the violence.
- Time and space for a victim to mourn the end of a relationship
- The need to integrate the experience of battering with religious beliefs
Adapted from "A Theological Perspective on Sexual Assault" by Mary D. Pellauer, In Sexual Assault and Abuse: A Handbook for Clergy and Religious Professionals, 1991.
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