Overcoming the storm of domestic violence

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Safe Environment

In September the Gulf of Mexico was bracing for a category four storm.

Growing up I heard a story about a particular woman who was eight months pregnant and there was concern that she would go into labor during the 1965 Hurricane Betsy which hit the Gulf Coast, especially Louisiana. Even though there was severe flooding in New Orleans following the storm, parts of the city were spared and the worry of premature labor for this mother and her family was calmed. The memory of worry lingered for many years. I think of that story every year primarily during hurricane season. I imagine the possibility of having been named “Betsy” instead of “Jennifer” if my mother had gone into labor during that 1965 storm.

Another image I have this time of year, especially when we hear of so many communities devastated by storms, is how people come together when a shared crisis occurs. Individuals and communities all over the country and the world have offered assistance and prayers to those suffering from destruction and loss. As Catholics we understand the need to offer relief to those in vulnerable situations. We try to give them hope that recovery is possible.

This is also the time of year to recognize another type of storm — one that affects the lives of families in our church and larger community — the turbulent reality of domestic violence.

October is designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The archdiocese’s Office of Safe Environment joins many parishes and schools in taking this opportunity to shed light on the signs of interpersonal violence and how to help with support and prevention.

A few years ago the archdiocese invited the domestic violence advocacy agency, Anchorage Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) to present to clergy and lay ministers. This presentation showed the complex realities that a victim of interpersonal violence experiences. The church’s view of relationships and marriage does not, in any way, include the acceptance of violence in any form, verbal, physical or sexual. This view was made very clear in the U.S. bishops’ statement, “When I Call for Help.” This document challenges the parish and local faith communities to assist those who are victims and perpetrators of interpersonal violence.

The message of “Circle of Grace,” our safe environment training for children and youth, counters any acceptance of interpersonal violence by teaching the simple truth that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.

We all have dignity because we are all loved by God and created in his image. This is the hope that we can provide to both victims and perpetrators to seek help to end the violence.

During the presentation made to the archdiocese by AWAIC, they issued the following challenge: “Instead of asking why the victim of domestic violence does not leave, the question needs to be, why they abuse.” If we change the direction of the question, we can begin to focus on not only how to help the victim, but how to make change by focusing on what contributes to a person believing it is justifiable to physically and emotionally assault someone with whom they have developed an intimate relationship.

Throughout October, the Office of Safe Environment is offering resource information to all parishes — organizing a presentation for parish ministers about dating violence and concluding the month with an ecumenical prayer service to raise awareness and call faith communities to action.

For further information, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7266, AWAIC at 279-9581 or the Office of Safe Environment.

The writer is director of the Anchorage Archdiocese’s Office of Safe Environment.


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