An estimated 35% of Iowa women and 29% of Iowa men have reported experiencing domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking from their partner, according to Iowa Secretary of State Paul D. Pate. Even more disturbing, 10 Iowa domestic violence victims have died since last October, Pate writes in an opinion piece this month, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence “impacts every community, regardless of age, race, gender, marital status, educational level or socioeconomic status,” Pate says. That means people in our pews, schools, workplaces, civic and social groups are among the victims and survivors. Most are women, who comprise 85% of reported cases of non-lethal domestic violence, the U.S. Catholic bishops say in an update of their 1992 document “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women” (https://tinyurl.com/acsxkt92). “While violence can be directed towards men, it tends to harm women and children more,” according to the U.S. bishops.
They describe domestic violence as “any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, verbal and economic abuse. Some examples of domestic abuse include battering, name-calling and insults, threats to kill or harm one’s partner or children, destruction of property, marital rape and forced sterilization or abortion.”
Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to become abusers themselves, leading to a cycle of violence that may continue from one generation to the next, the U.S. bishops say. We can, and must, break this cycle of violence. We need to reassure abused spouses seeking to end their abuse that they are not violating their marriage promises. We need to break the silence that envelops domestic violence. We need to educate ourselves about domestic violence so that we can listen and respond to victims.
Pate recommends these resources:
- The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (icadv.org/iowa-victim-service-programs), which provides statewide support and can connect communities with local organizations and shelters.
- The Iowa Victim Service Call Center (survivorshelpline.org), available 24/7 by calling 1 (800) 770-1650 or texting IOWAHELP to 20121.
- The Iowa Attorney General’s Victim Assistance Section (iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-crime-victims) administers programs that assist victims with the financial burdens resulting from violent crime and assists the criminal justice system in holding offenders responsible.
The U.S. bishops offer these recommendations:
For abused women:
- Talk in confidence to someone you trust: a relative, friend, parish priest, deacon, religious sister, religious brother or lay minister.
- If you choose to stay in the situation, set up a plan of action to ensure your safety. This includes hiding a car key, personal documents and some money in a safe place and locating somewhere to go in an emergency.
- Find resources in your area that offer help to battered women and their children. Catholics for Family Peace (catholicsforfamilypeace.org) has prepared several resources in English and in Spanish for persons experiencing domestic violence and ways for parishes and schools to help.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis intervention and referrals to local service providers. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information, go to https://www.thehotline.org. Hotline Advocates are available online, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For men who abuse:
- Admit that the abuse is your problem, not your partner’s, and have the courage to seek help. You can change your behavior if you choose to do so.
- Talk to someone you trust who can help you evaluate the situation. Contact your parish, diocese or community agencies for the name of a program for abusers.
For pastors and pastoral staffs:
- Provide information about domestic violence and local resources in parish bulletins, newsletters and on websites. Post in women’s restrooms phone numbers for domestic violence assistance.
- Maintain an updated resources list for abused women. This can be a project for the parish pastoral council, social justice committee or women’s group.
- Find a staff person or volunteer willing to receive in-depth training in domestic violence, to serve as a resource, and to help educate others about domestic violence.
- Provide training on domestic violence to all church ministers, including priests, deacons and lay ministers. When possible, provide opportunities for them to hear directly from victims of violence.
- In homilies, include a reference to domestic violence when appropriate. Just a mention of domestic violence lets abused women know that someone cares. Describe what abuse is so that women begin to recognize and name what is happening to them. Give them permission to seek safety. Be careful to address texts that might be heard as condoning domestic violence (such as those calling women to be submissive) or “requiring” women to forgive abusers and stay in dangerous situations. Our Church emphasizes mutuality and equality in marriage.
- In parish reconciliation services, identify violence against women as a sin.
- Include intercessions for victims of abuse, abusers and those who work with them.
- Have an action plan in place to follow if an abused woman calls on you for help. It is helpful to have already established contact with local shelters and domestic violence agencies.
- Include a discussion of domestic violence in marriage preparation sessions.
In a “For Your Marriage” article on efforts to end domestic violence, Sharon O’Brien, co-founder of Catholics for Family Peace, said, “It is so important to get informed and to reflect God’s love to each other. Survivors tell us all the time that the thing that helped them seek help was someone reflecting their worth as a person” (https://tinyurl.com/497w33pc).
Let each of us be a reflection of that love.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor