If you receive a call from a victim who has just been beaten, is in crisis and asking for help, we suggest the following:
- Do not go to the home. The violence may still be occurring and could be dangerous to you. Offer to call the police.
- Ask her if the violence is over and how she is at this point. Does she need medical attention? Does she fear her abuser will be back? Where are the children? Does she have a safe place she can go to? If a shelter is her only option, provide her with the phone number and encourage her to call.
- Encourage her to make contact with the local victims program, whatever she decides. Most domestic violence programs, in an effort to empower a woman to take responsibility for her safety and her needs, prefer a victim to call for help directly. Strongly encourage her to do so.
Pre-marital counseling is a unique and crucial opportunity for you to assess how a man responds to and deals with anger and frustration, and how the couple interacts and responds to each other. In pre-marital counseling you can explore family histories as well as current behaviors. Early warning signs such as alcohol or drug abuse, physical abuse during courtship, cruelty to animals, inability to handle frustration, poor self-image, extreme possessiveness and jealousy, a police record for violent crime and many other characteristics can help identify potential letterers. These early signs and other literature or discussion of family violence should become an integral part in pre-marital programs in your place of worship.
Early Warning Signs
- Physical abuse during courtship is often a guarantee of later abuse. The evidence is overwhelming that after one beating there will be more. As time goes on, the abuse usually will become more severe and more frequent. It can be a mistake to marry with the idea “I can change him”.
- An inability to handle frustration should be a warning. If relatively minor problems, such as missing a parking space or being jostled in a crowd, cause a man to blow his top, to scream and otherwise seriously over react to the situation, he may try to handle many of the normal frustration of marriage by abusing his spouse.
- Batterers are men who cannot handle frustration and turn to violence as a solution to problems. A man who frequently punches walls, breaks objects or throws things in rage is likely to turn on a woman.
- Extreme possessiveness and jealousy. If a man considers his spouse to be his property and becomes enraged when he does not receive all of her attention, he is a potential abuser. It is also a negative sign if he is threatened by a woman’s friendships and tries to isolate her from them.
- A police record for a violent crime, such as rape, assault and battery, or armed robbery. Any type of recurring violent behavior is a sign.
- Violent environments breed abuse. If a man grows up seeing his father beat his mother; he is more likely to think of abuse as normal behavior, or he is desensitized to its horrors. If he was violently abused by his parents, there may be a greater chance that he will batter his wife, his child, or both.
- Alcohol/Drug Abuse. Experts say that between 40 and 80 percent of battering incidents involve alcohol and drug abuse. However, drug and alcohol do not CAUSE a man to be violent; that is his own choice.
Summary of Clergy Response
- Indicate that violence of any kind in marriage and family life is unacceptable. Let the congregation know where you stand in clear and simple terms.
- To help the congregation deal with the issues of domestic violence, educate members through sermons and by setting up appropriate educational programs for adults, teens and children.
- Make contact with the local domestic violence program. Become familiar with available resources such as audio-visual materials and speakers bureau.
- Familiarize yourself with legal matters which may arise. Staff workers and volunteers at local domestic violence programs are trained to help women deal with legal issues and are an available resource.
- Be prepared to discuss the theological and religious issues with the victim, the children, the abuser and the congregation. Suggested ways to educate yourself about domestic violence include:
- Investigating denominational resources on local, regional, and national levels.
- Exploring the religious and theological issues with your study group or others.
- Reflecting on these issues personally through study and player.
- Attending training seminars sponsored by your local domestic violence program.
- Refer to a domestic violence program for therapy or counseling. Domestic violence programs and their staff see or speak with victims and batterers on a daily basis. They are skilled and experienced with handling the complicated and difficult issues of domestic violence. Ideally, clergy should develop a partnership with them. Program staff can support the clergy’s ongoing pastoral care to victims, abusive partners and their families, relatives and congregations. Clergy can support the domestic violence staff’s ongoing efforts to provide safety, legal resources and counseling to those involved.
Pastoral Self Care
Helping families who are experiencing violence is extremely frustrating and difficult work. Clergy would do well to remember that they are not able to control all the events in the lives of their congregants.
It is always helpful to have a support network of other clergy or helping professionals with whom to share some of the concerns and feelings, which come up in the course of helping congregants in crisis. Develop a network for yourself. The staff of domestic violence programs can also function in this way for you. Beyond offering guidance and resources, they can offer support to you personally in your efforts to make a difference in the lives of the people in your congregation.
Adapted from The Spiritual Dimension in Victim Services Toolkit