October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While the recent reports of domestic violence involving NFL players has brought some much needed attention to this serious and preventable public health problem, few have spoken about how faith-based organizations can assume an important role in both addressing and preventing domestic violence.
Domestic violence statistics are sobering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 of every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One of 7 men has experienced the same. 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. Somewhere between 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.
Domestic violence is an extremely complicated issue. Each situation is unique. The relationships between perpetrator and victim and the reasons for their actions and reactions are often difficult to understand. The term “intimate partner violence” (IPV) describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not necessarily require sexual intimacy.
The immediate goal is to assist and support the victims of IPV. The ultimate goal is to stop IPV before it begins. Groups like the Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancement and Leadership Through Alliances (DELTA) fund local coalition intervention and prevention initiatives that seek to address the entire continuum of IPV ranging from episodic violence to battering. In our state, the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women (NJCBW, www.njcbw.org) provides a wealth of information and resources to assist local organizations that are interested in undertaking IPV-related initiatives. For example, NJCBW reached out to local groups working with underserved populations to integrate primary IPV prevention into mentoring programs for boys.
Our churches can engage in partnerships with groups like DELTA, NJCBW, or other local organizations in several ways:
- Engage in education and life skills training initiatives that provide prevention strategies designed to promote attitudes, beliefs, and skills that support intimate partnerships based on mutual respect and trust.
- Take part or sponsor mentoring and peer programs that encourage responsible intimate partnerships.
- Learn what activities are taking place in the community to assist IPV victims and their families and how the church can advocate for policies that will lessen opportunities for the recurrence of IPVs.
With the number of reported instances of IPVs increasing daily, clergy and lay leaders must be prepared to provide meaningful assistance to those who may come to the church seeking help:
- Review internal employment policies and practices specifically indicating how the church itself will address IPV situations in which its own employee may be either the victim or the perpetrator. Policy models are available for employers at www.workplacesrespond.org.
- Be prepared to provide victims with important referral numbers to local domestic violence and rape crisis hot-lines. Have on hand, brochures and related materials that can provide critical information and advice.
- For clergy, recognize the legal boundaries of pastoral confidentiality and the duty to inform law enforcement when a victim appears to be in immediate danger of bodily harm.
- For those who may wish to provide immediate assistance and support to IPV victims, consider enrolling in workshops and counseling trainings often provided by domestic violence organizations such as NJCBW.
Our congregations and clergy can play a vital role in our communities by providing meaningful assistance, participating in IPV prevention programs, and advocating for more public awareness and legislative action to reduce the likelihood of domestic violence. If we are to take our baptismal vow to “respect the dignity of every human being” seriously, Jesus’s command to care for the most vulnerable among us must not go unanswered.