In Part 5 of our What the Church Can Do series we will tie together some concepts presented in previous articles to ensure that your church is ready to act when you hear of domestic violence. It is important to ensure that your staff is trained to respond and has appropriate resources at the ready. Without some basic training and preparedness, critical opportunities to help victims can be missed. Lives can be shattered and lost.
Many churches require their staff and volunteers to complete CPR and first aid training. Some mandate child protection training, some have their ushers and greeters meet certain standards before they can serve. But only a few invite a local domestic violence advocacy agency or law enforcement officials to speak at their meetings or training sessions, and even fewer do this regularly. Ironically, given that one in five American families is dealing with domestic violence, churches will be far more likely to utilize their domestic violence skills than CPR or first aid.
When talking to your house of worship’s staff and volunteers about domestic violence, it is important that they understand what domestic violence is. It’s not just physical abuse that leaves a mark, it is “any behavior the purpose of which is to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend or intimate family member.” They also need to accept that abuse is “a learned behavior; it is not caused by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol, or other common excuses.“
Once a standardized definition of domestic violence/abuse is accepted by the church, staff and volunteers should not treat the definition as subjective. Churches are notorious for sticking with old school definitions of DV and for trying to “counsel” suspects and victims together. Church members want to decide if it’s as serious as it sounds. Instead, when possible incidences of DV come to light, the first question that should be asked is this: is she safe? He or she should be believed and the first concern should be their safety, not saving the marriage or treating both parties as if they’re equally responsible. As we like to say, we should also start by believing.
In Part 3 we discussed communicating with victims. There are some key phrases anyone interacting with victims should know, including “How can I help you at this moment?” “I’m glad you shared with me. I’m concerned for you.” “It sounds like you need some support. Do you have family and friends who know about the situation?” and “Thanks for sharing with me. I have some information that might be helpful in your situation.” They should also be prepared to ask whether they can safely call the victim back at a given number and what the best time of day to communicate is. Don’t expect them to take immediate action. Keep in mind that victims have myriad reasons not to leave. They need to plan a safe exit as well.
Churches should have a list of resources available to share with victims if it is safe to do so. We at the Christian Coalition for Safe Families like to give out the Bill of Rights when appropriate. Churches should also have a DV Quick Reference Guide at their elbow which will help them recognize symptoms of domestic violence. Church leaders should identify local domestic violence agencies, contacts at and phone numbers for local law enforcement agencies, and shelters so that a resource list like the one we have posted here can be created. This resource list should stay by every phone in a predictable place.
No one should have to wonder where this information is or debate who to call when the time comes. This should all be in place so that your organization is prepared for the inevitable. We’ve said it many times– there is no evidence that the rate of domestic violence inside the church is different than outside of the church. One in five of your women and/or families have dealt or are dealing with this lethal monster. It often starts quietly, and in Christian churches may begin as someone “exercising their scriptural authority. But it always escalates. More than six people a day, mostly women, lost their lives to domestic violence in America in 2017. Millions more people and pets struggle to survive this scourge every day.
Invite speakers. Network. Prepare. Plan. Attend local workshops and volunteer training. Have documents and phone numbers readily available. Please feel free to browse our other articles on this website and familiarize your organizations with the websites on our resource list. There is an unlimited amount of information on the web. There are credible trainers like the FaithTrust Institute if it’s in your budget to fund classes for your staff. It can be helpful to assign required reading.
In a future post we hope to provide a list of books that pastors and others can read to enhance their understanding of this topic. In the wake of this year’s COVID-19 restrictions we are already seeing an increase in the rate of domestic violence, anxiety, and depression. Churches need to be able to connect victims with assistance at the drop of a hat. Be ready– your opportunity to change and even save lives is coming.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”Benjamin Franklin
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