*Disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of any group, organization, or club. I'm just a little girl with a big mouth who wants to see the world become a better place.*
Sometimes, in order to help change things that we see as incorrect or unjust, we have to step outside of where things are comfortable and safe, and say what we know is true. As a card carrying member of the LDS church, I have grown up in a culture that values standing for truth and righteousness and choosing the right, even when it is unpopular. We even have a ring that says so!
With these principles in mind, I need to stand up and say something that may not be popular with everyone in my church, but, it needs to be said.
Brothers and sisters... sisters and brothers... we are failing victims of domestic violence in our church.
Very quickly, I want to list the 5 forms of domestic violence so you have them fresh in your mind:
5. Economic (Financial)
Please, if you aren't familiar with any of these categories, read up a bit on them so you fully understand them.
Let me add right now that abuse is not always something that a man does to a woman. Women can abuse others and men can be victims. Statistically speaking, it is most often men who abuse women, so I used the gender pronouns that way for the sake of not confusing myself. Please feel free to change the gender in your head as needed.
I think we all agree that abuse is wrong. Here are two scriptures that specifically talk about it:
Here and Here.
The scriptures, many church leaders, and the law tell us clearly that abuse is wrong. In fact, many forms of abuse are illegal. When we hear stories of abuse, we shake our heads sorrowfully and wonder how anyone can hurt the people they love the most this way. However, when victims of abuse come to us, their church family, we fall short all too often.
1. We minimize the damage. (Aka protecting the abuser)
"It only happened once (or twice), maybe it was just a stressful time."
"He didn't actually hit you, he just pushed you a bit."
"Well, you are married and it isn't really fair to deny him of his needs."
These are samples of actual things church leaders have said to victims who came to them seeking help. Yes, I suppose an incident of abuse could be worse, but, does that matter? Does she need a black eye or a broken bone to have been beaten sufficiently in order for her complaint to be valid? Is the behavior less abusive because words or money are the only weapon being used?
Abuse is abuse. If it is the first time or the fifty-first time, it is too many times. Whether it is a threatening comment or a kick, it is wrong.
I realize we sometimes are reluctant to suggest that a victim reports abuse to the authorities because we know that the abuser could lose his job, go to jail, or, have his reputation ruined. But, are we protecting the right person in these situations? Also, someone who abuses another person needs help. If you cover their misdeeds or minimize them, you are making it more difficult for them to get help.
2. We blame the victim.
It does not matter what she was wearing, that the house was a mess, or that she forgot to make dinner, she does not deserve to be mistreated. Okay, so she isn't the most attentive mother, or maybe she sucks at budgeting. The only person who is at fault for her abuse is the abuser. A woman who "talks back" may be sassy, but she isn't asking to get slapped. A girl who wears a tight top or a short skirt is not begging or deserving of anything but respect, even if you are dating or married to that person. Let me say this again: The only person to blame for any sort of abuse is the person who actually committed those bad acts. Asking her what she was wearing when she was attacked, if she liked it, or insinuating that she craves the negative attention is not okay.
3. We keep it "in the family".
Bishops, relief society presidents, visiting and home teachers, if someone in your ward family has disclosed to you that they have been abused, don't worry about being a good neighbor to the abuser. Don't keep family secrets in your congregation. Is the reputation of one person of more value than the safety of others?
The other problem with keeping these secrets is that you are depriving victims of the chance to get help. There are resources available to the victim, and they can't use them if you cover up a whatever has happened. This isn't something you can fast and pray away. Don't get confused, I'm not saying we need to shout very private information from the pulpit, or even share it with some members of your ward family who you think need to know. It isn't your place to divulge that information without permission, and it isn't your place to hide it either. If you have someone who is asking for help, however, seek out the right groups of people those who will know how to work confidentially with those who need them. Professional help is needed, which leads me to...
4. Taking on more than we can handle.
Kind of like running further than we have strength, domestic violence may be something the average church leader isn't quite prepared to handle safely. *Even if you or your neighbor is a marriage therapist.* Domestic violence has many nuances and layers and, without training in those specific areas, you are probably unable to correctly assist a family in crisis. Reach out to your local family advocacy organization. They are not only specifically trained to help in these situations, but they are confidential. There are also programs to help abusers learn to change their behavior and find a healthier way. Bishops have a hotline to call in abuse situations. Please, bring in the professionals and let them help. Not only will this family in crisis get the very best assistance for their unique situation, but your ward family will not be financially and emotionally overwhelmed to the point where others in your church family who need your help in other ways will be overlooked. Sometimes the best thing we can do is recognize that someone else is more able to share a burden with us.
5. Stand for truth and righteousness.
Is domestic violence a problem in your congregation? Based on statistics in the US, it is. (Read statistics here.) These are not things that only happen in poor families or to people from another faith or who do not belong to any faith organization. Domestic abuse occurs in families from all walks of life, all ages, and all incomes. Regular church attendance does not exempt a family from these crimes.
But, be not afraid. You can help, even if you don't know who you are helping. You can stand up and clearly state that violence within the family unit in any and all forms is wrong.
You can stand as a light on the hill, a beacon of hope for those who need a refuge. You can educate yourself and others on healthy relationships, and when someone comes to you who is suffering in an abusive relationship, you can believe them and support them. That may feel a little awkward, stepping out of your comfort zone and opening up channels of communication with such a sensitive topic. But, when we shine a light on such things, the darkness has no choice but to flee.
Be the light.
For more information on how you can help, please contact your local domestic violence advocacy center.