What the Church and People of Faith Can Do to Help Victims of Sexual and Domestic Violence
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Speak on It
About 16 years ago I was sitting in service and Pastor Lance Watson was delivering an amazing sermon. The sermon was on relationships in general.
Let’s just tell the truth and shame the devil.
To be honest, I wasn’t in a relationship at the time, so this was one of those Sundays where I was looking straight forward but barely paying attention.
That is….until he just happened to weave in a few statements that said that no man had any right to put his hands on a woman. The church got riled up. I was pleased.
Thank you, Lord.
And that was that.
Or so I thought
I attended worship in the city but I worked in a county nearby.
At that time, I was a victim’s advocate.
One of my duties was to assist victim’s of domestic violence through the court process.
I was stunned and surprised to encounter four members of my church that Monday. Each of them wanted a protective order against their abusive boyfriends or husbands. Enough was enough, now.
I had never seen them before and they had never seen me. My church was one of those huge mega churches. So that was common.
But each time I got into a conversation with one of the women we got to talking about her story of survival. And of course, what finally, was the catalyst that brought her to court on that day.
All four times it was Pastor Watson’s sermon. Well, I’ll be doggone.
Look at God.
Thank you Pastor Watson.
Be a Resource
It is very helpful to victims/Survivors when churches have printed content on site.
Churches can find brochures, fact sheets, and safety plans freely available from most nearby local centers.
You can also find them online where you can order them or print them directly.
It is helpful to have material that speaks directly to different groups. For example, there is material written that speaks directly to the needs of Women of Color, people who speak Spanish, LGBT, youth, Males, etc.
Another way to be a great resource is to have people from local rape crisis centers and domestic violence services come in and present workshops.
Please make sure that your staff isn’t turning them away when they call.
Once I called a church as a representative of our organization and offered to speak for free on the topic of sexual violence.
The head of the Women’s Ministry politely declined my offer. “Our ladies don’t need to be taught about sexual violence. We teach discernment.”
~Note: Many great links at the bottom of this post.~
Be on OUR Side….. Sometimes, at least
I am not asking you to make an instant decision to always believe the accusations of victims.
However, I am asking that people of faith turn away from the current behavior of instantly believing and siding with those who are accused of horrific acts of abuse.
Too many people of faith rush to be on the side of abusers, child molesters, and rapists. At the same time, they shame and shun the victims.
This comes from family, friends, high profile folks and runs all the way up the aisle to the pulpit.
Folks this behavior is a sin and a shame!
We do this for no other crime. We don’t run to support murderers, robbers, and thieves while turning our backs on their victims?
As people of faith, we mimic the world treating victims as the evildoers and crowning evildoers as the heroes.
In fact, we push more pain on it. People of faith have the nerve and the audacity to act as if God has sanctioned such evil. Since when does God take the side of opportunistic evildoers who cause more destruction and dysfunction over the innocent, oppressed, and seekers of justice? WE continue to pray for you.
Exodus 23:1-2 (NIV)
Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
This Forgiveness Thing
Please avoid rushing Survivors to forgive. Forgiveness is not an instant occurrence. What was taken was valuable. It was valuable to us. It was valuable to our Creator.
The process of forgiveness is very personal and much is being learned. Frankly, it really isn’t any one’s business.
Sure, you can share some helpful advice, stories etc. You can share if we ask you to.
However, the process is personal.
People of faith mush also understand that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. A person can forgive someone and decide that they do not want to invite them back into their lives. Perhaps they can invite back at a later date.
Survivors must exercise whatever options keep them at their optimum level of health.
Besides, this is yet another time where I wonder why people are so worried about the work of victims/Survivors and not the work of the offenders. We wouldn’t have to work on forgiving anything but for the offender.
Rather than being concerned about our forgiveness work find out if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Are they still having touching issues? Are they still attacking vulnerable people? Perhaps that is where the focus really needs to be. Let me not mince words. It isn’t my style. That is where the focus needs to be.
Please Lead US by Example
Church leaders, if you have a history or story connected with abuse, we would love to hear about it. But only when you are ready of course.
I was with another advocate one evening sharing a personal story of abuse before a congregation.
The Pastor of this particular church was sitting on the front pew through the entire speech.
Every time that I looked at him I felt uneasy. It felt like he was mean mugging me. I couldn’t figure out if he didn’t approve of what I was saying or what.
So, I just stopped looking in that direction and carried on with the speech.
At the end, the congregation seemed to appreciate it. The mood and atmosphere was blessed.
And suddenly this…………
In the midst of everything the Pastor stood up and took to the pulpit.
I was thinking, “Uh-oh what is he going to say?”
Everyone was silent.
His look was extremely serious.
I didn’t know what was about to happen but it was going to be something.
And he began to speak about an incident where he witnessed his mother being
assaulted. There was a knife. He and his brother tried to intervene.
I had completely misread his stare.
He said that until my talk he had largely but all of the abuse he saw his mother go through out of his mind.
But now that he thinks about it, he knows those experiences directed he and his brother’s paths.
He felt defenseless to help his mother when he was a small child.
However now that he thought about that experience, it lead to his calling to become a minister to serve the needs of the hurting.
What a testimony!
That was so powerful!
Support Professional Training
Staff and volunteers who come in contact with the public should be encouraged to get ongoing training and education sexual assault, stalking, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence.
Please know that there are now many webinars available online. Quite a few of them are offered free of charge.
No one expects folks to be experts of course. Still, they should have a basic understanding because all of these atrocities impact large swaths of most communities.
Yet, in spite of the prevalence, the lack of knowledge and understanding is shameful.
Hosea 4:6 My are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (NIV)
If you are able, please consider offering space to victims/Survivors for group facilitation, meetings, seminars, and training.
Uplift and Encourage
Please join us in uplifting and encouraging Survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
WE need everyone’s support in the area of spiritual healing.
Most Survivors are uniquely positioned to serve those in the most excruciating pain. Invest in us.
WE are amazing!
Psalm 37:23-25 NRSV
Encourage one another and build each other up1 Thessalonians 4:18(NIV)
Okay amazing people, your turn. With the wonderful world of self-publishing I can’t keep up. Please make suggestions from both traditional and self-publishing that you think are helpful to Survivors of sexual and domestic violence. This time, Yes, I am looking for those written works that address spiritual issues. I am looking for ALL religions that positively help victims/Survivors. Share 3 Ways: Share via our Facebook page Facebook.com/WESurviveAbuse Share at the bottom of this post Share on our Twitter page +WE Survive Abuse
WE will post the list later this month. Please feel free to share your own literary work. How else will we know?
Posts presented/edited/written by: Tonya GJ Prince. Driven by her life mission to empower, inform, & uplift Survivors; Tonya is also the founder of WESurviveAbuse.com, Braid the Ladder, & SurvivorAffirmations.com.
She is a social justice expert with over 24 years experience as a speaker, group facilitator, crisis intervention counselor, writer, advocate & activist.
She holds a BS in Organizational Management & Development.
Her Tortie rescue cat MiaBelle, is her longtime co-writer.