Media frenzy over the National Football League’s fumbled response to domestic violence provides a lesson we should take to heart and put into action. Domestic violence happens, and 85 percent of its victims are women. Abusers must be held accountable for their actions. Victims are not to blame, and often struggle to extricate themselves from abusive relationships. They are among the people in our pews. We need to provide them with resources and affirmation. We can no longer hide behind the excuse, “it’s none of my business.”
The National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) reports that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. That means someone in our circle of family or friends is a victim or will become a victim of domestic violence. It happens here, in Iowa. Just last week The Quad-City Times reported a horrific story of domestic abuse in which a woman was stabbed to death and her husband critically injured. The ex-boyfriend of the couple’s daughter is accused of committing the crime in a fit of rage. The daughter said she left her boyfriend because of the physical abuse he inflicted on her. “The signs were there. Don’t ignore the signs,” she told a reporter.
Signs are everywhere, with 5.3 million incidents of intimate partner violence (physical assault, rape and stalking) against women age 18 and older in the United States each year. These incidents result in 1,300 deaths and 2 million injuries, 555,000 of which require medical attention, according to Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Perhaps President Obama should address the nation on this threat to national security occurring every day, right here at home.
Domestic violence harms families, even people of faith. Research indicates that many victims stay with their abuser because they believe God expects them to, while some abusers misuse Scripture to ensure their victims’ compliance. Education and advocacy are essential in the effort to erase domestic violence as the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) notes.
One component of that education is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter “When I Cry for Help,” which states that violence is never to be tolerated.
The bishops acknowledge that many church ministers may want to help victims of domestic violence, but hesitate because they are not experts on the subject.
Church ministers should see themselves as first-responders who listen to and believe the victim’s story, help her to assess the danger to herself and her children, and refer her to counseling and other specialized services. Other recommendations in the pastoral letter:
In homilies, include a reference to domestic violence when appropriate. That lets abused women know that someone cares. Describe what abuse is so that women begin to recognize and name what is happening to them.
Include intercessions for victims of abuse, people who abuse people, and those who work with them.
If you suspect abuse, ask direct questions. Some women do not realize they are being abused, or lie to protect their spouse. Have an action plan to follow if any abused woman calls on you for help.
Establish contact with local shelters and domestic violence agencies. Include a discussion of domestic violence in marriage preparation sessions.
Include information about domestic violence and local resources in parish bulletins and newsletters and on websites. Place copies, including telephone numbers for assistance about domestic violence, in women’s restrooms. Provide training on domestic violence to priests, deacons and lay ministers.
Material poverty is the foundation of so many problems, the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations observes. Our task is to overcome a poverty of complacency, and to practice active nonviolence — a major focus of the Clinton Franciscans — so that domestic violence disappears from the face of earth. We all have that obligation, including the NFL.
(For more information on domestic violence, visit these websites: www.nccw.org; www.usccb.org; www.icadv.org. The Iowa Domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-942-0333.)