This week's question is a quite serious one, and our colleague would appreciate your wisdom and experience. She writes:
Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, writes:
Other matriarchs may have better advice to give – my only advice is refer. Find an agency – it may be the police, it may be some sort of outreach to abused people, who know how to deal with this and get them involved. Sorry it’s all I have to say – refer, refer, refer.
Muthah+ writes from her own sad experience:
This one is really difficult but quite important. I was remiss once in spotting the abuse in a family and the wife ended up missing. She was a good member of my parish and I still miss her. Her body was never found and the husband is doing life without parole in federal prison. So I am encouraging that you address the issue NOW. Get everyone you can into the case: police, social services, yourself even members of your congregation, if needed. But be careful. If the man is as volitile with his wife as to be beating her, he will be volitile with you. The man is a bully, but at the heart of a bully is a very frightened person who can only react. Never visit with him alone.
Talk to the people who work in your local domestic violence shelter. Make it your mission to find who these people are and where they live. Visit the woman when the man is at work. You most likely won't be able to get her to leave or even acknowledge the abuse because at some level she is deathly afraid of leaving him. Talk with your police department. They can do little unless they see the damage, but they usually have ways of helping you. Get on line and find the agencies that can help you and your parishioner. Contact them.
If they have been coming to church, one of the couple wants something to change. So you have your work cut out for you. I will keep you in my prayers because you feel like an alarmist--when what you are doing is perhaps saving this woman's life.
St. Casserole offers:
Really a tough one! I imagine you have a few discreet congregants, with good people skills who you can take into your confidence about this couple. These congregants can check on the couple for details you might not be able to get because you are busy with church members after the worship service. Have them follow the couple out of the sanctuary to see how they arrive at worship. If by car, can they get a license plate number and car description? If the couple arrives by public transportation, is there a way to get information about their location from the route? You need some information to give to a constable. You may wish to go to your local police department to speak to whoever handles the domestic violence matters and they will have additional ideas about how to help the woman.
I don't think you can let this situation go unchecked. If her injuries are the result of "clumsiness" from a bone disorder or other medical condition, then you may have resources to help her with coping with her health issues. Your observations sound like domestic violence to me but you don't know this yet. I understand your hesitancy in deciding without more information. Your congregants may be able to walk the fine line of being interested in the couple without scaring them away from church. With the help of a small, attentive group, you will know how to proceed.
And Mompriest shares this:
Recently I attended a conference on domestic violence called, “Not In Our Pews” hosted by several religious and social service agencies in Wisconsin, USA. Here is a link to the review I wrote on that conference. It is filled with the advice I learned and a number of resources.
But in summary:1. Call the local social service agency that deals with battered women. You must contact people who are experts in domestic violence, no matter how much knowledge you currently have. Call the agency and ask to team up with them to figure out ways to help this woman. As clergy you may be the first person she opens up too, but your clergy team will need the help of the agency to offer a response that will aim to keep her safe.
2. If the first agency you call for help won’t, call another one. Find the local expert on DV and speak to her/him. Some will not trust clergy – we have been known to be part of the problem – using scripture, badly, to keep women in violent marriages/relationships.
3. Contact the Faith Trust Institute in Seattle, Washington: here. They have a lot of resources. As I said, on my blog post I list other resources.
4. You are correct when you think that anything you do may cause her more harm. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. It just needs to be strategic and careful.
5. The violence always escalates when a woman is preparing to leave or when the perpetrator thinks the victim is going to leave.
6. For her, trust is a big concern – she will not trust anyone.
7. Self-esteem is a big issue too – the perpetrator’s intention is less about the violence and more about control – and that control comes from horrible ways the perpetrator has demolished the victim’s sense of self.
8. One woman victim, who spoke at this conference, mentioned having a slim tiny booklet that she could read, small enough that her husband/perpetrator would not find it. Unfortunately I don’t know what it was, but the battered women’s agency might have tiny resources – I think it was a booklet of reflection/hope/empowerment?
9. When you have teamed up with an agency and learned all you can about domestic violence, preach about it. If you are like me, that thought frightens me. But apparently it is one way that women begin to feel safe enough to speak up. Women victims are resourceful, survivors. They will try to find a way to speak to you that will keep them safe from their perpetrator. Also, more people will rise to the surface, other than this woman. DV is everywhere, and prolific.
10. Hold workshops with the agency on domestic violence awareness. You may not want this to be or become the focus of your congregation. But these efforts will help to bring it out in the open. It may also chase this couple away, so deal with them first....? I could be wrong, so get professional advice on this idea, just my thoughts.
11. Contact the Rev. Al Miles. He lives in Hawaii and is one of the leading clergy experts on DV.
12. Another thing you can do in the congregation is participate in the Sixteen days of prayer to end violence against women which takes place during the first 16 days of Advent.”
Most of all pray for this woman and this situation. That is not a feeble response. Victims appreciate prayers and knowing that people are praying for them.
I will pray for you.
Our matriarchs have offered a lot of great thoughts! What about the rest of you? Do you have experience with this sort of situation? What did you do, or what do you wish you had done? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
As always, if you have a question you would like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.