October is Domestic Violence & Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Month
(Also known as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month)
By Bishop Peggy Johnson
She came to the United Methodist-sponsored DeafBlind Camp*, this young woman with a small child. Her husband dropped her off. She could neither see nor hear. But faithful volunteers interpreted for her, making tactile deaf signs in her hands. And they led her from place to place during the week of camp activities.
I was running the camp; so I did not have much contact with “Audrey.”** The woman who served as her support service provider (SSP) sensed that she was burdened with something; but the nature of it was unclear.
Being deaf and blind comes with huge daily challenges. God bless this volunteer helper! After camp ended she went to visit “Audrey” at her home, and they formed a bond of friendship.
It was through that bond that the terrible truth about Audrey’s husband came to light. He would beat her and kick her and put things in her way, so she would fall and hurt herself. This was unbelievable cruelty behind closed doors.
Thanks to much intervention and support, the volunteer helped Audrey escape from this abusive environment, move out of the state (with her young child), endure divorce and custody court proceedings, and begin a new life. It all started with a relationship and the simple fact that the volunteer believed her story and then did something about it.
Suffering in secret, silent agony
Many people are living, suffering in secret, silent agony because of abuse. That includes women and some men, attacked both in and outside of the home. Their abuse comes in the form of physical violence, sexual violence and emotional violence. Emotional violence can be as damaging as a fist.
October is “National Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Month.” Our churches can play an important role in prevention by teaching people about appropriate ways of dealing with anger, proper dating protocols and the dangers of producing and handling pornography.
Our denomination’s Commission on United Methodist Men has a wonderful, eight-week learning program to help men in our churches and communities. Adapted from a YWCA program, Amending through Faith seeks to cultivate a healthy masculinity that recognizes and challenges disrespect and violence against women as a stubborn cultural norm.
The Eastern PA Conference will sponsor a day-long seminar, titled Domestic Violence: The Faith Community Responds, on Saturday, Nov. 17 at West Lawn UMC. There will be a keynote speaker from FaithTrust Insitute and workshops, including one from the Amending through Faith program for men.
The faith community must respond
Everyone should come to learn about the signs and solutions to domestic violence and ways that we as the Body of Christ can help end this deadly, widespread scourge on our society’s treatment of women and families. We must get more involved, so we can become wellsprings of healing and hope for wounded victims, many of whom don’t believe the church cares or is willing or able to help.
The most important thing is believing the victim. Audrey’s life was changed when one person found her story to be credible. John 8:32 says “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” When truth is told it needs to be believed and then acted upon.
Many times, a victim will summon the courage to tell their story; but then they are not believed. In some cases, they are punished and ostracized for it. The fear of this syndrome prevents many from coming forward to tell their stories of often terrible abuse. Instead, they keep it hidden, like a festering sore on their souls. And it never heals or disappears.
Believe people when they have the courage to tell the truth. But don’t just stop there. Believing means doing something about it. It means coming alongside persons to offer emotional support. It means:
- helping victims with escape plans and financial support,
- helping both victim and perpetrator find needed therapy,
- supporting “safe” houses in your area that provide transitional services,
- posting signs in bathroom stalls about how to get help, etc.
The possibilities are endless. It means stepping out and taking risks. Liberating truth is costly, but it is also a sign of our belief and discipleship in Jesus Christ. His depth of compassionate love and his actions to heal and set free oppressed persons should be our example.
*The DeafBlind Camp of Maryland was established in 1998 by Deaf Interfaith to provide a safe, fun, barrier-free week for persons who have a significant hearing and vision loss. Bishop Peggy Johnson was its visionary and director. She led camps there, along with Carol Stevens and others, for 10 years until she was elected a bishop.
The camp has grown from six campers the first year to over forty campers currently. Campers have varying degrees of hearing and vision loss; many are totally deaf and blind. In 2015, the DeafBlind Camp of Maryland, Inc. became a 501(c)(3) organization, allowing for tax deductible donations.
** “Audrey” is a name made up to protect the privacy of this individual.