There's a facet of our work that's sometimes below the radar, but worth considering as a community — namely, that domestic and sexual violence aren't just physical and emotional crises, but sometimes spiritual crises as well.
Two out of every three Americans are affiliated with a religious group, so faith communities are in a unique position to offer support, hold offenders accountable, and foster positive social change. Nor are faith groups immune from this kind of harm: according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, one out of every four members of a congregation is a victim of domestic violence, and is more likely to turn to their church first, before accessing other resources. However, many victims also reported that they didn't feel understood by their faith leaders. According to the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, rather than offering alternatives, "pastors, priests, and rabbis who don't understand domestic violence have often advised women to return to violent homes and be "better wives."
The good news is, many faith groups today are working to change these statistics, and some are making a difference right here in our community. The Women's Freedom Center has long been grateful for the generosity of area churches, and we'd like to extend an invitation to all faith groups to join us in hosting some conversations, to learn more about becoming allies in this work. Faith communities can be a tremendous resource to survivors in getting to safety, keeping meaningful connections, and gradually healing from trauma.
Here are some practices to consider.
Become a safe space — create an environment where survivors feel they can even come forward and be believed, then treated like any other victim of a crime. Display materials about local resources, including the Women's Freedom Center, and routinely include educational items in newsletters, marriage prep classes, and other faith-based discussions. It's hugely helpful to also have some literature available in confidential places like rest rooms, to make it safer for victims to read. One church that hosted a discussion with us offered afterwards to take extra brochures and disseminate them in public rest rooms and changing rooms at clothing stores around town — another great idea.
Lead by example — faith leaders in particular can help shape attitudes when speaking out about domestic and sexual violence from the pulpit, in the press, and in other public realms where laws, policy, or funding are discussed. They might specifically talk about domestic violence during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and they can also help hold abusers accountable by not allowing them to use religious excuses for bad behavior.
Join us in conversation — faith groups are very welcome allies in community education. Over the years, the Women's Freedom Center has enjoyed some thoughtful and inspiring discussions with groups wanting to examine these issues, and create more capacity to shift social norms. We're happy to explore themes which speak to a particular audience, from youth to adult, and topics can range from healthy and unhealthy relationships to bystander education, workshops on consent, among many others. We also provide faith-specific resources which foster ongoing dialogue among members themselves, highlighting the considerable common ground between religious groups and community organizations working to end violence.
Beyond this, we always appreciate your thoughts about other ways to broaden our community outreach. To discuss an idea, set up a presentation, or find out more, please call our office at 802-257-7364. And thanks for helping us spread the word!
The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at Women's Freedom Center and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.