Family, friends, ecclesias - what to do?
One of the most consistent questions we get asked, either specifically about a particular situation, or hypothetically about situations that may arise is how we shoud respond and what we can and should do practically.
The resource linked above from the Safe & Together Institute is an excellent resource and education piece for all of us. It sets up a framework for understanding family and domestic violence and for helping us understand what we can and should do to help in the circumstance that we are needed as an ally of a loved one, be it family or ecclesial member experiencing domestic violence.
The document is also a very good educational resource in recognising the signs - acting differently, less available, less happy, less open, for instance - signs that someone is suffering under coercive control, and explains how physical violence is not the only damaging behaviour that is experienced in family and domestic violence.
We can all be safe people who listen and care. This is the call of our Lord that we help the poor and needy and relieve oppression. There is no place for minimisation, justification or obfuscation - we need to recognise it for what it is. We may not be in a position to publicly do this, but in dealing with victims and survivors we must learn how to respond in ways that ensure that we are not enabling abuse or using spiritual justifications that allow it to continue or worse, be accepted by the victim or survivor as something they are called on to ensure or required to suffer. These are unfortunately all too common responses and we must all learn how to avoid being a part of them and how to respond to them when we hear them.
There are now laws in most jurisdictions that help protect people from domestic violence and we need to learn what they are and how to engage with the authorities to get their help from the laws which Paul tells us are put there for our good and for the punishment of evil-doers. We also need to know what the barriers are to people engaging with the authorities and appreciate how to respectfully support them regardless of what they consider to be safe practices in their situation.
We commend to your consideration the four key Ally Behaviours from p17 are:
Ally Behavior #1: Tell her that only the person who is choosing violence is responsible
for those behaviors and their consequences. She is not causing or provoking those
Ally Behavior #2: Learn more about what is being done to her.
Ally Behavior #3: Validate all the things she is doing right for herself and her children.
Ally Behavior #4: Offer practical support.
These behaviours are beautifully explained including the "why" and step by step actions with important things to be wary of and consider.
It is a great reminder that whilst we are not all trained counsellors or experience domestic violence first responders, we all can hear, believe and act including with practical support that is often urgently needed by people in these situations. They need food, clothing and shelter for them and their children. They need transport, help with logistics and arrangements, spiritual comfort and encouragement. Above all they need to be encouraged and supported that the things they are doing to keep themselves and their children safe are the right things for them to be doing and to be free from guilt trips and inappropriate judgements from people who are not in their shoes and who do not understand their situation.
We are all called on to be disciples of our Lord whose warning to us all was that if we fail in our treatment of his little ones, we are due a millstone around our necks and to be cast into the sea. Please take the time to read this important useful resource.