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Clergy step forward against domestic violence: 'You will see a battered woman again and again, and she will be sicker each time you see her' PDF Print E-mail
Written by ROBIN CAUDELL, Staff Writer   
Friday, April 06, 2007

TO LEARN MORE

To reach STOP Domestic Violence:
Office hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.
Address: 22 U.S. Oval Suite 218, Plattsburgh, NY 12903.
Phone: 563-6904.
24-hour hotline: 1-888-563-6904.



Tamar was the daughter of King David of Israel and Maachah, one of his eight wives.
Amnon, the son of the King David and Ahinoam, forbidden by Jewish law to marry Tamar, his half-sister, raped her.
This biblical story inspired Trudy Lawson's TAMAR Ministries and Healing Hearts Ministries, to raise awareness and support and end violence against women.
"The church is in a unique position to help," Lawson said at a recent "Domestic Violence 101" presentation for clergy sponsored by the Clinton County Domestic Violence Task Force in Plattsburgh.
"Clergy encounter people who are not connected to their religious community," said Lawson, who attends Christian Memorial Church in Albany. "The church has a responsibility to address the issue of domestic violence. It has access to both the perpetrator and victim."
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of coercive behavior that may include physical, sexual, economic, emotional and psychological abuse exerted by one family member against another, and the goal is to establish and maintain power.
"Domestic violence is a crime. Relationships are not abusive; people are abusive," Lawson said.
In the United States, 75 percent of female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner — a husband, boyfriend or ex-spouse or ex-boyfriend.
It is the No. 1 health threat to women. Ninety-five percent of assaults are committed by men against women.
Domestic violence crosses all faith traditions and ethnic, income and education strata. Men who batter do so because it achieves what they want with few consequences. With no motivation to stop, they continue. It is their choice.
Women don't leave these often life-threatening relationships for many reasons, Lawson said, including safety, fear of the unknown, children, economic pressures and belief systems.
Lawson has heard women state: "He hits me. He never hits the children. He's good to the children."
Acting out, depression, anger, helplessness, promiscuity, running away and aggressive and digressive behaviors (bed wetting) are ways domestic violence manifests in children, Lawson said.
"She will tell you the kids are fine."
Women deny and minimize the violence as unintentional or their fault because they are "crazy" or "provoking."
Historically, domestic violence is linked to women's status in society through the concept of private property "women as chattel" and oppressive English Common Law. It was lawful for a husband to beat his wife if the rod he used was not bigger than his thumb's circumference.
"In the 1800s, the law was repealed, but the behavior continued," Lawson said. "Then, he couldn't hit her after 8 p.m. or not on a Sunday."
Many men feel they have a right, and entitlement, to behave so.
"It's a choice that a person makes," Lawson said.
A black eye or bruises are dead give-aways, so perpetrators may hit a woman where it doesn't show. Behaviors she may exhibit include quiet/non-verbal, no eye contact, slow or no response, tenseness, fear of disclosure, confusion and not attending church.
Many times when women come forward, they are not believed. Their partners may be perceived as great guys, wonderful fathers, solid citizens and upright church members — "Mr. So-and-So wouldn't do that."
"Trust what she's telling you," Lawson said. "You don't need to check in with him."
Clues to uncovering a batterer may include a disrespect for women, in general.
He may isolate his wife or girlfriend from her mother and family. If a woman pastor heads the church, he may cease attending and force his partner to do so, too.
He may always be "present" at her side or continually ask her what was talking about to others.
"Domestic violence is against anything that Christ teaches in the church. Abusers use scripture to keep their victims in submission. They take scripture out of context and use it against them."
Though clergy are in the forefront of identifying perpetrators and victims, they should not try to ride in on a white horse, Lawson said.
In not creating a safe and confidential environment to discover what is happening, a pastor could jeopardize the safety of the woman he or she is trying to help. The battering may escalate or she may be killed for disclosure.
Increasing victim and child safety, respecting the adult victim's authority and holding the perpetrator solely responsible for his behavior are the three principles for intervention.
When domestic violence is present, cooperative activities such as marriage counseling, couples counseling, dispute resolution and mediation services are contra-indicated, Lawson said.
"You're not dealing with an equal situation. If you detect domestic violence, stop!"
Clergy should recognize that women are also in spiritual crisis.
When dealing with victims, clergy should support the victims' right to make choices for their own safety and the safety of their children, recognize and accept victims' ambivalence in the midst of their struggles, recognize that if the abusers are not held accountable they will abuse their family again, and encourage victims to speak and assist them with their choices, Lawson said.
"Every situation is different. A lot of times, you many not be able to say anything unless she is willing. You might not agree with her choice, but this is her life. For every woman, it's a journey.
"You will see a battered woman again and again, and she will be sicker each time you see her."
In holding the abuser accountable, Lawson said, pastors should focus on behavior, not characteristics; not let anxiety prevent them from holding the abuser accountable; and develop policies for their participation in the church organization.
"I don't care who he is or what position he holds," Lawson said. "Don't conspire with him in any way. Remove him from a position of leadership. Hold men accountable. Use the influence of your institution.
"We need men, and we need pastors. Domestic violence is everybody's business."

 

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