Guest Post: Domestic Violence? Not In My Church! Wanna bet?

My name is Elizabeth Strickland and I’m a lawyer. I work for the court in my county. I deal with Domestic Violence (DV) issues all the time, although it’s not the bulk of what I do.

It’s depressing stuff to deal with, mostly because it’s so incredibly hard to change. Most perpetrators honestly believe they are entitled to do what they do. They believe that it’s their right to deal with disobedience however they see fit, and that the people they control need to be kept down “for their own good”. The stories are horrifying. It’s not something that anyone should be cavalier about.

In our county we have a Death Review committee, a part of the Human Relations Commission. It came about as the result of one woman’s conviction that we need to study the DV problem so we can find a solution. For the last 20+ years, every death that has happened in a DV context has been subject to detailed review by the committee, so they can identify where the system failed the victims.

The numbers are staggering. Every one of these victims, mostly women and children, had made repeated calls for help, but had not received adequate responses. All the deaths were preventable. And none of them were cases that were glaringly obvious to an outsider; they were all situations where the perpetrator kept escalating his level of violence, but no one stopped him. Most of them were situations where multiple people, including church members and friends, chose to turn a blind eye to something they didn’t want to or know how to get involved with. 

DV perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Not all, but almost all. That fact has to be faced.

After years of DV death review, one woman, a deputy DA, started going to police departments around the area and talking to police chiefs. (She was for a long time also a one-woman DV unit at the DA’s office.) After many years’ effort, she has gotten all local police chiefs to institute a mandatory arrest policy. If police respond to a call and see credible evidence that DV has occurred, they automatically arrest. No exceptions.

Once they started doing that, DV death numbers plummeted. Once perpetrators started facing immediate serious negative consequences, the whole game changed.

So there is good evidence to back up the idea that perpetrators will keep hurting people unless and until they face a serious consequence, in order to change the dynamic. Otherwise, why would they stop? They are getting away with it. Most perpetrators are also really good at making the victim seem hysterical or unreliable. It’s sickening to watch.

I have a strong conviction that we Christians must absolutely be the FIRST to say “This Is Wrong. We Stand Against It”. We have to be the ones to speak for the voiceless, and tell the truth. We have to lead the charge against oppression of the powerless. It’s supposed to be in our DNA. We have to be about the business of standing up for those who can’t, and bringing safety and comfort to the afflicted. We need to train our people to be able to recognize the signs of DV and provide them resources and a course of action to take that will not put the woman or themselves in jeopardy.

Pastor, do you know how to spot signs of DV? Do you have a plan in place to respond in a quick and responsible way to DV? A simple search on Google will lead you to valuable, helpful information and resources. Here’s a good one to start with:  http://www.thehotline.org/