Throughout our diocese and the rest of the state, disturbing reports on the rise of domestic violence are issues of great concern.
In 2011, the number of domestic violence reports by the New York City Police Department reached record highs, over 700 reports per day. Those numbers have not gone down in succeeding years. We know that the rise is not just a New York City phenomenon. Hope's Door in Pleasantville reports a dramatic increase in those requesting services.
Domestic Violence isn't just about physical or sexual abuse. It is about humiliation, intimidation, isolation, threats to hurt children and pets, threats to call child welfare to have children removed. It is first and foremost about Power and Control.
Often we might say "we don't have a problem in my parish. No one has ever asked for help." One in four women in our society is a victim of domestic violence. It is an issue that cuts across all cultural and socioeconomic groups. One of the common messages of the abuser is "if you tell, no one will believe you."
A primary way in which we can overcome the isolation and helplessness of a domestic violence victim is to address the issue in a sermon, in an announcement in a bulletin, in a coffee hour discussion, in a parish newsletter.
Women and men who are being abused need to know that they can find a safe place in our congregations to make their needs known. We have to send them signals that we understand what they are going through and we are there to help.
Research shows that 7 out of 10 people start seeking help from their religious community.
A 2006 report on the Importance of Spirituality in the Lives of Domestic Violence Survivors stated:
"Women with abusive partners utilize a variety of coping strategies to deal with and heal from the violence and sense of betrayal they have experienced. For many women, their trust in a higher power and the support they receive from their faith community is integral to their healing. Of 151 women interviewed for this study, the majority (97%) noted that spirituality or God was a source of strength or comfort for them. Extent of religious involvement predicted increased psychological well-being and decreased depression."
As a starting point for our efforts, I have included two resources (you can download) with this letter:
National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence against Women
A Checklist for Religious Communities
I have called for a Diocesan Task Force on Domestic Violence. They will be providing you with more resources during this month and the months ahead.
Our Baptismal covenant call on us to renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Our witness on this issue in word and deed speaks profoundly to who we are as Christians.
The Rt. Rev. Andrew M. L. Dietsche
Bishop of New York