April 10, 2020

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Church working to help break cycle of domestic violence

David Bethuram

Almost 20 people per minute in the U.S. are physically abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In a single day, Indiana domestic violence programs serve 1,800 victims. Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for Catholic Charities to help a person who is a victim of domestic violence. They come from all walks of life and may be asking for food assistance, housing, pregnancy, senior or mental health services. Many abused women seek help first from the Church because they see it as a safe place. Even if their abusers isolate them from other social contacts, they may still allow them to go to church. Here’s a story of a woman I know who came to Catholic Charities.

“Angela” was a sophomore in college. She fell in love with a wonderful guy, her prince charming. They married. It was the perfect relationship—until one day she felt his hand on her face. He said, “[Profanity] if you had kept your mouth closed, it wouldn’t have happened.”

From that moment, her life was turned upside down. She was mentally, emotionally and sexually abused. He degraded her, and he talked about her being overweight. She began to question her self-worth and self-confidence. She thought of committing suicide many times. It was a way out.

Angela didn’t tell anyone. She said she was too embarrassed and ashamed to share what she was going through—her family and friends adored him. He isolated her, and he monitored her every move, limiting her communication with them. 

Eventually she built up enough courage and strength to tell her situation to her aunt, who said she believed her and began to assist Angela with a plan in finding help.

Angela left her husband and went to live with her aunt, but he convinced her to return. He swore that he would seek counseling, an anger management program, but he never did. Angela believed him and gave in, giving him another chance.

Change never came. One day he put his hands around her neck and began strangling her. He told her that he would kill her if she ever left him again. Angela saw herself dying at his hands.

She said she went to bed that night and prayed. She told me she heard this soft-spoken voice in her ear, and she knew it was voice of God. The next morning, she woke up and the voice said to her, “Today’s the day you leave.” Angela couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She told her husband that she was leaving for work and gave him a kiss goodbye. She hid behind a building across from their apartment building and when she saw him get into his car, she returned to the apartment to gather her things and never went back!

Starting over without her husband was very challenging and scary, but she pressed forward determined to live again.

The Church can help break this cycle. If you know anyone who is in a domestic violent relationship, please encourage them to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or go on the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence website icadvinc.org to find domestic violence programs near where you live in Indiana.
 

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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