By Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling
One of the first questions asked after someone is killed by a domestic partner is, ‘Why didn’t they say something’? The question is almost an indictment of their silence and a further victimization of their circumstances.
And yet, sharing that you are the victim of domestic partner abuse is one of the hardest things to do. When those caught in this cycle of violence do seek to talk about their experiences, they are often met with discomfort, denial or traumatizing statements. After amassing the courage to tell their story, the last thing someone needs to hear is, “I would never let that happen to me,” or “I wish someone would hit me. They’d be sorry.”
Whether the speaker understands it or not, these statements inherently carry the message that it is your fault. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is because you either aren’t strong enough, smart enough, courageous enough or (insert adjective here) enough to prevent this from happening to you. Comments such as these intensify the already overwhelming stigma and shame of domestic partner abuse, and inhibit those trapped in its web from seeking help.
Among many other important topics, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As many of you know, this topic is especially important to me as a survivor of domestic partner violence. There was a time when I did not talk about this chapter of my life. As a woman in ministry, or leadership in general for that matter, I was encouraged not to divulge this fact. A woman in ministry still sparks a discussion in some segments of society, and any deviation from absolute perfection can become fodder for diminution.
And yet, when survivors tell their story, they empower others to be honest, seek help, and reclaim their safety. Every single time I tell my story, someone comes forward and whispers in my ear that they are being abused... Every. Single. Time. Therefore, I will not be silent; to speak this truth is to speak life for someone.
The most vulnerable moment for someone trapped in this cycle is when he or she makes the decision to leave. This fact has become so prevalent it has been given a name, “the most dangerous week.” Ariel Zwang, CEO of Safe Horizon states, “In order to reestablish control, abusers may respond in extremely violent and unpredictable ways once they find out the victim has decided to leave. In fact, a recent separation is one of the reliable indicators of lethality identified by researchers who have studied domestic violence homicides.” (What You Should Know About the Most Dangerous Week, Ariel Zwang, Huffpost, June 30, 2015.)
This is why we have created Seeds of Security (S.O.S.), a resource for individuals seeking safety from abuse. Those who work in this area are well aware that abusers often maintain the finances in the relationship as another means of control. Having the financial means to travel to a safe space is critical once the decision to leave has been made. I believe we have the means to provide not only the economic resources to seek shelter, but sanctuaries of security as well. I dream of a day when we will have S.O.S. homes in the Baltimore-Washington Conference to provide temporary shelter for those in transition. A steering committee has been formed to help make my dream a reality. If you are interested in being a part of that ministry, please contact the Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson at the Conference Mission Center, at .
I also encourage pastors and laity to talk about domestic abuse, invite experts to offer training on the topic, and become partners in our S.O.S. ministry. It is important that we as theologians, disciples, and community partners be able to engage this topic in meaningful ways. While Scripture does encourage partners to honor their marital covenant, remaining in an abusive marriage or relationship can become a death sentence. Our United Methodist Book of Resolutions addresses our commitment to marriage while also recognizing that abuse is “detrimental to the covenant of the human community.”
A beloved hymn of the church sung by Mahalia Jackson states, “If I can help somebody, as I travel along. If I can help somebody, with a word or song…then my living shall not be in vain.” If our shining a light on this topic helps even one person to safety, then our telling shall not be in vain.