February 8, 2019

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

We must do all we can to break the cycle of domestic violence

David Bethuram

The Catholic Church teaches that violence against another person in any form fails to treat that person as someone worthy of love. Instead, it treats the person as an object to be used.

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors, including physical, sexual and psychological attacks that an adult intimate partner commits toward another. It happens in every part of the community to men and women of every race, ethnicity, class, age, ability or disability, education level and religion.

Unfortunately, many clients that walk through the doors of Catholic Charities have experienced domestic violence. We are committed to helping women, children and men in escaping domestic violence by providing them with food, clothing, counseling and shelter to help them start a new life free of violence.

People wonder why some people stay in abusive relationships. To understand a victim’s reasoning, a person should first understand what goes through the mind of an abuser.

Emma and her five children were in a desperate situation. Her husband was an alcoholic and was starting to act more and more erratically and violently.

One night, he fired a gun in their house in front of her children. The police and Child Protective Services told Emma that if she didn’t leave, her children would be taken away. She was desperate to keep her children safe, but she had no family here and no place to go.

Catholic Charities was able to help Emma and her children find suitable and safe housing, including furnishing a new home. We also made sure they had enough food and clothing to start their new life.

Emma’s abuser is like many other abusers. He didn’t think about relationships like most healthy people do. Abusers often feel they share an identity with their victim.

They do not want their victim to have a life separate from theirs, and see the victim as an extension of themselves. They will use isolation or threats to keep their victim from leaving, getting help or having other relationships.

Anything that empowers their victim, including relationships or money, will be a threat to the abuser who wants the victim completely dependent on them. Even the perception that the person is trying to leave the relationship can cause the abuser to take desperate measures.

Abusers may blame their violent behavior on the victim, drugs, alcohol, anger or other factors. Some even claim their behavior is motivated by love or protection. Emma stayed in a dangerous relationship thinking things would get better if her husband got sober. She eventually escaped.

Abusers intermix loving behaviors with degrading, controlling and threatening behaviors. This often creates confusion in the victim, with the victim second-guessing themself. Often people don’t understand the complexity of an abuser/victim relationship, but it’s not usually based on one specific act of violence. Instead, it’s a long, confusing, debilitating relationship that many struggle to escape.

Violence against women in the home has serious repercussions for children. More than 50 percent of men who abuse their wives also harm their children. Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to develop alcohol and drug addictions and to become abusers themselves. The stage is set for a cycle of violence that may continue from generation to generation.

Catholic Charities and the Church want to help break this cycle. If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please have them contact a Catholic Charities agency or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which provides crisis intervention and referrals to local service providers. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY).

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

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