Why you need to be prepared
There are two important facts to remember:
- A faith leader is often one of the first people a victim of sexual or domestic violence will tell about their abuse.
- The first person a victim tells about their abuse has a huge impact on their next steps and whether they will seek additional help.
That’s why it is critical that you are prepared and know what to say and do in the event an incident of violence is disclosed to you. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently deepen a victim’s wounds or block their path to safety and healing.
Leverage your strengths; Gather your allies
As a faith leader, you can provide essential spiritual and emotional support to a victim. Your encouragement, prayer and the tenets of your faith have a huge impact on a victim’s comfort, healing and stability. A victim comes to you because they trust you.
Meanwhile, crisis counselors and rape or domestic violence advocates are specially trained to walk a victim through the process of accessing important services, as necessary. These may include medical care, contacting law enforcement, creating a safety or escape plan, enrolling in professional counseling, and more. By joining forces with these professionals, you can ensure that a victim’s spiritual, physical and emotional needs are being met in a coordinated way.
When someone discloses an incident of abuse to you, imagine how reassuring it would be for them to hear you say, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this difficult situation, but I am here to walk through it with you. I have someone I know and trust who can help us come up with a plan of action and get through this together.”
For your safety as well as the victim’s, please do not try to intervene in an abusive situation without the close partnership and guidance of a trained crisis professional. Additionally, couples counseling should not be used in situation of domestic or intimate partner violence.
Finding your resources
Every community around the country has access to a crisis center to help with sexual and domestic violence issues. Don’t wait until a crisis arises to introduce yourself and start building relationships with the crisis professionals and shelters in your area.
Find the resources near you using the search feature compiled by RAINN – The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: http://centers.rainn.org/.
You can also find domestic violence shelters and other resources for women on the Women’s Shelters Directory: http://www.womenshelters.org/.
Connecting with crisis centers in your area may also introduce new opportunities for your church or faith community to provide much-needed support to help those who are hurting, as shelters are often in need of financial and material donations.