Monday, November 14, 2016

High Profile Man is a Sexual Predator but We Can't Talk about It.

Yep. Check out this important companion photo. 

We're going to talk about sexual assault claims today.

Here's our scenario:

Bob is at work/bar/dark alley/in Buffy's home. Buffy is there too. They are working late/having a drink/passing through/chatting. By the time the night is over, Buffy has been sexual assaulted. She consented to spending time with Bob given the normal parameters of their work/bar/dark alley/home liaison. She did not consent to sexual contact.

It's the next day. Bob says Buffy was into it. She wanted to have sexual contact. Buffy says it's unwanted, and therefore a criminal act.

We can find scenarios like this all around us: in the news, or within our communities. It happens often. There is a disturbing phrase I hear quite often when Bob is not a stranger but instead a high-profile man:

"I don't have enough evidence to believe High Profile Man did those things."

I'd like to ask: what evidence would convince you?

What if two women said High Profile Man did these things? Three? Four? A dozen?

Is only a conviction good enough?

What if he admitted to being there, he had a substantial amount of power over her (physically, career-wise, etc.) and she said that he assaulted her. Is that enough?

What if there is no DNA? What if she cannot bring herself to face him again? What if she fears her life is not able to stand up to the intense scrutiny a sexual assault victim often endures? What if she is barely holding it together? What if he buys his way out of it?

When are we, the public at large, allowed to use sexual assault claims against High Profile Man when discerning his character? When are we allowed to let him know that his actions are despicable and we want none of it?

When will we tell High Profile Men that women are not there merely for their sexual domination?

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Sorry, grammar friends. I have no idea how "round-up" or "round up" should be written out. Fail.

I only had 28 posts for The Guiding Star Project to sort through, but the majority of them were focused on sexual assault. While that is certainly relevant to intimate partner violence, I will plan on another sexual assault post with links to all of those in April.

Taking the "Crisis" Out of a Crisis Pregnancy- This posts asks the pro-life movement to focus on the situations that drive women to believe abortion is the only way out.

Intimate Partner Violence- An introduction to IPV dynamics.

Pregnancy and Domestic Violence- A post that discusses the role pregnancy can play as an abuse tactic.

As I review these posts, they all seem to serve as an introduction to IPV. They might be particularly useful to use as awareness posts. Ahem.

Monday, October 3, 2016

October DVAM Round Up

To kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I thought I would round up some previous posts on the subject. Over the years there have been many posts about domestic violence, also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), so it is time that I try to collect most of them into one place. I have included a short description of each post, but if you have an unanswered question, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments or message me! If you would like to participate in DVAM, share these posts on social media. Give others the opportunity to think about IPV this month. 

The links below are all to other posts on this blog. I plan to gather up posts that I have written for The Guiding Star Project as well, but those will be in a different post on a different day. 

A Note for Friends and Family of Domestic and Sexual Violence Survivors- This post is just an introduction to what you can do to help if a loved one is experiencing IPV or sexual violence. 

Our Search for the Perfect Victim- A reminder that hurt people, imperfect people, and people we don't like are also victims of violence.

To Be Pro Life and Against Violence Towards Women- This was an early post of mine that explored the connection between being pro life and against violence towards women, or the lack thereof in practice.

Daring Greatly and IPV- Brene´ Brown's book, Daring Greatly, covered an issue she calls "scarcity." I find the concept important to understanding IPV survivors.

The Bible, Marriage, and IPV- This post explores IPV and sacramental marriage. 

We Can Be a Voice. Just my standard plea for fellow Catholics to have a thorough understanding of both their faith and IPV/sexual assault. 

The giant, four part series on IPV and sacramental marriage that ultimately took so much out of me that I have barely written a post since:

Marital Rape- A post that highlights the awful fact that marital rape can be present in IPV situations.

Supporting Loved Ones Dealing with Trauma- This post offers a reminder to remember your own self care and to discern your level of involvement or ability to help loved ones that are neck deep in trauma such as IPV. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Supporting Loved Ones Dealing with Trauma

the simplicity of FB friend lists...

There was a moment about three months into my time as a domestic and sexual violence advocate where it was no longer a job.

Up until that time, I found it curious that I was good at the work and felt such a passion for it. My coworkers were amazing. They all had a personal connection to someone that had experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), sexual assault, or Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), and had an instinct for the work that benefited the women seeking our assistance.

That night in group, we were working through a popular workbook, discussing families of origin. As I skimmed the questions, one leapt off the paper. I recognized it. Someone very close to me had also used the workbook, and I had come across their answer a long time ago. I also had a personal connection to several individuals that had experienced violence and trauma in their most intimate relationships.

(I know that is a very vague description of what was an important moment in my advocacy life, but I do not want to use this post as a way to tell someone else's story for them.)

I borrowed my employer's copy of the book, and read it cover to cover in a day. I saw my work in a different way. I encountered people in a new way. I was thoroughly overwhelmed with the responsibility my new awareness carried.

I was trained to help strangers. It was tough work to listen to personal accounts of trauma every day, but I was able to disconnect most days, and leave work at work. Realizing the struggles of people I loved and not being able to compartmentalize it as work was difficult. When I listened and helped clients at work, there was a clear role: I was their advocate, not their friend or relative. My duty was to provide them information, help them sort out their needs and sift through the services that might help. I helped them define the support they already had access to, and what they still were seeking. It is not as easy to be an advocate for people you know personally. You are their friend, sister, daughter or loved one first, not an advocate.

I remember feeling very confused about a few of my personal relationships specifically. I now had knowledge that had opened my eyes to their struggles, but I didn't know how it impacted the relationships, for better or worse. I turned to my coworkers for help.

I was reminded that I was not my loved one's advocate or therapist. I was their friend, or family member. The choices they make impact my life, whereas the choices my clients made often did not. The connections were different, even if I did come to care a great deal for the women and their families.

It has been a few years since I have been paid to be an advocate. From time to time, readers reach out with their stories, or others find me and I am able to help. Often, I am contacted by the friends and family of survivors and victims. It is difficult to watch someone you love go through this sort of trauma. It is overwhelming and scary to know that, as much as you want to scoop them out of a violent relationship or dangerous situation, you can only be there to listen and offer support.

A gentle reminder to those supporting victims of violence: it is okay to set boundaries. We are not meant to be friend, family, counselor, and advocate all in one. It may be difficult to have that conversation, but your relationship will be healthier (and you will better be equipped to support them) if you set boundaries and remind them that there are people that can provide the help that will be better suited to their situation.

Feel free to contact me for information or help finding local numbers for assistance. Peruse the blog archives for more sites to check out. Take care of yourselves!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Total honesty here: I have read exactly zero of the stories my people have posted on this bathroom slap fest that we have going on in 'Murica.

That isn't because I don't care. I have cared about my own personal safety in public restrooms since 1996 when Sidney Prescott overheard the mean girls talking about her and had the longest delayed reaction in the history of ever in her high school bathroom. The message was clear: People wearing Halloween masks were clearly waiting in every stall to gut me like a fish. Stay. Away.

Oh, Sid. Why did you think you needed to get down on your hands and knees in a gross bathroom? You hear your name whispered when you are alone, you run.

Laugh all you want. Dismiss me if you want. I don't like using public restrooms. Freshman year basketball left me terrified of open locker rooms, and I do believe my lack of gym membership can be traced to those damned open room showers.

As an adult, I laugh about my habits. I mean, sweaty, stinky body parts? No one cares that I am naked. I don't care if someone else is naked.

But I have never been assaulted in a bathroom or a locker room.

The biggest issue I have with the sudden religious liberty or freedom or conservative something or other call to arms I am witnessing, is simple:

No one wants to acknowledge the plight of sexual assault victims until it is convenient to their cause.

And that really makes me angry.

It is interesting that we can use scary bathroom scenarios for entertainment purposes for decades (Scream, Halloween, Psycho for starters) or jovial "boys being boys" locker room fun (The single scene I recall from Porkies is a hole cut through a wall in a girl's locker room. So funny. Much fun. Good times.

Our fears about rape and assault as they are coming to light with this latest frenzy have always been there. They have always been real enough to exploit for entertainment value. They have always been real to victims.

There are real concerns circulating. I hope it leads to us taking them seriously eventually, but right now we seem to be doing what we do best: scream at each other about how the other side is trying to ruin us, stomp our feet, and exploit what we can.

The only thing that matters to most of us in a public area that involves undressing? Doing our thing and getting out. There have always been bad people planning to exploit this.

So why does it feel like we only care now that it involves transgendered folks?

I don't want anyone to feel as though they cannot perform basic human tasks like using the restroom or changing out of gym clothes without being assaulted.

Why did we ever think group showers or group restrooms were a logical thing?

If this issue has opened your eyes to assault, good. Use it. Fight for survivors. All survivors. Scroll back through the blog posts here or on the Facebook page and repost your favorite one on sexual assault or consent, or, or, or. Don't limit your scope to bathroom assaults.

Monday, March 21, 2016

At the GSP

I'm over on The Guiding Star project blog, talking about consent. 

"We are living in a time where the boundaries begin to blur more and more when it comes to sex, so it is important for us to have a full understanding of what consent means, and that force may not always be overt physical force."

For more, visit the link:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Marital Rape

I'd like to take a moment to introduce the topic of this particular post: sexual assault within romantic relationships, but most importantly, marital rape. As a Catholic woman that has spent time as a domestic and sexual violence advocate, I've heard the reasons folks give to say that marital rape isn't real. I don't agree with those reasons, nor does the Church. After the four part series on intimate partner violence and sacramental marriage, I felt it was important to specifically address the way abuse can directly harm the sexual relationship of two spouses. 

When we hear accounts of rape or sexual assault, there seems to be an "acceptable" narrative that comes to mind: a victim fighting off their unknown assailant. This is a black and white scenario. It is easy to place blame on the attacker. It is easy to have empathy for a victim that fights. That narrative begins to get fuzzy when details come out: the victim was coming from a bar, the victim was dressed "immodestly", the victim knew the attacker.

The facts about rape and sexual assault are that they vary. Rapists can be well-known to their victims. The victim was leaving a late night study session. Or asleep in bed. The truth is, the only black and white detail about sexual assault or rape, is that the victim did not deserve to be assaulted or forced into sexual contact against their will. That fact never changes, no matter how well-liked or understood the victim, no matter how beloved or despised the attacker. However, we allow ourselves to get buried in the details so that we do not have to believe what is true. 

Marital Rape

The Catholic Church teaches us about the sanctity of marriage. The bond between husband and wife is unique. The sexual relationship is not a dirty thing, or something to be hidden away: married people have sex and that produces babies and many a fun time in healthy, equally yoked relationships. But what about unhealthy relationships? Chances are, sex is used as a weapon.

An understanding of intimate partner violence (if you need a refresher, head back to the main screen and check out the previous four posts) tells us that an abusive spouse may use sex to manipulate their victim. This can be done in a number of ways: incorrectly interpreting scripture to assert male privilege, as a negotiation (you can have sex with me or I will punish you/the children), or in many other equally gruesome ways. The implication may not always be that overt, but you cannot fully give sexual consent if you are being in any way coerced. 

I feel strongly that the Catholic Church as well as scripture (Go read all of Ephesians 5 with a critical eye) backs the condemnation of marital rape. 

Getting married and saying your vows is not a blanket consent for sex at the demands of your spouse,  'til death do you part. 

I Was Raped By My Spouse. Now What?

Just as in any situation that involves abuse, it is important that a survivor reviews the safety of their situation:

  • Are you or your children in immediate danger?
  • If so, do you have somewhere to go or someone to call?
  • Are you physically injured?
  • Do you feel comfortable going to a hospital to be examined and receive a rape kit?
  • Do you need to contact law enforcement?
It is not always easy to answer those questions. If you did not consent to sexual activity, you could be experiencing a range of emotions. The attack doesn't have to be violent for you to experience trauma. You may not feel you are in immediate danger or that it would happen again anytime soon. It is important that you know it is never okay for a spouse to make you feel coerced into sexual activity, or to make you feel as though you somehow owe them sex. 

A few things to consider:

  • If you do not feel comfortable with an exam/rape kit, you can consider contacting a gynecologist or a physician you trust to examine you to rule out any physical injuries. (Keep in mind that, depending on the state, there may be laws that compel medical professionals to report rape. For specific information in your area, this link may help, or you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline.)
  • Law enforcement involvement is an option. This resource from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) thoroughly explains the different things that can happen when involving law enforcement.
  • It is important that both you and your spouse (separately and together) get help. Sexual assault comes with trauma and trauma needs to heal. Be careful when choosing counselors. Finding one that has experience with sexual assault survivors would be beneficial, and the spouse that committed the assault should find a counselor experienced in the rehabilitation of sexual offenders. 
  • Remember that not everyone in positions of authority is as familiar with the dynamics of abuse in relationships as is necessary. If you choose to disclose assault to someone you trust and the advice they give doesn't quite feel right, ask someone else. It is common to turn to religious leaders for guidance, and while I look forward to the day our Church leaders are well-prepared to provide thorough assistance in these matters, that is not always the case. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Part IV: The Lives of the Saints and Healing

* If you are just now joining in, I've been addressing the subject of the sacrament of marriage and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Part I, Part II, and Part III can be found by clicking the links.)

While the last post in this series seemed to be directed towards those in a violent relationship, this post is more for everyone.

As Catholics, we often turn towards the lives of the saints to help find inspiration and strength in living our lives faithfully. Naturally, there are a few saints worth bringing up in our conversation about the sacrament of marriage and IPV.

St. Monica of Hippo (331-337 AD) Patron of Wives and Abuse Victims

St. Monica is well-known for being the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, but she lived quite the life herself. At a young age, she was married to a Roman named Patricius. Patricius was said to have a violent temper. While he was not religious, it is said that he respected Monica's commitment to her beliefs, though there seems to have been some level of disagreement over how they would raise their children when it came to religion. Monica prayed tirelessly for the conversion of her mother-in-law as well as her husband, both of whom converted about a year before Patricius' death. 

St. Rita (Margherita Lotti) (1381-1472) Patron of Impossible Cases, Difficult Marriages, and Parenthood

Margherita Lotti was born in 1381. At the tender age of twelve, St. Rita became a wife and mother, despite pleading with her parents to allow her to enter a convent. Rita's husband Paolo was known to have a violent temper, and she suffered physical and verbal abuse at his hands.  He was also known to engage in affairs outside the marriage. In time, Rita's prayers for Paolo and her influence positively effected Paolo. He began to renounce his ways, but in the end he still was killed as a result of his feuding and violent temper. When her sons vowed to avenge the death of their father, Rita prayed for their deaths before they could kill, and her prayers were answered. Before she could enter the convent as she had always desired, she was asked to end the feud that took the life of her husband (and nearly the lives of her sons.) 

What We Can Learn From Saints Monica and Rita

Without a doubt the strength of these women is admirable. Today, often the lives of these women are brought up when talking about IPV and solutions for women of faith. Surely, if these saintly women could not only endure years of violence and abuse but then also convert their abusers into men of faith, this is a path we can and should strive to follow. I do not doubt the power of faith. I do not doubt the strength of these women or the seriousness of what they endured. I do have a few things we should consider:
  • These women lived in periods of time where women's rights were scarcely a thing. Daughters were married for political or financial gain. There was no choice.
  • It most likely would have meant death to try to leave a violent marriage. (This is still many times the case now, but then it was legally safe to kill your wife for leaving. She was your property.) 
  • Today, women more often than not have a choice who they marry. St. Monica and St. Rita were both "married off" by their parents. This alone might change the dynamics of the abusive relationship, because we know abusers look for certain things in their partners that make their particular brand of abuse effective. During the centuries where women were simply married off to men, abusers did not have to have their tactics "well-honed", they had a right to assert their dominance, and they had the ability to to be physically violent without penalty. (Of course, this does not mean that IPV survivors are just more susceptible to abuse. This means that IPV has changed: abusers have had to become more cunning, more manipulative, and the violence without the beatings can leave deeper wounds.)
  • Not only do we know more about IPV and the ripples of harm it causes, we also know more about rehabilitation for abusers. St. Monica and St. Rita lived in times when violence in a marriage was not really talked about or generally considered to be an injustice.
I greatly admire the courage, strength, and faith of saints Monica and Rita. However, I must caution against believing that physically staying and enduring abuse is akin to a shortcut to Heaven. It is okay to need a physical separation. It is okay to take time away to heal and get help for yourself and your children. There is not shame in recognizing that you need support. 

A Modern Day Saint: Dorothy Day

Over the past few years, I have become quite fond of Dorothy Day. Day was a founding member of the US Catholic Worker's Movement. The Catholic Worker's movement had a similar grassroots beginning to the domestic violence movement. While Day's focus was on workers, her cause lives on today as a resource for many, including victims of violence. From US Catholic's piece on Catholic Worker communities:

Today the 200 or so Catholic Worker communities scattered around the United States and other countries are grounded in the belief that every human has God-given dignity, just as co-founders Day and Peter Maurin espoused. According to Jim Allaire, webmaster for, these houses are “beacons of hope in this time of powerlessness.” The movement is significant to the church today, says Allaire, because Catholic Worker communities help “keep an eye on injustice, the poor, and immigration issues.
It is no wonder why these communities are a Godsend for survivors of IPV.

The Process of Healing

What answers do we have here, all things considered? Probably nothing concrete. A decision to leave or stay within a sacramental (or the decision that the marriage is in fact null and void) is not mine to make for someone else. It is my strong belief that the victim of abuse is capable of making this decision, and the help of a spiritual director, counseling, and a support network is vital for an informed decision.

Recognizing that you are in an abusive relationship is difficult. It is even more difficult to know how to proceed. It is challenging to begin to think about your relationship as an abusive relationship, rather than a relationship based in mutual respect and love. It is not easy to accept that the person who is supposed to join their life with yours is abusive. The elements that should exist in the process of healing from IPV, are the same elements I believe we must have to eradicate IPV:

  • Support for Survivors- This means a network of friends, family, spiritual leaders, counselors, advocates, and any other support our communities can think to offer parent and children.  Survivors did nothing to deserve the abuse.
  • Rehabilitaion for Abusers- One of the best ways to keep survivors safe, is to address what is making them unsafe. According to our friend Lundy Bancroft (paraphrased from Why Does He Do That?), effective rehabilitation programs for abusers will include the following elements:
    • A focus on the abuser's thinking, not feelings.
    • Requires a commitment to change. All physical violence and threats must end, and they must continue to show progress on reducing verbal aggression.
    • A high-quality abuser counselor will speak to the victim of the abuse about progress. 
    • The program will address central causes of abuse: entitlement, control, disrespect, etc. 
    • Provide education about abuse, counsel on applying this education in their lives, and confront abusive attitudes and excuses.
  • Shifting the Focus- We have to stop focusing on the behavior of the victim (Did she deserve it? Why doesn't she leave? She is sinning if she leaves!) and start focusing on the behavior of the abuser (Why is he violent? Why doesn't he stop? Why does he think it is okay to hurt his wife?!) When we are focused on questioning the behavior of the victim, we fall for the abuser's games. We do exactly what the abuser wants: we see the victim exactly how the abuser wants.
  • Raising the Next Generation-The value of life and the inherent dignity of every human being is a lesson we must teach our children. Abuse and sexual violence go against the inherent dignity of victims and this must be taught from day one. 

If you have any questions you would like me to answer, please do not hesitate to ask. You can leave a comment, or contact me via email (You can find it listed in the About Me section of this website.) 

Other Resources and Posts:

The FaithTrust Institute: Rev. Marie Fortune spends a great deal of time writing about and providing resources to various faith communities about violence. While there are few Catholic-specific resources, there is some really great information to address scripture and violence. (I am not endorsing everything on the site: I invite you to use your own discretion.)

Pregnancy and Domestic Violence: This is a piece I researched specifically on the issues surrounding pregnancy and IPV. Pregnancy is also a volatile time for a victim, and it's important to talk about this issue specifically.

I'm Not a Double Agent, I Just Play One on TV.: A piece that addresses the distrust between domestic violence agencies and pregnancy help centers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Part III: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

* If you are just joining in, we are talking about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and the sacrament of marriage. Part I talks about how IPV is different than a typical relationship, while Part II looks at what the Catholic Church can tell us about marriage. Click those links, read, digest, and you are all caught up!

So. You are married. You have realized that abuse is present in your relationship. What do you do?

Safety Plan, Safety Plan, Safety Plan

If you choose to stay in your relationship, you must safety plan. If you choose to separate for a period of time, you must safety plan. If you choose to drop off the face of the earth and never see your spouse again, you must safety plan.

Safety planning is exactly what it sounds like: you make a plan to keep you (and your children) safe. You are the best person to put this plan together because only you know what it is like to be married to your abuser. You know what sets him off. You have become an expert at knowing how he will react to what you say or do. You know what resources you have, and what resources you need. So, you find a safe way to start making that list and planning what happens if you stay, or if you go.

Here is a list of things you may need to think about:

  • People that will help you plan: relatives, domestic and sexual violence agencies, counseling,  spiritual directors, friends, service agencies (social services, lawyers, etc.)
  • Quietly beginning to collect important documents (financial documents, birth certificates, SSN cards, other forms of identification, car title, insurance information, etc.)
  • If you use the internet or your phone or paper to start making these plans, do you need to cover your tracks?
  • How to alert others when you need help
  • Temporary and long term plans
  • How to keep yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually safe

If I Go There Will Be Trouble

We know that once the victim has decided to leave, she is entering the most dangerous time in the relationship. The abusive spouse begins to feel control slipping, so tactics and behaviors meant to help regain that control can become erratic and unpredictable. The lethality of the situation greatly increases (see the FAQs fact sheet) when the victim tries to leave. In the book Why Does He Do That, Lundy Bancroft lays out an extensive list of the possible responses an abuser might have when their partner attempts to leave. The list ranges from promising to change, to making threats about the custody of children, to harming or possibly death. It is truly a terrifying time, and many times the victim goes back more than once out of fear.

Only you will be able to determine when the appropriate time to leave comes around. It is common for friends and family to press for you to leave. This is because they are concerned for you and do not want to see you hurt. Deciding to leave or separate from your spouse even on a temporary basis can be a big move. After all, you may have only recently realized you were in an abusive relationship. Leaving can put you into physical danger, cut you off from your support system, and resources, or spur your abuser to take legal action if you leave with children. This is why safety planning becomes so important. When you are aware of and can plan as best as you can for what might happen, you can feel more secure in leaving. There are certainly legal steps that you can take to protect yourself. Contacting your local domestic violence agency is always helpful as they have advocates that are familiar with what your local options might be (legal and otherwise) and they are invaluable in helping you navigate through the complex web of surviving IPV.

If I Stay There Will Be Double

Continuing the relationship is also an option. There are many reasons a victim might stay: financial, lack of support, religious beliefs, inability to leave the house with all children or at all, citizen status, or fear of any number of things. Remember: the abuser has likely spent the entire relationship trying to put you in the position where you either think you cannot leave safely or you really cannot leave.

If you do stay, it is important that you plan how to best preserve yourself. Once you have realized your relationship is abusive, you want the abuse to stop. There can be an amount of courage and bravery that comes with this that is helpful, but the abuser sees these things as a threat to his control. It mostly likely will be physically, emotionally and spiritually painful to stay, especially when the abuser has no plans to change their behavior. This is also damaging to children in the home.

If you determine that the best way to keep you and your children safe is to stay in the relationship, there are a few important things to consider:

  • You still need to safety plan. Have a plan for violent outbursts, or verbal fights. 
  • Think about what needs to happen regarding children.
  • Consider how you can maintain a support network of friends, family, and counselors that support your decisions and your right to make informed decisions.
  • Keep in mind that abusive relationships hurt. The abuser's only concern is for what they want, and controlling their partner. They will do what they can to make certain you feel alone, responsible for their actions, and unimportant. The goal is to break you.
The Importance of Support from the Religious Community

Abuse and sexual assault victims report that they often turn to their spiritual community after an incident, so it is important for the Catholic Church to have well-informed support for survivors. In April 2015, I wrote a post called Sexual Violence Against Women and the Catholic Response. Sources for that piece confirm the importance women of faith place on being able to turn to their spiritual leaders for help. 

It is overwhelming to have a friend, relative, or member of your parish turn to you ask ask for help because their marriage is falling apart due to abuse. I would like to draw attention to a passage from Why Does He Do That?. Bancroft states:

  • Religious beliefs have often condoned the abuse of women.
The most influential religious scriptures in the world today, including the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and major Buddhist and Hindu writings, explicitly instruct women to submit to male domination. Genesis, for example, includes the following passage: "Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children: and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee." I have had numerous clients over the years who explicitly rely on quotations from scripture to justify the abuse of their partners. Similarly, religious prohibitions against divorce have entrapped women in abusive marriages.

I don't know about you, but for me that is a hard pill to swallow. I know that the Catholic faith does not view women as less than men, but what are we doing to protect women that are victims of abuse from their spouse? How are we supporting them, protecting them, and helping to end IPV? Let us remember Ephesians 5:21-30 in its entirety. We should want for victims of abuse to include the Catholic Church among their resources and support system as they safety plan and discern to stay or leave their abusive spouse.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Part II: The Complexity of the Sacrament of Marriage and IPV

In Part I of this series, (Which you can absolutely pause to go read by clicking right here) I give you a bit of background on me, and talked about the important differences between a typical marriage and one that involves Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). In this post, I want to talk about what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC), can tell us about IPV.

Marriage is Good. It Builds Character.

The CCC has much to say about marriage. In fact, there is an entire section (Article Seven) dedicated to chatting all about it. I supplied the 'in brief' text in the last post, so here is my paraphrasing: marriage is good. It builds character and helps you develop virtue. I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that you know the basics of the sacrament: a consenting man and a consenting woman enter into the vows of marriage freely and equally yoked. Good and bad times, sickness and health, through the raising of children and family holiday get-togethers, until death parts them.

The CCC defines consent:

1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; "to be free" means:
- not being under constraint;
- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.
1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that "makes the marriage."If consent is lacking there is no marriage.
1627 The consent consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other": "I take you to be my wife" - "I take you to be my husband."This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two "becoming one flesh."
1628 The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.

One thing is clear: marriage is a sacrament and it is indissoluble. We also are given a clear picture of the elements required for a marriage to exist. In the Catholic faith, there is no such thing as divorce. An annulment is not a Catholic divorce. An annulment can be obtained when there is proof that the couple were in fact never truly in union. What God (and the Church) asks of us in the sacrament of marriage sounds idyllic because, well, it is. It is what God meant for us before the fall, before sin. In our fallen world, marriage vows mean overcoming (together) some nasty stuff. and I quote:

1606 Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character.

The CCC gives us an in depth analysis of how things work when all parties are willing. Humans sin. There is no perfect person walking this earth. We do our best, sin anyways, go to confession, and try not to sin again. But we do. My interpretation of the above passage is that "a spirit of domination"  (abuse) within the sacrament of marriage is sinful.

IPV and the Sacrament of Marriage: Clear as Mud

Let's set aside the ideal marriage, or even the typical marriage. What about a relationship that includes IPV?

Here is what we know:

  • IPV is a complex web of manipulation, deceit, and violence. It is about power and control.
  • Death is the only dissolution of the sacrament of marriage. 

Clear as mud, eh? I believe what the Catholic Church is getting at by reminding us that sin is not a marriage deal breaker, is that our duty as disciples of Christ, is to believe in forgiveness and the rehabilitation of humanity. It is why we do not accept the death penalty as a catch-all solution: we believe that all human life has dignity, value, and free will. We have the ability to choose good and turn away from our destructive ways and, since we are all in this together, we can help each other get there through faith and community. The CSDC notes that this:

entails a duty to denounce, when sin is present: the sin of injustice and violence that in different ways moves through society and is embodied in it. By denunciation, the Church's social doctrine becomes judge and defender of unrecognized and violated rights, especially those of the poor, the least and the weak.
This thought dovetails nicely with the trusty CCC's recognition of severe marital situations that may require a physical separation:

1649 Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. the spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. the Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble.

My take away here is that our Church is acknowledging not only that there are cases where sin is so catastrophic that a physical separation may be in order, but that it is our duty as Christians to to speak out against this sins of injustice and violence, AND to support those involved in healing.

Since the Church is filled with sinners, I feel I am safe to assume that we are called to support the sinner. We must keep in mind however that, when IPV is involved, there are victims. They are also in need of community support and protection.

That is a great deal of information to digest. I find the CCC and the CSDC both to be insightful. I am not a theologian, but reading these documents, knowing what I know about IPV, and trusting what I know about Catholicism, I can safely say that it is not okay for a spouse to abuse their spouse.

So, what options are available to a spouse that is experiencing violence within their marriage? In the next post, we will look at different scenarios, hear more about IPV from Lundy Bancroft, and turn to the lives of the saints for more information.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Part I: What You Need to Know About Intimate Partner Violence

Why I Am Writing This

As I finally sit down to write this post (or four), I feel as though a million thoughts will start pouring onto the screen at once. I want to talk about intimate partner violence (IPV, domestic violence, violence inside of marriage, abuse) and the Church's response. This is an expansive topic, and one that I have done my best to cover in tiny pieces over the years, but there is so much more to say and so many more questions to ask.

A few caveats before I begin. I have resources to use as I write. I will use them, link to them, and cite them for you. I will do my absolute best to be clear about what various Church documents say on the matter. I will also do my best to be clear about when I am interpreting and using my own thoughts.

In the nearly ten years I have spent studying these issues, I have often encountered people that want to know how a person is "qualified" to speak from a place of authority about the dynamics of violent relationships. This skepticism knows no bounds. My former supervisor had spent her entire career in the advocacy field and was not taken seriously in professional settings. You can be Lundy Bancroft himself and people will still challenge what you know about abuse, despite decades of experience.

I have also never once entered into a conversation about violence against women without someone piping up to make certain that I know women are abusive towards men also. In no way do I deny that this is true. My goal here is to speak to the way our culture (patriarchy, unequal rights for women, laws naming women as property and that allow men to beat their wives, and even misinterpretations of scripture and Church teaching that submit women are inferior to men) allows for violence against women to be a pervasive issue, and has done so for centuries. If you think I am being sexist or unfair or narrow-minded for not addressing men's rights here as well, then this is not the place for you.

So, here is what I know. I have been trained as a domestic and sexual violence advocate. I spent several years working with women that had experienced IPV or sexual assault. I've been Catholic all my life. I attended a catholic college and have a degree in a religious studies field. I have a strong interest in Catholic Social Teaching, and over the last several years I have read all that I can about the Church, women, social justice, feminism, etc. The Church's response to domestic and sexual violence is important to me. Advocating for women and their children is important to me, and it is a topic I frequently write about both here and as a guest writer elsewhere.

It is my experience that people often do not understand what is different about abusive relationships. People also often misunderstand Catholic (Christian) teaching. Put these things together and it is a ball of misinterpretation and confusion. Recently, I have been speaking about these things with a woman that is experiencing abuse in her marriage. In my conversations with her, I realized that so much of this is just never really covered in the Life Manual. So, let's talk about it.

What You Need to Know About Intimate Partner Violence

In a typical romantic relationship, there is mutual love and respect. There are good and bad times, suffering and happiness. It takes two committed people. When we are talking about marriage in the Catholic faith, you commit to living out your vocation together, until death do you part. Marriage is not one size fits all: it looks different for all couples. The Catechism of the Catholic Church  (CCC) summarizes:

1660 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament.

1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life.

1662 Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, that is, on their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.

An abusive relationship is about power and control of another person. There is not mutual respect in an abusive relationship. In Why Does He Do That? , Lundy Bancroft (I would link to his site but it seems to have been hacked right now. He has spent many years developing batterer's intervention programs, working with abusers, and advocating for children that come from abusive homes.) says:

Abuse and respect are diametric opposites: You do not respect someone whom you abuse, and you do not abuse someone whom you respect.

The best visual aid I can give you for this conversation comes to us from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) and it is called the Power and Control Wheel. The folks in Duluth are pioneers in the violence against women movement.

If you went out on a first date with a man and he told you that you were worthless and then proceeded to slap you across the face, I'd be willing to wager all of my money that you would not be going out with him again. Abusers are manipulative. They know how set up a relationship to their advantage.  They know how to be a pillar of the community and someone everyone outside of the relationship can trust. They know how to make their partner appear to be crazy. A combination of abusive tactics are used to coerce their partner into the relationship, and then into enduring the abuse. The tactics an abuser may use to keep control over their partner include but are not limited to physical violence, sexual manipulation, emotional/verbal harassment, financial control, isolation, manipulation of access to children, and various forms of minimizing, denying, and blaming their victim for the abuse.

It is not a typical relationship. A spouse does not have the right to manipulate and cause harm to their partner. That is not love.

I'd like to leave you with a link to a post that I wrote in September 2014. I am not much of a biblical scholar, so the resources I have used to guide the next post in this series are Church documents rather than scripture. In this post, I looked up some common bible verses related to marriage and addressed IPV as it relates to the bible. (I am also happy to report that I now have a very comfortable chair, and I am glad that I no longer have to grumble about things in the uncomfortable chair.)