Very Much In Control
A Presentation on Domestic Violence at Fall Board of Directors Meeting
The Rev. Dr. Aleese Moore-Orbih, director of training and consulting for FaithTrust Institute, led directors, staff and guests in a domestic violence awareness education session at the Women’s Division fall board of directors meeting, Oct. 7-11 in Stamford, Conn. Her purpose was to help attendees make connections between religious teachings and the perpetuation of domestic violence.
Ms. Moore-Orbih vocalized the reality that the church isn’t always a supportive place to turn for victims of domestic abuse. In her session she provided a few ways United Methodist Women members can help change this.
Domestic violence is control, not a lack of it
Understanding domestic violence means understanding the abuser’s motivation for the abuse, Ms. Moore-Orbih explained. “It is not about genetics, illness, drugs, alcohol, anger, stress, or behavior of victim; domestic violence is a learned behavior.”
Domestic violence isn’t about losing control. “Abusers are very much in control,” she said. “You wouldn’t know an abuser to look at him. He looks like Mr. Perfect—calm, cool and collected. He must maintain control over himself and his spouse or girlfriend.” If we want to end domestic violence the question we should be asking is not “Why doesn’t she leave?” it’s “Why does he beat her?”
Why women stay
Women stay in abusive relationships for many valid reasons, Ms. Moore-Orbih said. Societal pressures, religious values, family encouragement, economics, having nowhere to go, children, emotional investment, isolation, and danger are some of those reasons.
Religious women from many traditions feel pressured to get married. They are taught that Christ’s relationship with the church is a metaphor for marriage, and they feel pressured to have a perfect, Christ-like marriage, so they make concessions along the way.
Because domestic violence is about control, the man will be in charge of all finances, granting his partner no access to family funds, even if she makes her own money. Ms. Moore-Orbih asked attendees, “With no access to money, where will she go and how will she get there? Who will pay for day care, a place to live, education or training for a job, health care?” If the couple has children, the abuser will use the children as a pawn to control his partner.
“Her fears about leaving are real,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said. Besides having no funds and feeling as if she has nowhere to go, she has probably been told by her abuser that if she leaves he’ll kill her. “The majority of women who are killed by their abusers are killed after they leave him,” Ms. Moore-Orbih explained.
The domestic violence survivor has an emotional investment in her partner. If she’s religious she may believe that if she prays, tithes, attends church, and does all of the right things in God’s eyes her partner will change. If she leaves, “she would lose every dream that she tied into that relationship,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said.
Roadblocks and best ways to help
Many women who seek help are not heard, believed or supported. Her religious beliefs have been disregarded and disrespected. Her views have been ignored and invalidated. “She is not seen as a whole woman,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said. “She is broken by the abuser, broken by the church, broken by the shelter.” Some roadblocks she faces are disrespect from social services and law enforcement, mistreatment by medical professionals and lack of welcome at shelters.
Those in a helping position must understand the survivor’s culture, which will help them relate to the survivor, increase her confidence in the system and develop better safety strategies. “Hear her whole story,” Ms. Moore-Orbih stated. “Understand her and her abuser by learning about their environment and culture.”
One in three women experience domestic violence. “If you haven’t heard it, it’s because she doesn’t feel safe to tell it,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said.
Helpers to be aware of personal biases and not make assumptions. “Don’t transfer or project your stuff onto the survivor,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said. “It’s not about you.”
She directed attendees to ask: What are my biases? What do I really think? What comes to my mind when I hear “victim”? What image do I see? “Everybody sitting here has some prejudice. You can’t get rid of it if you don’t acknowledge that you have it.”
What UMW members can do
United Methodist Women members have the capacity to help domestic violence survivors become whole again. Survivors ask themselves: Why doesn’t God hear my prayers? Do I have to forgive? Will God hate me if the marriage ends? Am I being punished for my sins? Is my faith too weak? On top of everything else, she is struggling with her faith.
“Women are lost because these questions aren’t answered,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said. Members of United Methodist Women can provide support, encouragement, comfort, prayer and referrals, and they can remove roadblocks and provide resources. Ms. Moore-Orbih suggested that in everyday life United Methodist Women members can show what healthy marriage is, have resources posted for help and talk about domestic violence. “Silence is all the abuser asks from us.”
How churches should help
Survivors and batterers are in all congregations. Congregations can offer spiritual guidance, financial support, help with children and other resources that domestic violence programs may not be able to provide.
Christians have a calling to help and work toward justice. “Domestic violence is a social justice issue and requires all of us,” Ms. Moore-Orbih said. “It is important for lay leaders and clergy to understand domestic violence. Clergy need to be trained. Clergy need to use the pulpit for this cause.” The Church needs to say to the survivor, “You don’t have to hold the sanctity of your marriage over the sanctity of your life.”
Tara Barnes is staff editor for the Women’s Division.