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Suffering in silence

Thousands affected

by domestic violence

The problem is so well hidden that to hear of its prevalence is to shake your head in disbelief: One-fourth to one-third of all women are, or have been, a victim of domestic violence, according to Father Chuck Dahm.
    Father Dahm, pastor of St. Pius V Parish in Chicago, spoke at all Masses at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe Oct. 4. The following day, he held three sessions on Domestic Violence at the cathedral; on Oct. 5, he held a session for priests. His presentations were co-sponsored by Catholic Social Service and the Family Crisis Center of Great Bend.
    “If there were 400 women at the Mass on Sunday,” he said, “then I was talking to at least 100 abused women.”

 
    Soon after being assigned to St. Pius V more than 20 years ago, Father Dahm developed a parish program for victims of domestic violence, and since then has focused on the destructive nature of aggression in the home. He and his team have counseled and acted as advocates for countless victims of domestic violence. While there are reports of men being abused by their spouse, this is rare, Father Dahm said. By far, most instances of abuse are against women by men.
    “Domestic violence exists in different forms of abuse, such as verbal, physical, sexual and economical,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t recognize that they are a victim because they’ve never been hit.”
    A woman can have bruises on her arms from being grabbed and thrown down, but if she isn’t struck, she may not perceive it as abuse. Psychological abuse can include anything from making fun of her, to excessive checking-up on the victim, to destroying her personal property, the latter of which Father Dahm said is “very common.”
    Economical abuse comes when the spouse refuses to allow her access to finances, prevents her from working, or even steals from her. Sexual abuse can include assault, harassment, or exploitation, such as forcing someone to watch pornography. Physical abuse ranges from physical restraint to murder.
    The statistics are frightening:
    • Every 15 seconds in the United States, a woman is beaten.
    • Annually, more than 4,000 men murder their wives.
    • At the same time approximately 58,000 U.S. soldiers were being killed in Vietnam, 54,000 women in the Unites States were killed by their partners.
    • Domestic violence results in more injuries that require medical attention than rape, accidents and muggings combined.
    • During pregnancy, 37 percent of women are physically abused.
    If it’s such a prevalent problem, then why the silence?
    According to Father Dahm, instances of abuse are often not reported due to shame, embarrassment, fear and denial. It also may be that the victim simply doesn’t know where to go, or that she fears losing the financial support for both her and her children.
    And many women, he said, believe that if they do one thing better, such as keep the house cleaned, or have the dinner ready when he arrives home, that the situation will improve.
    “They’ll just find something more petty,” Father Dahm said of the abuser. “If she’s silent [about the abuse], she isolates herself, and the more isolated the victim is, the more he is able to control her.”
    While he has counseled countless victims, Father Dahm said it is far more difficult to counsel the male partner: “Batterers are very resistant to counseling. Only about one out of 20 make any real effort to change. Frequently, if the woman leaves him, the man will find another victim.”
    The good news is that abusive behavior can be unlearned, Father Dahm explained. “Men give very powerful testimonies when their life has been turned around.”
    Of course, men must have a place to go for counseling to be treated. He suggested that men’s groups be formed on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous, where men who have faced similar situations, and are in different stages of healing, can give each other advice.
    “There is no such men’s group in Dodge City,” Father Dahm said, “which is a tragedy. There needs to be more services for batterers. He has to learn that he’s violent, and how to stop. What are we going to do with abusers in Dodge City? This is a real problem.”
    He admitted that part of the silence on the matter comes from the Church itself.
    “How many of you have heard a homily about domestic violence?” he asked, to which no hands were raised. But when he asked, “How many of you have heard a homily on the importance of marriage?” several arms went up. “I tell priests that for every sermon on marriage, they should present a sermon that nobody should live under subjugation.”
    He said that priests not only have to address the issue, but must be attentive to warning signs, both in the confessional, and with those they come into contact with each day. He said that the priority must be on saving the victim, not the marriage.
    “It’s the tendency of the Church to want to save the marriage,” Father Dahm said. “Just because there’s a permanent bond, does not mean you have to live in bondage.”
    Father Dahm suggested that each parish should “form a committee that will raise awareness of domestic violence. There should be signs telling people where to call if they are a victim of domestic violence. There should be informational cards placed in the women’s bathrooms. The parish staff should know about this and have training as to what the resources are.”
    Editor’s Note: For more information, go to dcdiocese.org/register. If you are in need of help, contact Catholic Social Service at 800-222-9383. Or, you can contact the Family Crisis Center in Great Bend at 866-792-1885 or 620-792-1885, in Garden City at 620-275-5911, in Dodge City at 620-225-6510, in Liberal at 620-624-8818 or in Ulysses at 888-229-8812 or 620-356-2608.

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