Domestic violence is an issue that has been on the minds of many people in recent days, prompted by the horrifying abuse committed by Ray Rice against his now-wife. His status as a professional football player, coupled with the fact that the attack was captured on video and has been seen by millions, has helped to shine a bright light on this often-neglected yet serious societal problem.
Lesser known but not less tragic was the murder of Jessica Meredith Jacobsen, mother to two young boys, by her estranged husband exactly two years ago today in front of their Baltimore County home. A 5K race was held in Jessica's memory yesterday by the Knights of Columbus at Jessica's parish, Immaculate Conception Church in Towson, to raise funds for the House of Ruth and other local charities.
Juxtaposed, these two events underscore the reality that domestic violence can happen and is happening in every community in our society and warrants our attention, our prayers and our determined response.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time each year when we come together as members of the same human family to focus on how we can best provide the education and awareness that are critical to preventing the violence that befalls one in four women and one in seven men in their lifetimes. These are also the goals of Catholic Church.
In their 1992 statement on this issue, "When I call for Help," the U.S. bishops unequivocally rejected domestic violence. "As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified," the statement said. "Violence in any form — physical, sexual, psychological, verbal — is sinful; often it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims — men as well as women."
I am inviting Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to help prevent domestic violence by creating awareness that abuse, whether physical or psychological, is never acceptable. That is why we are conducting a coordinated education and resource initiative to educate our first responders — clergy, pastoral ministers, and parish front office staff and others — to assist abuse victims with immediate needs and to educate families through the work of our Family Life Office on ways to prevent domestic abuse and promote family peace.
We are instructing our people that they need to know three basic things about domestic violence: how to recognize the signs of domestic violence in themselves and others, which can be both physical and psychological; how to respond appropriately by being supportive, sympathetic and non-judgmental (without acting as a counselor or rescuer, which should be left to the professionals); and how to refer victims to someone qualified to help them act safely and appropriately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide local resources for both the survivor and for the abuser.
Our church is also actively supporting the needs of those who are victims of domestic abuse, most especially through the work of Catholic Charities, which serves women who were victimized by domestic violence through several programs, including: Anna's House, a transitional housing facility for women and children in Harford County; and Sarah's House, a supportive housing program for homeless women, children and men in Anne Arundel County. Catholic Charities also seeks to aid victims of domestic violence by providing free legal assistance to Spanish-speaking victims at the Esperanza Center in Fells Point and through parent prevention training at its numerous Head Start locations in Baltimore.
Domestic violence is often a hidden scourge on families. Perhaps recent events will change that and will have a lasting impact on us as a society, beyond just the images that have played out in the media. Let us pray these horrible acts so fresh in our minds will serve as a catalyst for the kind of change needed to provide real protection women and other victims against the dangers that are so close to them.
William E. Lori is archbishop of Baltimore. He can be reached at email@example.com.To respond to this commentary, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information.