Maple Grove parish shines purple light on domestic violence

| October 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

At night, the windows of St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove are glowing purple throughout October. It’s is the color of domestic violence awareness, and the lights are among the many ways a parish group aims to highlight the issue during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, and nearly 75 percent of Americans personally know someone who has been a victim.

The appalling statistics, plus her experience working with domestic violence as a social justice issue, compelled parishioner Susan Rivard to start a group, Domestic Violence Awareness and Action, at her parish in 2006. She is convinced “churches can and should play in breaking the silence around and taking a stand against domestic abuse,” she said. The eight-member group includes people from other faith communities. The Catholic Spirit interviewed her about DVAA by email. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What is your parish’s domestic violence awareness group’s main goal?

A. We want people to understand how ubiquitous domestic violence is — no one is “safe.” Domestic violence crosses all social, economic, religious, age, cultural and ethnic boundaries, and it is never, ever acceptable. We want to educate people about this issue: the power and control dynamics of an abusive relationship, the red flags that indicate abuse is happening, how to respond when you suspect abuse, what community resources are available to the victims, why there is reason to hope for a life after abuse. We want to get people talking about domestic violence. Abuse thrives in secrecy and silence, when people turn the other way, refuse to acknowledge it and don’t talk about it. We want to start a conversation about abuse, because a conversation sends a message to the abuser — “We will not tolerate what you are doing” — and to the victim — “What is happening to you is not OK, we care about you, and there are resources to help you.”

Q. Who do you hope your efforts reach?

A. We don’t want to just preach to the choir. We want to reach ordinary folks who are uninformed about domestic violence so at the least they recognize that this is a critical public health issue, begin to care about it and may be able to spot the signs of abuse in someone they know — or in themselves, because often someone who is verbally or emotionally abused does not realize they are a victim, and women and men who are in an abusive relationship who are isolated and scared, don’t have a support system and are unaware of community resources that can help them leave their abuser. We want them to know that we think abuse is always wrong and that there are people who care and there are resources to help.

Q. What has surprised you to learn about domestic violence?

A. That it is everywhere, that it happens so very often, that it was “tolerated” for centuries because over 90 percent of the victims were (and still are) women — and women were (and still often are in parts of the world) considered second-class citizens, or their husband’s property or without rights. We certainly acknowledge that abuse happens to men as well, and it is equally horrific for men. But for me, because women have always been victimized more often because of their gender, domestic abuse is a women’s rights issue as well as a human rights issue and a civil rights issue.

Q. Has the #MeToo movement, which has focused on sexual harassment and abuse, affected domestic violence awareness? In what way?

A. YES, YES, YES! I thank God that I am alive and able to see the birth and growing impact of the #MeToo movement. So often before, victims were not believed if and when they finally had the courage to talk about being abused — and to not be believed was a second, painful injury on top of the original injuries of abuse. Now, they will likely be listened to, and believed — and people will be more motivated to hold perpetrators accountable. Just as important, #MeToo is helping achieve what before seemed almost impossible: a paradigm shift, normative cultural change, systemic change in how we view the abuse of power and the rights of victims. Big stuff — long overdue, but now, perhaps, possible.

Q. Why is the color purple is used as the signatory hue for domestic violence?

A. In the United States military, the Purple Heart is presented to those who have been wounded while serving. For survivors of domestic violence, who may also be wounded both physically and emotionally, the color is meant to be a symbol of peace, courage, survival, honor and dedication to ending violence.

Q. What do you want people to understand about domestic violence?

A. That it is always, always about power and control: one person wanting to have power and control over another person, and using any means possible — physical abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, intimidation, threats, isolation, blaming, sexual coercion, control of money or every aspect of the other person’s life — to achieve and keep that power and control. And that we should never blame the victim for not leaving an abusive relationship; the danger and threat of homicide is highest when someone is trying to leave an abuser. Leaving is never easy: the victim often has dependent children, no money, no place to go, and has been isolated from family and friends; the abuser may threaten to kill her, the children or whoever helps her if she leaves, or harm or kill the family pet as a warning; the victim is not aware they have any rights and fears loss of custody of the children if she leaves; children’s schooling, medical care, friendships are disrupted when the victim leaves (to name a few reasons why leaving an abuser is difficult and dangerous). There are professional advocates who can help a victim make a safety plan, assess the lethality of the situation and figure out next steps.

Q. How do you know it’s making the difference you hope it makes?

A. It’s always hard to measure and quantify the impact of your efforts when your goal is heightened awareness and passion among others about an issue — although our collections for Home Free’s Wish List items have been increasingly successful each year, yielding cars-full of donations. But we have had more requests to present about DV and calls from people outside the parish who just want information for a daughter or friend about community resources for someone being abused. We are a very small part of the growing awareness of and openness about domestic abuse, as evidenced by more articles in newspapers and magazines, more television coverage of abuse stories, more conversations about this topic, more victims coming forward, police departments giving special training to their officers about handling domestic calls.

Q. What are you doing to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October?

A. We are so fortunate and thrilled to have the support of the priests and staff at SJTW who help us plan and implement our efforts. This year in October we will: Have weekly (instead of monthly) Awareness Raising articles in the bulletin and e-news; have an artistic display focused on DV with purple accents in the Gathering Space; post DV statistics and other information on the tri-fold panels; install purple lights in the sanctuary and light them at night (which will be visible from the road in front of the church); read one victim story before each mass; put DV facts on power point for parishioners to see on the wall before mass begins; mention DV in intercessions; communicate with Faith Formation students about why October is National DV Awareness Month; light purple candles.

Q. This is the second time you’ve lit the city purple, the domestic violence awareness color. What feedback did you receive last year?

A. Everyone we talked to was impressed, and the City and police staff were very happy with the results, so much so that after the first year (2017) it was declared an “annual event.” It is a positive thing for a city to take a stand about an issue like this and put it out there for all the residents to see.

Q. Why is it important for domestic violence awareness to grow?

A. Not to be too dramatic, but the information about domestic abuse can, literally, save lives. And a heightened awareness will also lead to a greater accountability for abusers; gone are the days when people will dismiss abuse by saying, “It’s a private thing between a couple, I shouldn’t butt in,” or “I’m sure she’s just exaggerating,” or “It was just one punch, it doesn’t matter.” Victims need to know there is help in the community, and perpetrators need to know they will be held accountable.

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