October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence is a crime. Perpetrators need to be prosecuted.
Then what? Often, in our inability to understand cruelty and violence, we look away from the victim. We put space between the victim and ourselves, questioning why she didn’t do what we would … judging her. I would never let him do that to me, we think. However, if she were your daughter, your sister or your mother, you would want compassion.
At Catholic Charities, we treat domestic violence victims with compassion. One of the ministries we offer is called the Father Ed Judy House, which serves moms who are homeless and survivors of domestic violence. In 2012-2013, 96 percent of the families we served in our alumni program were still in stable housing three years post-shelter. Why? Because we offer compassion, not judgment.
Similarly, Catholic Charities offers a network of services throughout northern Colorado. We meet people in crisis, nurture families and provide safe shelter. We offer concrete resources that rebuild lives and allow people to reclaim their dignity. We are called to meet the poor and those in need; we are called to offer compassion and the love of Jesus Christ.
Domestic violence is complicated; the effects of trauma are tenacious. The staff at the Father Ed Judy House is trained to address the secondary issues that accompany domestic violence. From emotional challenges such as nightmares, anxiety and depression, to functional challenges such as repairing credit and finding child care; these are the hidden trials that can be exhausting to survivors.
When I was the program director at the Father Ed Judy House, I often sat with women in the evening and listened to their stories. I was both outraged and crushed to learn how cruel people are to each other, especially in the guise of love. One mom shared how her husband hid their newborn child in a dumpster behind the house to terrorize her. Another explained how her husband used to place a bullet under her pillow every night – ritually – with the admonition that if she woke up the next morning, it was because he let her. And I will never forget when one young mother described how her perpetrator would line up their children, tie her in a kitchen chair facing them and then beat her.
Without understanding what they have experienced, it would be easy to judge. Many women cope with abuse by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, hiding in the closet hoping that tonight they and their kids will be safe. At Catholic Charities, we move past the judgment and move forward with solutions.
When a mom moves out of the shelter into housing, the Father Ed Judy House offers an alumni program. As they transition into the community, we stay with them by offering case management, counseling and peer support for as long as they need. So, if the perpetrator threatens them again, we are there. If they need help with child custody, restraining orders, other legal issues, we are there. If they feel lonely and isolated, we are there.
Catholic Charities offers many opportunities for you to help. Join us as we respond to domestic violence. Acknowledging the layers and complexities, I will say that the mothers I spent time with at the Father Ed Judy House are some of the most courageous women I know. They deserve our compassion.
Wendy Oldenbrook is director of Marketing and Communication for Catholic Charities Denver. She is the former program director of Catholic Charities’ Father Ed Judy House.