A regular Source feature, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events as they develop beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.
The literature on domestic violence is replete with examples of women who turned to their minister, priest, or rabbi for help with a bad relationship and were told instead to pray, endure, and persevere for the sake of the family – when the family was already torn apart by the violence.
But as awareness of the problem has been growing in recent decades, so has the understanding of it within society’s institutions, including organized religion.
Some churches have become active on women and family issues. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church, for example, launched a global campaign in 2009, dubbed End It Now, in an attempt to eradicate violence against women.
On a more personal basis, the national trend now is to enlist the aid of faith-based organizations in dealing with the problems of domestic violence, as well as sexual abuse and violence in the homes of parishioners and other members of the community.
It’s an approach that is being tried in the territory, too.
“Lots of times people go to their faith leaders” for help with family issues, said Lynn Spencer, executive director of the V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council. “We’re not interfering with the church’s business,” but are offering information and resources for aiding those who seek help.
D.V.S.A.C. has formed a coalition of experts to present workshops to local clergy and interested church members. On the team are representatives of the Family Resource Center, the Women’s Coalition, the supervisor of the domestic violence unit of the Police Department, the victims advocate from the Justice Department, and the facilitator for the Batterers Intervention program of the Men’s Coalition of the V.I.
Already four different churches on St. Croix have hosted the group – the Victorious Believers, the Friedensberg Moravian Church, the Friedensthal Moravian Church in Christiansted and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At St. Paul’s the entire deanery – that is, all the church hierarchy – attended.
On St. Thomas, the Mt. Zion New Testament Church of God and the Frederick Lutheran Church both have hosted meetings.
Tuesday night will mark the first time a session will be held on St. John. It is an interdenominational meeting but will be held at the St. John Methodist Church from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
“We’re very concerned about St. John,” Spencer said, adding that she believes incidents of sexual and domestic violence are both underreported.
One bit of good news she was anxious to share with St. John residents is that Annette Small, a social worker and counselor working with the Family Resource Center, is now stationed at the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic where she is available to work with victims of sexual and domestic violence. She can be reached at 514-1823. “She’s there to talk to people.”
In addition to the smaller sessions, D.V.S.A.C. recently worked with other groups to present a forum for International Women’s Day on March 18 that addressed some of the same topics. Carlotta Walcott, wife of the Rev. Phillip Walcott, pastor of St. Luke’s A.M.E. Church, was a guest speaker. She said her parish conducts its own programs to foster better relationships and to uplift women and girls.
Key to the prevention of domestic violence is the promotion of human dignity, Spencer said. If you want to create healthier relationships, you must raise self-esteem. And the first priority in dealing with reports of domestic violence is victim safety.
There is some resistance from a few religious leaders, Spencer said. “Some people really believe that that’s not happening in their church.”
But others understand that abuse happens in all segments of society, in people of all faiths, of different education levels and in all income brackets. “It crosses social-economic lines,” she said.
She’s hoping that the current move within faith organizations will continue to meet the problem head-on.