Domestic violence 'a respect life' issue, says National Council of Catholic Women president

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Mysterious bruises. Unexplained injuries. Social withdrawal and depression. These are some of the domestic violence warning signs listed in "Women Healing the Wounds," the National Council of Catholic Women's new 52-page resource guide on intimate partner abuse released in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

"In the Catholic Church, we celebrate Respect Life in the month of October, and (domestic violence) is a respect life issue as well," said Sheila Hopkins, NCCW president and retired director of Social Concerns/Respect Life, Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a press release.

"Women Healing the Wounds," which is available in English and Spanish as a downloadable PDF, presents domestic violence information specific to Catholic women, including practical tips, prayer guidance, reference to Catholic social teachings and a customizable safety flyer.

Hopkins, who is based in Tallahassee, Fla., believes the teen dating section in the expanded resource guide sets it apart from its previous incarnation, "which was really more of a pamphlet," she said. According to "Women Healing the Wounds," victimhood and abusive behaviors are beginning earlier and earlier.

"Many parents don't talk to their kids about (domestic violence) and what it means to be in a healthy relationship," she said. "Girls will start dating these guys who will dictate what they can and can't do. We want to reach down before people get stuck in those kinds of relationships long-term, before they marry them."

Domestic violence is a national concern as much as it is a regional one.

Brad Womble, program director at Bethany House, a Christian women's shelter in Fairfax County, said that his organization turns away victims every day due to insufficient resources.

"We don't keep a waitlist because it would get so long," he said.

Womble said that according to statistics reported to his organization by Fairfax County Police, domestic violence causes more than 33 percent of the county's homelessness and more than 50 percent of its homicides.

"I've never introduced myself at events without at least one person coming up to me and asking for a (business) card because they needed to make a call for themselves or someone they know," said Womble.

Bethany House is one of two women's shelters in Fairfax County. The other is Artemis House, which reserves rooms specifically for Fairfax County residents in imminent danger. Between the two shelters, there are 75 beds available to victims, and they are full every night of the year.

"The children affect me most," said Womble. "They're so scared. When they come in, they curl up into a little ball. They've seen things children should never see."

"To be able to assure them that there is a safe place in Christ is an amazing thing," he added.

At Bethany House, children immediately are put into counseling to prevent the cycle from repeating.

"Otherwise the little girls will end up in abusive relationships and the little boys will end up becoming abusers," he said.

The lack of domestic violence awareness remains a challenge in many communities, hence the need for resource guides like "Women Healing the Wounds."

"For many years, NCCW has been active in the issue of domestic violence," said Hopkins. "We are hopeful this new resource will give courage to victims to leave their abuser as well as educate others on the signs exhibited by persons experiencing domestic violence."

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015