So last Friday I attended the Safe Woman, Safe Family forum. Before I get into a few takeaways that I would think helpful to church folks, let me share some preliminary reflections I had.
There were about 130 registrations ranging from local politicians to delegates of non-profit and support organizations. Of those, I was one of two men who were there the entire day from 9.00am to 4.00pm. I’m not trying to blow my trumpet, I’m simply saying that I believe one of the major issues we face is that apart from wearing the odd white ribbon, I don’t see my brothers stepping up en masse to protect our sisters.
Also, the safety of women was important to Jesus, and I’m pretty sure I was the only mainline Protestant evangelical church leader present. (Happy to be corrected on this). Let’s just be honest, the evangelical public voice is so male-dominated that we’re never going to get a ‘seat at the table’ if we’re not at least deliberately present to the conversation, especially when the leaders of so many predominant non-profits doing amazing things for families in our region are headed up (brilliantly) by women.
On to a bit of a summary of the day.
Rhys Williams highlighted the fact that Mandurah as a region is only going backward in regards to family violence. Churches need to be aware that all the trends are only getting worse. As I later found out from other speakers, this is linked to the ever heightening use of crystal meth especially.
This drug is killing our community. The stats are shocking.
Dr Vicki Banham From Edith Cowan University mentioned a document that we all need to be aware of. You can download it here. The term that we need to start using is ‘family violence’ this more inclusive of the effects on children.
On the financial side of things; federally, 22 billion dollars is spent p/a on family violence support services. 333 million just on the children’s support services.
Speaking of children, they are extremely good at sensing the angst and general mood of those around them. They don’t have to necessarily see the violence for them to be adversely affected by it. As Children get stressed, other areas of their life suffer. under toxic levels of stress, the sole focus becomes survival and their cognitive ability is reduced. In short, Dr. Banham mentioned that a sense of security is crucial for child development
Children right up to young adults will actively seek out safe spaces. Especially those with adult support. Young people will find alternate families if they are not getting a sense of safety, self-worth, and love in the home. As tragic as the fact that this is happening is, it presents a key ministry space for churches. It is not an option anymore as to whether or not we can say that we are a safe place for the vulnerable. Even at this very forum, I was able to make contact with a parent and say that we as a church are taking the safety of the vulnerable into our church family seriously with our ‘safe-church’ program and our internal 100% compliance deadline.
What was so remarkable was the comment that Children are actually able to create change in themselves if they have a sense of self-worth.
Another comment was the ‘siloing’ of service provision where various non-profits specializing in various areas do not necessarily collaborate. I believe one extremely powerful strength of churches is that we can become collaborative spaces for service delivery in this area. Why not, offer our hall for (for example) a mediation service at a reduced hall hire rate?
I’m ashamed to say that this was also the first time I engaged more with the ‘Peel says No to Violence’ Movement. you can find out more about it here. Crucially, this webpage contains survivor stories. These are a must read. The key themes that survivor stories have in common are:
- They were under a situation of power/control. A large part of this was being isolated and/or being cut off from friends and resources.
- The leaving, returning, leaving, returning cycle pattern before the final leaving
- Various cultural dimensions.
- An impact on Children.
- The courage, resistance, and resilience of victims.
We have to be ready and trained up to receive vulnerable people in churches because all the research suggests one thing: the first point of contact victims made to escape the situation was/is not a support service or organization but a personal friend. One way that we can be a light in the community around us is to be equipped and aware, when and how we can. End of story. This is why I will be putting a motion to sign Waratah up to the ‘Peel says No to Violence’ initiative. Also, a common theme that multiple speakers touched on during the day was the link between drugs and alcohol and family violence. There lies a huge opportunity for churches to provide exit and recovery ministries for people affected by addictions in this area. From my own experience, I would also add pornography as the elephant in the room that no one is talking about. This is reducing women to a consumable commodity in the minds of so many young men.
Jill Robertson form Pat Thomas house reminded us that violence is NOT just physical.
- Emotional abuse qualifies as family violence.
- Spiritual abuse qualifies as family violence (eg: not allowing a victim to practice their faith.)
- Financial abuse.
These above are just as much violence as physical or sexual abuse. For more info and especially a look a the P.A.S.S. program which really helps victims through the process of V.R.O.’s. click Here. Also, Pat Thomas house provides an outreach service to aid those trying to re-start life after leaving a Family Violence situation.
There was a lot more said and commented on during the forum and I would encourage all to google the Safe Woman, Safe Family initiative for themselves and check it out. The purpose of this article is to reintroduce to us the space that we find ourselves required to minister to and point out some helpful definitions, resources and points of awareness that I feel we as Christians need to be aware of.