Nikki Dhillon Keane writes about how domestic abuse, which has already escalated during the lockdowns of 2020, could threaten lives this Christmas, and how we as Catholics can help.
This Christmas season is presenting us with unprecedented challenges and heartbreaking decisions about whether to leave relatives isolated or to risk their health.
However, for those people living with an abusive spouse, every Christmas can be a dangerous time. Domestic abuse tends to escalate over the festive period, even in “normal” years. This year, with perpetrators enabled by Covid lockdowns, we have seen a huge increase in coercive control, violence, and tragically, murders, at the hands of domestic abuse perpetrators. Many survivors will be approaching this Christmas season with dread, some in fear for their lives.
Last week, the Faith and Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Coalition launched a report called “Keeping the Faith: What survivors from Faith communities want us to know”
The report highlights the ways in which survivors with faith backgrounds have spiritual needs, which are often unrecognised and unmet by statutory organisations. As Catholics, there is a vital role we can play supporting Catholic survivors with understanding of, and respect for their spiritual needs. This echoes the message of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, when he called us to support survivors of domestic abuse.
What can we, as Catholics, do to help? Some simple things, which make a huge difference, are:
- Believe survivors when they disclose abuse.
- Reassure them that God does not want them to suffer and that the Church supports their right to be safe.
- Provide information about local and national domestic abuse services.
- Reach out (safely) to someone you suspect may be at risk from their spouse.
The wonderful organisation Restored has a handbook for Christian survivors of domestic abuse, which is free for survivors and available on their website (https://www.restored-uk.org/resources/) You could order a copy for your parish, or to give one to a survivor. This Christmas, they are running a campaign to encourage people to donate £5 to help get a copy to every refuge in the country, where it could provide essential spiritual support.
Parishes can also help by offering their offices as “safe spaces” where survivors can access phones and the internet without risk in order to seek support (much as several pharmacies have done during lockdown periods) and by sharing the following information on newsletters and websites.
For anyone afraid of a partner or family member the following helplines will be working over the Christmas season:
National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 or webchat www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
Live Fear Free Helpline (Wales) 0808 80 10 800 https://gov.wales/live-fear-free
Male Advice Line (for male victims) 0808 8010 327 https://mensadviceline.org.uk/
If you think you might be hurting your partner, help is available from Respect Phone line: 0808 802 4040 https://respectphoneline.org.uk/
In an emergency, call 999 (dial 55 if it is unsafe to speak)
These simple actions have the potential to save someone’s life. The team at Restored often talk about becoming an act of Grace in the life of a survivor. This Christmas, that might be the most important gift we can give.
Nikki Dhillon Keane is a therapist, trainer and consultant, specialising in domestic abuse and Faith. She works with Caritas Westminster, as well as freelance. She is a co-founder of the Faith and VAWG Coalition and the author of “Domestic Abuse in Church Communities: A Safe Pastoral Approach”