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Signs of abuse Is your partner:


• Making you feel afraid? • Controlling you? • Blaming you for his or her problems.


• Making all the important decisions?


• Overly jealous? • Making you uncomfortable during sex?


• Unable to handle frustration? • Making you feel like you’re going crazy?


• Expecting you to “do as you’re told”?


• Cruel to animals? • Isolating you from people or activities?


• Critical, demanding, harassing, etc? • Humiliating you? • Threatening or using violence? • Unrealistic with his/her expectations of you?


• Destructive when angry? • Abusive to children or past partners?


Source: Family Shelter Service


victims do not report [intimate part- ner violence] to police, friends or family.”


For ELCA member Teri Jendusa- Nicolai, the abuse began subtly. “It was little by little,” she said. “Every day it was something: ‘No, you can’t go to the movies with your sister.’ ‘You can’t call your parents because it costs money to talk long distance on the phone.’ ”


Slowly her abuser isolated her from friends and family. He insisted she stay home to care for their children. She became increasingly dependent on him, and he began using physical force to get his way. He threatened her, saying that if she ever thought of leaving, it would be the last thing she’d ever do. She would have no money, no house, no job and two children. He told her he would “hunt [her] down and kill [her],” she said.


That is precisely what he 22 The Lutheran • www.thelutheran.org


attempted to do in January 2004. Jendusa-Nicolai’s abuser violently assaulted her with a baseball bat and left her for dead, stuffed in a trash can in a storage closet. This isn’t a rare occurrence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Jus- tice, 1 in 3 female homicide victims is murdered by intimate partners. Miraculously, Jendusa-Nicolai survived and today shares her story of abuse and healing with people around the country.


Although her story escalated to physical violence, in many cases domestic abuse isn’t as obvious as a black eye, a broken bone or a bruise on a person’s arm. Physical violence is certainly a serious example, but also serious and violent are mental, emotional, sexual, financial and spiritual abuse. The day Leticia’s (name changed for her protection) pastor spoke about domestic violence marked the first time she’d heard a minister openly talk about the issue at church. But “it was talked about in a generic way and only physical abuse was addressed,” she said.


Leticia had experienced mental, verbal and financial abuse. “So I told the pastor, ‘Please make sure that if anyone’s brave enough to come up and talk to you about this that you listen to them even if it’s verbal or mental abuse,’ ” she said. The pastor listened to Leticia’s


story, believed her and later insisted that the couple seek help individu- ally. His support was life-giving for Leticia.


In the domestic abuse education classes at the shelter where I work, we teach that violence in the home chips away at a person’s sense of value, worth and self-esteem—until the individual begins to believe that she or he is unlovable, problematic or even worthless. “I felt like it was me doing something wrong,” Leticia


said. “I couldn’t reconcile what I would’ve done to cause this behav- ior, and so I felt crazy.” Someone being abused may think she or he is responsible for the violence or deserves it. Ensnared in a cycle of power, control and shame, a person can feel trapped and confused.


Knowing how to respond Through our baptism, we know we are part of the family of God and that we are challenged to care for the most vulnerable members of our society—including those living in abusive situations. Yet do we really know how to respond to domestic violence in our congregations or communities?


Sometimes as congregational members, the fear of offending someone or interfering in private family matters prevents us from ask- ing about abuse. Maybe we don’t want to believe it could happen in a family that appears “so perfect.” In certain situations, congrega- tions may blame the victim, suggest- ing that the abuse was her or his fault. “Some congregations are victim blaming,” said Juanita Jones, pro- gram director for ADVANCE, a bat- terer’s intervention program run by Lutheran Social Services of South Central Pennsylvania. “They ask, ‘What did she do wrong?’ instead of ‘Why does he do that?’


“Congregations, like much of general society, are often not as supportive as they could be. They need information about the dynam- ics of domestic violence and how to help both victims and those who are abusive.”


In the case of Sarah Kerkes, she had a hard time convincing people that her experience was legitimate. “No one believed me,” said the ELCA pastor. “My family didn’t believe—people didn’t believe





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