Domestic violence can often be a difficult subject to approach. Anna Rusche, Victim and Witness Coordinator for the Newton Municipal Court, knows that full well. That's why when the opportunity presented itself to bring in Fr. Charles Dahm, Director of the Archdiocese of Chicago Domestic Violence Outreach, she jumped at it — both for the city and the Harvey County Community Response to Domestic Violence.
Also serving as the Coordinator of Peace and Justice for Dominicans in North America and associate pastor of St. Pius V parish in Chicago, Dahm helped develop the largest parish-based domestic violence program in the United States. That alone was enough to sell Rusche on trying to get Dahm to speak in Newton, but she also heard him present at the National Conference on Crimes against Women last spring and believed his message would be both informative and well-received.
"He had a wonderful message about community involvement in domestic violence response, as well as the faith-based community response. I thought that with Newton being such a large community of faith communities that it would be a great fit," Rusche said. "He is a pioneer in this area and his experience goes back 15 to 20 years specifically in the domestic violence field, but much further than that in family relations. He is the leader of the largest outreach program in the United States and he has a wealth of knowledge to share with us. Having him here in Newton, in a relatively small community, is a fantastic opportunity."
Sharing a message of how community organizations and individuals can respond to those in abusive situations, Dahm will have a public speaking engagement from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 3 at The Gathering (518 N. Main, Newton).
That is just the tip of the iceberg, though, as Dahm will also be busy engaging with the Catholic community of Newton over the weekend — leading mass at St. Mary Catholic Church at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, as well as 12:30 p.m. mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday. In addition, he will speak to both the students and patrons of St. Mary Catholic School on Monday in an effort to further his mission.
"I am encouraging the Catholic church at different levels to address domestic violence. I do that by encouraging them to raise awareness about the problem, making sure that all their institutions are connecting people to services and that they're working on prevention in their institutions," Dahm said. "I show them how to raise awareness in the parish and I explain to them why awareness is so important."
Generally, Dahm noted, victims of domestic violence feel a sense of isolation within the religious community. His mission is to change that, which is why when preaching in the various parishes he visits he brings up the church's pastoral letter on domestic violence — to bring light to the issue and engage with any parishioners who want to get involved establishing an approach to domestic violence outreach within the church community.
Over the past decade, Dahm has made trips to about 140 parishes around the country and the reaction he gets is pretty standard — that it's "about time" this is discussed in the faith community. Hard as the subject may be to broach, it is one that has to be brought to light simply because of the prevalence of the issue — and both Rusche and Dahm are optimistic his presentation will inspire a stronger community response of support and bring greater awareness to the issue.
"My hope is that we all have an opportunity to reflect on the fact that domestic violence is affecting someone we know, whether they're speaking to us about that or not," Rusche said. "We know someone. We sit next to them at church, we sit next to them at school, the restaurants that we eat at in this area, (etc.)."
"Domestic violence has been largely ignored by the religious institutions in the United States, no matter what faith you belong to ... . That's unfortunate because victims are, generally, conflicted over the fact that their church doesn't offer them the support that they would like to receive, so there's a lot of disillusionment on the part of victims with their religious institutions," Dahm said. "Many people know somebody who is a victim or they suspect is a victim, so it's rampant. The statistics are overwhelming. It's a real hidden problem and once we start talking about it, especially in churches or synagogues, people will come forward. That's my experience."
For more information on Dahm's presentation, contact Rusche at 316-284-3628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.