Workshop strengthens, aids victims of abuse

An interfaith seminar tells women that it’s OK to leave abuser.
Sunday, March 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:09 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Sheila Ruffin drapes blankets on a participant in the From Victim to Victor domestic abuse workshop at Russell Chapel CME on March 24. The blankets symbolize emotions, such as shame and fear, which prevent a victim of domestic abuse from getting help. Women then removed the blankets to symbolize shedding those emotions and gaining strength to stop abuse.

When the Rev. Karen Walker-McClure went to Phoenix on a free trip for an interfaith domestic violence workshop, she didn’t realize how much she would actually be able to take home with her.

But after attending the workshop and learning about what the church can do to aid women in abusive relationships, Walker-McClure, of Columbia’s Russell Chapel CME Church, understood that the clergy has a responsibility to tell battered women that it isn’t a problem to leave their abusers.

The “From Victim to Victor” domestic abuse workshop held Saturday morning at the church aimed to spread that message.

Walker-McClure, who was one of five speakers at the workshop, said that in the past it has been a difficult position for members of the church to say what a woman in this situation should do, considering that breaking the sanctity of marriage is looked down upon in many faiths.

“We were a roadblock for assisting people,” Walker-McClure said. The Phoenix workshop convinced her this was a mistake.

“It’s a wrong decision to stay in an abusive relationship,” she said. “God doesn’t want us to stay in a relationship where a woman is battered.”

The advice clergy usually give, Walker-McClure said, is to stick with marriages, regardless of the abuse. They would suggest trying to work past the violence or praying for a change. At Saturday’s workshop, she said clergy should instead be teaching women to be pro-active in their relationships.

“Within the black community, it has been our tradition to keep private business private and not reach out,” said the Rev. Mary Hull, of St. Paul AME Church. She said not enough abused women come forward and tell their stories for shame or fear, often of what the church would think of them leaving their husbands.

The Saturday morning workshop was attended by about 40 women. The environment was ready for a dramatic dialogue — candies and Kleenex tissue pocket packs were laid out on every table in the room.

Some women in the room said they were there admitting for the first time that they were victims of abuse. Many said they’d been beaten, and a few said they suffered from substance abuse to deal with the violence. Others said their children were becoming victims.

Forgiveness was a big topic of the day. Some women asked how they could forgive their abusers, especially while still feeling so much anger toward them. They said they had tried for many years — some said for decades — to forgive, but the impact from traumatic events had made it too difficult.

Pamela Winn, another of the workshop’s speakers, said she was a victim of domestic violence for 13½ years. She went into explicit details while describing the ways in which she was abused. Her daughter, who had witnessed many of the violent events Winn spoke about, was also in attendance and wept openly during her mother’s speech.

The only time Winn showed emotion was when she spoke of her daughter’s strength.

It was when her oldest daughter said, “enough is enough” that Winn was able to gather the strength to leave her last abuser. “She didn’t want her younger sisters to live the life that she had lived,” Winn said.

Walker-McClure said Saturday’s workshop will probably not be the last of its kind in Columbia. She said domestic violence is too important a topic to be ignored.

“They (Arizona workshop leaders) said when you go back, do something,” Walker-McClure said. “So, I had to do something.”

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