by Rev. Michelle Knight
Central District Associate Superintendent

Our world currently practices sheltering in place to flatten the curve on our medical facilities and resources while we also minimize the spread of a virus, but what happens when sheltering in place becomes a crucible of harm for those inside their homes?

Domestic violence has unfortunately always been an aspect of our communities, however, without the opportunity for individuals to leave home, escape to their jobs, or use any other resource to keep safe at home; our typical helpful practices seem woefully inadequate. The tragic and unfortunate death of IMPD Officer Breann Leath while she responded to a suspected domestic violence call served as a harsh reminder that while we shelter in to protect others… some of us have become more vulnerable.

Kevin Carr and Melissa Echerd from Sheltering Wings in Danville, Indiana provided an excellent webinar recently, Sheltering Safely: Pastoring Victims of Domestic Violence. Their facility continues to serve, assist, and resource both those seeking safety as well as helpers, caregivers, pastors, and friends. #ShelteringSafely

Intimate partner violence, domestic abuse or relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in the relationship. Abuse can take many forms and may include any combination of physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, financial, and/or spiritual abuse. This violent behavior damages because the victim often changes how they behave in response to what they have experienced.

If you are at all familiar with the cycle of violence, domestic violence advocates are noting that the cycle of violence occurs with greater frequency and with more severity due to the pandemic and shelter-in-place. Moreover, because under normal circumstances, the abuser uses isolation as a tactic to control their loved one, faith leaders may wonder how they can help during a sheltering-in mandate.

Sheltering Wings has some excellent strategies. You can check in with phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, or do a wellness check by going to someone’s house and ringing the doorbell (then stand back six feet). Moreover, Melissa Echerd recommends that church leaders can express our concern for their safety while acknowledging the difficulty of their situation.

  • Help them recognize the abuse they are experiencing if they have trouble seeing it
  • If you know they are experiencing abuse because you are or have been working with them, regularly text or stop by “just to check-in”
  • Don’t confront or be pushy
  • Ask how you can support them, but let them make their own decisions
  • Help them brainstorm when and how they can get alone time – away from their abuser (e.g., go out on the deck to read, do an activity with the kids, going to the basement to pray, and etcetera)
  • Invite them for a walk or a meet-up (while maintaining social distance)
  • Host a virtual book club (or something similar) so the victim can access safe community
  • Help the victim with safety planning
  • Establish a code word the victim can speak or text to you if he or she is in danger

The church can truly be an ally in this situation. Non-judgmental presence of hope while affirming safety first before any confrontation of the abuser is not only wise, but also the best course of action even during a pandemic.

If you need more ideas, recommendations, or if you yourself are experiencing a violent, harmful situation at home, please use any of these resources.