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Outreach program teaches clergy how to help domestic violence victims


LORAIN — Domestic violence prevention activists are reaching out to religious leaders to train them on helping parishioners.

Domestic violence victims often turn to their religious leaders for help, said Mary Lou Doebele, co-founder of Abigail Ministries of Northeast Ohio, a Westlake-based group that ministers to women who have been abused.

“You are on the front lines,” Doebele told about 35 clergy at a Sept. 6 workshop at Mercy Regional Medical Center that was run by Genesis House, a domestic violence support group. “How you respond to that person is key for them to get help and for them to begin to heal. I can’t express that enough.”

For Doebele, helping victims is personal. She said she was beaten and emotionally abused for 26 years by her husband. The two reconciled after her husband got help in 1996. However, Doebele said her husband’s transformation is rare, and there were times she was sure he would kill her.

“I’ve had women say, ‘That would never happen to me,’ ” she said. “Well, never comes and then it’s too late.”

The outreach began with a meeting in June, according to Virginia Beckman, Genesis House executive director. Members of Abigail Ministries, El Centro — a Latino empowerment group — Genesis House and the Mercy Parish Nurses program formed a six-person subcommittee that met with Lorain County clergy.

The response was enthusiastic with about 40 clergy attending. Beckman said organizers were “overcome” by the turnout.

“People were passionate and excited and hungry for information,” she said. “As they were cleaning out the room, people were still staying and talking. It really kept the excitement going for us.”

Beckman said clergy at the meeting said they needed more training to help parishioners who are victims or victimizers. The Sept. 6 workshop and one scheduled for Thursday are in response to that request.

Education and training Sept. 6 included defining domestic violence and the cycle of violence, domestic violence statistics, warning signs and do’s and don’ts when dealing with abusers and victims. Meg McIntyre, Genesis House community education manager, emphasized domestic violence occurs among all ethnic and income backgrounds.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” she said. “It matters who you hook up with and whether or not they choose to abuse. That’s it.”

McIntyre said the vast majority of victims are women, but it is hard to calculate how many men are victims. Many men don’t report abuse because of societal stigmas about a man being beaten by a woman.

Batterers often abuse their victim’s children, and McIntyre said it’s common for children who witness domestic violence between their parents to become abusers or victims as adults.

“Just living in that terror zone is also traumatizing for kids even if they aren’t being beaten as well,” she said.

McIntyre said boys who see their mothers beaten are far more likely to become abusers than those who don’t.

McIntyre, whose job includes counseling high school students, said dating violence is common among teenagers. McIntyre, who based her comments on Bureau of Justice Statistics information, said there is little funding for court-ordered batterer’s intervention programs because they are highly unsuccessful.

“People who are abusive, it’s like their religion,” she said. “It’s a part of their personality.”

The statistics were personal for the Rev. Marilyn Parker-Jeffries of the New Creation Baptist Church in Lorain.

A tearful Parker-Jeffries told McIntyre that she is trying to help one of her parishioners who is being abused by another parishioner.

“The cycle is so evident, but he knows what to do,” Parker-Jeffries said of the abuser.

Clergy were advised to tell victims that God doesn’t want them to stay in a situation where their lives or their children lives are endangered. They were told where to refer victims to get help and to encourage victims to develop escape plans. Instructions include not to confront a batterer until the counselor is sure the abuser’s victim is safe and not to confuse an abuser’s remorse with repentance.

All of the clergy who have participated in the outreach so far have been Christian. However, Beckman said the outreach is an interfaith effort with leaders of all religions being encouraged to participate.

“All faith leaders have a chance to set the tone,” she said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or

Prevention Workshop

A domestic violence prevention workshop for religious leaders by Genesis House is 8:30 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Carlisle Visitor Center at Lorain County Metro Parks Carlisle Reservation, 12882 Diagonal Road, Carlisle Township. For reservation information, call Virgina Beckman, Genesis House executive director, at (440) 244-1853.


Clergy taking part in domestic violence prevention workshops are given a list of do’s and don’ts when dealing with abusers and victims. Instructions include:

  • Tell victims their abuse is not God’s will. Married victims should be told the marriage covenant is being broken by the abuser.
  • Christian married women should not be told to submit to their husband’s abuse or encouraged to quickly forgive abuse.
  • Encourage victims to develop an escape plan and give them community resources for help.
  • Don’t confront abusers without the victim’s permission and assurances that the victim is safe.
  • Don’t send abusers home with prayer or confuse remorse with repentance. Don’t quickly forgive abusers and work with others in the community to hold them accountable.
  • Don’t do marriage counseling, which can further endanger victims.


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