Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith This "Behind Closed Doors" segment explores how Catholic parishes should respond to domestic violence. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with the Rev. Charles Dahm, an associate pastor of St. Pius V Parish in Chicago, and domestic violence survivor Elia Carreon.
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Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith

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Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith

Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith

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TONY COX, host: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, our occasional series, In Your Ear. We'll hear what music inspires Nigerian superstar and activist, Femi Kuti, an artist who infuses his work with modern jazz and funk. That's in a few moments.

But first, we go behind closed doors. That's the part of the program where we talk about issues that many people discuss only in the privacy of their homes. Domestic violence is just that kind of issue.

Women who have survived domestic violence are significantly more likely to develop mental disorders than other women. That, according to new research in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, experts say the study highlights how important it is for doctors to talk to women about their histories with such violence.

But for many women, the words of a pastor can be more comforting and persuasive in a time of crisis and now some churches are finding ways to make confronting domestic violence part of their ministry.

Here to talk more about this is Father Charles Dahm. He's an Associate Pastor of St. Pius V Parish in Chicago. He joins us from Vermont Public Radio in Manchester. Nice to have you.

Thank you. It's good to be with you.

Also joining us is Elia Carreon, who has had a personal history with domestic violence. She is now a member of St. Pius V Parish. She is joining us from member station, WBEZ in Chicago. Elia, nice to have you, as well.

ELIA CARREON: Thank you very much.

COX: Father Dahm, let's begin the conversation with this. What made you think that domestic violence was something that your parish needed to become more involved in fighting?

Well, I had seen victims of domestic violence, women who came and talked to me about it, but not that many. But when I hired a pastoral counselor and she began to see many clients, most of whom were women, she told me one day, most of these women are victims of domestic violence.

CHARLES DAHM: And I was actually quite surprised because I did not see it and I began to talk about it as a consequence and the more I talked about it, the more women came to me and that's when I really began to recognize that it was so prevalent in our community.

COX: I was going to ask you, when you began to recognize the signs of it, how prevalent in your parish is it?

Well, I think it's extremely prevalent. You know, the studies show that domestic violence is equally prevalent in every community in the United States. It makes no difference what your ethnic background is or your economic class. Studies show that it's the same whether you're white or black or yellow, poor or rich. Many times, it's more hidden among the more affluent, but it's there.

Elia, let's talk about your situation for a moment. Before we get into the specifics of what happened to you, what was it that made you turn to the church for help?

CARREON: Being in a relationship for 18 years and experiencing certain things that were not comfortable in my relationship that hurt me, at that time, of course, I did not know that what I was living was domestic violence. But I just knew that something was wrong.

We did go through some agencies and I did not find what I was looking for. As my final resort, someone suggested I should visit St. Pius because they had a really good program, so as a last attempt to save our marriage, we went there and what I found there was exactly what I was looking for.

COX: So Elia, what happened to you?

CARREON: Experiencing domestic violence directly affected my esteem. I became a very insecure person and depressive.

My husband grew up in an environment where domestic violence was an everyday behavior, therefore it was very difficult for him to accept and recognize that his actions was indeed domestic violence.

His favorite and frequent ways of putting me down were the name calling, the silent treatment, making fun of my weight and my legal status, calling me crazy, threatening to send me to a mental institution, as well as destroying or throwing away my things. Those were among the few things that was very frequent.

We went through a very difficult 18 years of our marriage and when our children were growing up, I started noticing huge changes in their behavior. My son started having nightmares. They would always question us about our arguments. And at points they felt that they were the reason why we were arguing and my son constantly asked me if at some point they would have to choose who to live with, Mom or Dad. He was very young at the time. He was about seven years old. And that's when I realized that the lifestyles that we were living were not only affecting us but also our children.






CARREON: In St. Pius more than counseling, we found a family. Their main goal is to keep families together living healthy lives. Through individual couples and family therapy sessions we were able to manage our differences and heal our suffering. They teach you many different ways of going towards the goal that you want to be at or you want to be. The very first thing I remember learning was to set my limits, which limits were a new word for me. They give you a lot of exercises to help you get to where you want to be, keeping a journal, writing down your feelings, maintaining daily conversations, going on walks, etcetera, different things. The difference here is that when I first visited another agency, before long I was given a choice of antidepressants. I was also advised of the possibility of a need of a divorce lawyer. Honestly, more than feeling hope I felt fearful and confused. That's not what I was looking for. I was looking for some type of way of fixing my problems, you know, getting out of that life that did not feel right.

COX: But you wanted to keep your marriage at the same time.

CARREON: Absolutely. I was not looking for a divorce. I also tried counseling through our insurance and I found the same pattern. First thing they tell you is like do you want antidepressives because to them the problem was not domestic violence. The problem was depression.

COX: Father Dahm, obviously Elia is a success story for you at the parish where you minister. But I'm imagining there are others that perhaps you were unable to reach. If that's the case, give us an explanation of what happens when you were not successful.

DAHM: I think one thing that we have to recognize is that women who are victims of domestic violence are living in a very deep hole. They are surrounded by darkness and hopelessness, and perhaps fear. So it's very difficult to bring them out of that. The studies show that a woman tries to leave her abusive husband seven times before she's successful doing it. So it's a major struggle for woman. Many women feel guilty and responsible for what's happening, even though they are the victims. So it takes a lot of work with the women to strengthen them, as Elia has given a very good testimony of.

COX: I'm surprised that you have not mentioned the men, the role that the men play and your counseling of them. In fact we don't have her husband here with us to hear how he was reached through this.

DAHM: Well, I think that, first of all most men do not accept that they are abusers. They are in high level of denial of what is actually going on. So Elia and her husband Roman(ph) are really in some ways exceptional, because not too many men opened themselves to change. I would say maybe one out of 20 abusers, they don't - they're not really interested in it. They don't believe in it. They think the woman is the one at fault. And they may separate and then they look for another victim.

COX: Elia, obviously you are feeling good now?

CARREON: Yes I am.

COX: And the future is bright for you?

CARREON: I'm very blessed.

COX: And your husband and you communicate on a level that you had not been able to communicate before he went to Saint, to the parish?

CARREON: That is correct. And had I known, I could have brought my husband. And he's such a loving, caring, affectionate person now. This is a totally different man than the one I was married to for 18 years. And I thank you, Father Chuck for that.

COX: Elia Carreon is a survivor of domestic violence. She is now a member of St. Pius V. She joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Father Charles Dahm is an associate pastor at St. Pius V Parish in Chicago, but today happens to join us from Vermont Public Radio in Manchester. Thank you both very much.

CARREON: Thank you very much.

DAHM: Thank you.


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