Tag Archives: Domestic violence

THE GAIN OF THE LOSS — HONEST ADVOCACY by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I have the choice to walk away from here: That is part of why I keep returning.

Cars, people and crumbling autumn leaves bluster on by the windows of the shelter, not minding the world around them, unaware that the lives of the people inside have lurched to a sudden stop. I hear the tick of a clock as I pass my mop over the creaking, wooden stairs. This sound is the evidence that time is indeed moving; otherwise, it is as if the whole shelter, as well as the women and children who take refuge here, have been crystallized in amber.

Time passes slowly, and does not heal all wounds.

I’m here at the shelter for my weekend shift as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s a part-time, paid job that involves tasks of maintaining a safe-house shelter and current residents, as well as responding to a crisis hotline for future residents. It’s also is a full-time, costly job that requires a certain sacrifice of trust, and loss of control, in humanity.

Trust often requires a kind of the will to not notice.

As a shelter advocate, I often find myself struggling to balance in a tension between practical restraint and compassionate openness when interacting with residents. On one hand, these individuals are highly resourceful, frequently dishonest, and every bit the survivors forged from the worst of experiences. On the other hand, these residents are persons who deserve the greatest attentiveness, honor and empathy of any God has created, and each were formed of, and will return to, the same dust to which I shall also return.

It could be me, living in this house. It could be Christ, bearing these open wounds.

Many of the people who take refuge at the safe-house would otherwise be homeless. Supported by donations of local community organizations, the shelter provides basic health supplies to these individuals that have been otherwise denied. I never knew it could be empowering to allow a woman to choose the color and size of her pajamas and slippers. I did not realize that it was a privilege of personhood for a child to have his own fresh toothbrush and toothpaste.

There are so many small, ordinary pieces of personhood that we do not know we own until we experience someone with impoverished autonomy.

Once in a while I have the opportunity to sit down with a resident in my office, offer him or her a cup of water, and listen to their story. Never offered an objective ear prior to the shelter, these persons may be long overdue for a time to express feelings, and become emotionally explosive: shivering with tremors of anxiety, churning with long-suppressed anger, or flowing with open facets of grief.

While these moments are a privilege, I cannot say they are a gentle blessing, inspirational, or personally intimate; they are frightening, painful, and very difficult to hear. I cannot underscore this loss enough, and urge you to not glamorize advocacy as you imagine the scene. Instead, I can feel my own Self and soul stirring, desiring to provide, as I listen—and then, compassion takes the form of an objective, silent listener, who will provide a tissue or a hand, upon request.

Part of advocating for the powerless means an intentional release of your own power and need.

I find this submission of my desire to comfort, provide advice, and to generally “fix” things to be the most challenging part of my work as a shelter advocate. The recognition of my innate privilege–and the loss that comes with realizing that others do not share this privilege!–conjures in me a mixture of guilt, shame, sadness and anger. Yet, feelings are messengers. Yet, this emotional energy is signaling my Soul to work: it is transformed into action, in which I engage the reality of privilege, and put it to work, per the context. With these persons who have been traumatized by the violence of physical – and truly, a deeply spiritual– abuse, the task required of an advocate is a release of his or her own choice, own need, and own power in a situation. Then, one may watch in wonder as a space opens up for bruised people to breathe on their own.

It is a marvel to help others realize that they indeed have a voice, and a choice, and a Soul that is precious, and worth holding on to.

This is the gain of the loss for the shelter advocate: that you pause, so that others may become.

ADVENT POEM By Will Layton, 2nd Year M.Div. Student

Prepare the way, O Zion! Ye awful deeps, rise high;
Sink low, ye lofty mountains, The Lord is drawing nigh.

The wise man in the pulpit says,
“This isn’t going to be easy.”
His white hair and his reputation for truth-telling
(A prophet, maybe?)
Make us all suspect he’s right.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

That night, in a bar downtown, a woman sings:
“A change is gonna come.”
She sings as if she knows
The change will be right,
But we suspect it won’t be easy.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

A young woman, expecting
Watches out the window,
As the streets of Detroit boil
Rebellion, riot, protest,
Change. Suspicion.
A people divided,
Uniformed bodies
And uninformed arms.
Her little boy—will be a month late–
Not easy, coming into a world like this.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

On the too-familiar bench outside the courtroom,
Already suspect, easy to condemn,
Another one waits for judgment.
Something needs to change.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

Beneath the throne, the saints cry out,
“How long, O Lord, how long?”
Do they think this will be easy?
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

These things must come to pass.

On the morning the stars fell,
It caught us off-guard.
We were all afraid,
So we all went outside together.
And as Jesus Christ passed by on the street,
We suspected things wouldn’t be easy,
But there was a rumor of peace.

A CONGREGATION BETRAYED: BOOK RESPONSE by Jennifer Dahle, Final Year M.Div. Student

As I read When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct (Alban, 2006), a series of essays edited by Beth Ann Gaeide, I was struck by the extensive work that needs to be done in churches before any kind of misconduct possibly occurs. It really forced me to think about how I could help a church to prepare for an eventuality like misconduct, but it pushed me even more to think about my theology surrounding misconduct and the office of pastor. On page 26, the essay author, Patricia Liberty, suggests thinking about the far-reaching extent of damage that accompanies sexual misconduct in particular by envisioning the following exercise. “Think of your favorite hymn, your favorite Bible verse, your favorite sacred space. Are they written down? Now, look at the hymn you chose. Your pastor hummed that tune while he/she had sex with you; cross it off your list. The favorite verse you wrote down? You pastor quoted that verse to you when he/she was justifying your actions together; cross it off your list. That sacred space was entered by the pastor while you were there and you had sex; cross it off your list.” The extent of damage is astounding when framed by this exercise.

The essays I read invited me to think about sexual misconduct not as an “affair” but as an abuse of power within the pastoral office. “Clergy sexual abuse is often referred to as ‘sexual sin’ or ‘adultery’…these terms are too narrow to name the damage done to the entire congregation…Further, they encourage a privatization of the behavior that keeps the focus on the sexual activity of two individuals rather than on the betrayal of the sacred trust of the office and the pain caused an entire congregation.” (Patricia Liberty, 16-17)  Trying to heal from a misconduct case needs to involve re-examining how we define sin and evil.

Theologically, clergy misconduct violates trust and poses a potential stumbling block to faith for those involved. It is vital to have clear, open communication around the event and to support the victims and the rest of the congregation. No church that finds itself in the midst of a case of clergy misconduct is going to have an easy time of it, but the more the procedures are in place for such an event, the more potentially effective the healing.

I have much thinking left to do around this topic. Having met someone who is still feeling the effects of clergy misconduct 20 years later has made me feel particularly drawn to trying to actually being prepared should something like this occur near or where I am serving. My thoughts are still racing, but this is a starting point at least.

A POEM by Carina Schiltz, 2nd Year MDiv

This was written in response to taking the Wartburg J-term course ‘Responding to Issues in Domestic Violence’, particularly contemplating the stories of survivors of domestic violence.


my bruised and broken body
is nothing compared to my
chewed-up and spit-out spirit
self? i have no self.
He hangs on a cross and you
tell me to be like him–
to suffer.
To hold the family together.
But most of you tell me nothing.
Your eyes tell me to be
ashamed. To feel guilty–
and again I am a victim.
The worst is the silence,
a silence I have learned to
keep because no one will
believe me,
a silence that i keep
because i know my voice isn’t
worth anything to anyone.
It’s in the silence the voices scream
point to the man hanging on
a cross. Is that my fate, too?
A call to the cops
a cold corpse–
i’m already dead, can’t you
see that?
This is no way to live–
in fear, in isolation, in
punishment for my self-less-ness.
i am no self.
i am silent.


An Interview with Norma Cook Everist

Lori Bruflodt has persistently provided a listening ear and a voice for people in crisis who have suffered some sort of loss or tragic event. She has been a volunteer at the Y Domestic Violence Program in Dubuque for the past seven years and at Riverview Sexual Assault Center for eight. “I heard about these centers locally and their need for volunteers and I knew I wanted to do this.” Both places provided 40 hours of required training.

Lori went on, “Riverview had a whole curriculum with topics such as, ‘What are you going to do for self care when you come home from the hospital where you helped someone who has just experienced a rape?’ and ‘Dealing with different cultural groups.’” Lori said there are significant differences. “Some groups, because of cultural views of the victim, will not report as easily as others. In some groups the entire family comes to the hospital after the incident.” Rape and domestic violence are part of every social economic group. Lori believes training is essential. “We learned a lot of useful statistics and a lot of myths about sexual assaults and domestic violence.”

One statistic: A woman has one of the highest chances of being raped in the first 6 weeks of her freshman year of college.

One myth: That most rapes are stranger rapes. “In all my years of dealing with rape victims, only one was a ‘stranger-rape.’ The others were by people who were related, an old boyfriend, or an acquaintance, a ‘friend of a friend.’ That’s a big one. You don’t really know the person, but your friend knew him and so you are hesitant to pursue legal charges or sometimes even medical attention.”

There are many sources of myths and facts about sexual assault and domestic violence. A good example is http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/myths.html

Domestic violence is usually done by a spouse or a partner. When the victim is a youth under 18, criminal charges may be pressed by law enforcement. Victims over 18 years of age in most cases,can decide for themselves. And because of the familiarity they don’t press charges because they are afraid, “It’s my word against theirs.”

“As an advocate we don’t tell the victim what to do, but we explain to them their options and the steps they need to take now. Most of all I let them know ‘I’m here for you,’” said Lori. “That’s who an advocate is.” Lori went on, “And that may mean standing up to law enforcement or hospital staff for the sake of the victim. You speak for the victim.” That’s a persistent voice!

Who speaks for those who can’t speak because of Cerebral Palsy or intellectual disability? In those situations Lori has had to work with medical staff to make sure there is needed medical attention for people who might easily be dismissed because of their inability to advocate for themselves. Likewise, sometimes people do not take victims who live with mental illness seriously. Lori listens, sorts through the complexity of the conversation and then may say something such as, “What can we do with tonight’s crisis?”

The role of an advocate is important. Victims need to know they have a voice and choices: she needs an exam; she needs STD testing; the choice of whether or not to have a rape kit collected and the importance of timing if they choose to. The volunteer victim advocate can be called the night of the incident and often that hospital visit may be only contact the agency will have with the victim. It’s so important the victim receives clear, caring help at that time, and good information on referrals for help afterwards. Victims have been betrayed, often by a family member or friend they thought they could trust; it’s important they not feel betrayed again after the rape

Lori went on to describe her work on the domestic violence hot line and at the shelter. She has been called in when the shelter was short on staff and relied on volunteers to fill in. Lori said, “When women come to the shelter they will be living in community. They usually come from having lived in a violent situation and there are issues. It’s tough. It’s stressful. They come to the shelter because they have no one else with whom to live. They bring their children, often fleeing a dangerous situation quickly. The whole family has one bedroom no matter how many children. They have no storage. The residents all share a living room, kitchen and bathroom with people who are at first strangers. We help facilitate living in community.

I would also answer the 24-hour hot line. As I sat by the phone in the shelter, women would come in and talk. We would have conversations about their options. You listen, particularly when they wonder if they should go back to the abusive situation, and you say, ‘What would it look like if you went back? How would it be different or not? What other options might you be able to find?’ They prepare a safety plan before they leave the shelter. ‘Could the situation be lethal? Do you need a restraining order? Do you need a 911 cell phone? Do you have people who could check in with you to see how you are and how you are doing?’ ”

The issues are long term and complex. If there has been a separation or divorce, and there are children involved, there can be issues of joint custody and visitations. Where is it safe to meet to exchange the children if the parents can’t get along? One local church had provided a safe place for such meetings. Lori went on to describe how volunteers help victims of domestic violence make safety plans and action plans for life. “If you need to leave the shelter in sixty days, what do need to do to be able to find work? To find housing?”

Sometimes a woman leaves her family and needs to tell no one where she is going lest she be found by the person looking for her who could be dangerous. The result is a combination of fear, and the resulting loneliness. Lori recalls a woman at the shelter on Thanksgiving by herself because she had to leave her situation and tell no one where she was, so had nowhere to go for the holiday meal. “That woman’s situation sticks with me,” says Lori.

Lori said that people sometimes ask about her volunteer work, “Don’t you get paid?” “How awful to go to the hospital and hear the story of rape. I could never do that.” Lori says, “If I can find the strength and have skills to do this, then I need to. Somebody has to be there for these people. There are lots of ways to volunteer. You have to know what your gifts are. There are other things other people volunteer to do that may not be my gifts. When I come home at 3:00 a.m. from a hospital visit and need to work the next day and lay there awake because I can’t get to sleep, I sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do this?’ Then I remember the times I made a difference. I may never know what became of the person afterwards, but I know I did the best I could and was there for the victim when she or he would not have had a voice.”

Lori Bruflodt soon will be taking a new position as a Crisis Recovery Team Counselor at the Hillcrest Family Services Crisis Center here in Dubuque. She hopes that in two years she will be licensed as a Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the state of Iowa. She received an M.A. degree in Clinical Counseling from Loras College in Dubuque in December, 2008. She has been Director of Information Technology for 18 years at Wartburg Seminary and will continue part time at Wartburg for awhile to make the transition as smooth as possible. She knows she will miss Wartburg, but also knows that counseling has been dear to her heart for a long time. Lori says she will hate to give up some of the volunteer work she has done these years, but with her new employment cannot be on call for three places at the same time. Lori is so well known at Wartburg and her work here is deeply appreciated; the total impact of her persistent service as a volunteer may never be known but has no doubt changed countless lives.

“IT’S ONLY A SIGN” By Rev. Barbara Knutson, WTS 1995, Galesville, WI

It bothered me too much. I had driven through this town several times. So I parked the car, gathered my composure and went into the restaurant. No, I would not need to be seated for a meal. I asked to speak with the owner or manager. 

It was the large outdoor sign of the restaurant that bothered me so much. The sign depicted a nicely dressed woman holding forth a serving tray—only the woman was headless. What did I see? Degradation. Here was a public symbol of a woman deprived of all abilities to think, see, hear, speak, smell, and taste the God-given goodness of life. She was rendered sense-less in her headless personification. What heartless motivation could be behind such a sign?

In the conversation that followed, I was told that the sign had a fascinating history originating in a pub from a European country and that it posed no problem for local people nor other people. After listening to what in no way lessened my anguish, I replied that to me this sign spoke only of violence toward women in a world too full of violence. The words printed above the headless woman, which spoke of being silenced,  were not “just words.”  “Words bespeak reality,” I insisted “and in this case, a reality of oppression that needs to be persistently addressed, not ignored nor made light of.”  My only consolation was that I had at least raised my objection.

Some months later, what should appear?  A new name and a new sign graced the establishment! Yes, indeed I went in and asked to speak to the owner—a new owner. I thanked her for the inviting change and told her how distraught I had been for years over the previous sign. We visited cordially over pie and coffee. One can only wonder how many persistent voices had been heard to give a new owner the courage to change something that had been so acceptable for so long in this town.

Now, a few years later, there is again new ownership. The old name and sign are back! Upon seeing it, once again I went in to speak to the owner. Her first word to me was, “I am a successful business woman.” She continued to say how she intends to honor the illustrious history of the establishment. Again, this owner also said that words were “only words.” Again, I had to reply, “Words speak a reality and that the reality of violence is never tolerable.” She conceded nothing of what I said, only thanked me for expressing my opinion.

As we finished and turned toward the window, she smiled and said, “Oh, see there’s someone taking a picture of the sign!”I only hope that person will use the photo to join all persistent voices speaking against all that degrades the preciousness of human life—life that comes only from God. Since God never gives up on us, let us never give up or grow weary as long as we have a voice to raise.

Afterword: The Sunday after writing this article, after worship at my church I was sharing this experience with our coffee roundtable. It evoked very strong emotions. One woman, who works in a man’s world, as she puts it, as a delivery truck driver, was ready to organize a church road trip to tear down the sign! I urged them instead to go inside and voice their objection to this depiction of violence toward women whenever they are going through that town. We need to exercise a holy persistent pestering.