“Families are a vital part of parish life. We want to promote strong and flourishing families and relationships,” says Sister of Mercy Nicole Rotaru. “Knowing this, we can no longer ignore the critical issue of domestic violence within our local communities, and the Gospel mandate that calls us to do something about this.”
For the past 12 months, Sr Nicole has been offering information and training workshops to parish communities and Catholic organisations in Melbourne and surrounding areas. She is part of the Domestic Violence Working Group auspiced by Catholic Social Services Victoria, which includes representatives from member organisations that assist women and children impacted by violence (including McAuley Community Services for Women, Good Samaritan Inn, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand).
Sr Nicole says the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence encourages faith communities to be proactive about educating their people around domestic violence. Recommendation 165 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, states: ‘Faith leaders and communities establish processes for examining the ways in which they currently respond to family violence in their communities and whether any of their practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour’.
“This is a clear directive that faith communities have a significant role to play in helping to prevent domestic violence,” says Sr Nicole. “When we understand domestic violence, what it is, what it looks like, and how we can respond, parish and faith communities are better able to implement preventative measures.”
A number of Catholic parishes have taken up Sr Nicole’s invitation to spend time with the parish community delving into the topic: ‘Domestic Violence: What is it? What supports are available?’
The workshop provides an understanding of what domestic violence is, the various ways in which it is perpetrated and a closer examination of the impact that domestic violence has on women and children.
“We come to a deeper understanding of what power and control means and the ways in which the perpetrator uses power and control to incite fear in another person,” says Sr Nicole. “We look at the findings and learnings from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and we conclude with the practical things that we can do – the supports that are available.
“It’s not a case of parishioners needing to know all of the answers or needing to act on behalf of women. That’s not their job. It takes away the independence of the woman,” says Sr Nicole. “Rather, it’s for us to be aware of and to know where are the places that we can get professional guidance and help for someone affected by domestic violence. This is an emphasis in the workshop.”
Sr Nicole says the workshop participants walk away with a greater understanding of what domestic violence is, a greater capacity to know where to get help, a deeper understanding of the impact of violence on women and children. A number of participants have requested information about the impacts on men who have experienced domestic violence.
‘People are often shocked by the impact that domestic violence has on women and children and they see this clearly in the case studies I share with them,’ she says. ‘People are also shocked by the statistics. They just don’t realise how wide spread this is.’
Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Dandenong was the most recent parish to host this workshop. Fourteen parishioners gathered on 30 June with feedback including: “We need to continue more work on this issue”, “More men and women need to come to the workshop”, “The statistics were a huge surprise”, “Thank you so much for deepening my knowledge on domestic violence; there was so much I wasn’t aware of”.
This is an abridged version of an article first published on the website of Catholic Social Services Victoria.