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Faith leaders look at their role in supporting domestic violence survivors

December 2010
Faith leaders look at their role in supporting domestic violence survivors As part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Raksha, an Atlanta-based nonprofit providing support services to South Asian survivors of domestic violence, brought together faith leaders from the South Asian Christian, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Muslim communities to create dialogue on ways faith can be utilized as a tool to empower South Asian survivors of domestic violence.

“According to the GA Fatality Review, survivors of domestic violence are more likely to go to their faith community and friends before going anywhere else for help, which is why it’s important to create this space for dialogue,” stated Raksha’s Executive Director, Aparna Bhattacharyya. Held on Wednesday, October 27th at Emory University, the interfaith dialogue was facilitated by Alka Roy with Pastor Noronha, Dr. Seshu Sarma, Manhar Parekh, Dr. Ranjit Singh, Shyam Sriram, and Humera Savaja as panelists.

With hurricane warnings blaring on the news, the event wasn’t fully attended, but the dialogue that took place between the panelists and the individuals in attendance was inspiring. Each panelist initially took to the podium to speak on their respective faiths. Then a short but very valuable discussion ensued on what could be done to empower survivors of domestic violence through religious institutions.

In the question and answer session, thoughtful yet honest questions were broached. One audience member asked, “When we as faith leaders tell couples to work it out, are we doing more harm than good?” The panelists were candid in stating that they didn’t have all the answers to addressing domestic violence in their communities and had a lot to learn. Both the panelists and audience participants recognized areas in which the faith community has failed in its response to supporting domestic violence survivors. This could be by forcing mediation between the batterer and the survivor, not making resources available, or being silent. Many of the faith leaders were inspired by the Ismaili community’s Social Safety Network model of responding to domestic violence in their own community.

Supported by the GA Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project (a joint initiative of the GA Commission on Family Violence and the GA Coalition Against Domestic Violence), this event was part of Emory University’s Take Back the Night and was cosponsored with the Emory Office of Religious Life, Emory University Student Health & Counseling Services, Center for Women at Emory, IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) Working Group, Office of Religious Life, and Emory Police Department.

Ms. Bhattacharyya concluded, “This interfaith dialogue got faith leaders thinking about what more they can do to increase safety in their respective communities.” If individual community members are interested in being a part of this dialogue, please contact Amita Rao, Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, at Amita@Raksha.com.

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