images-for-faith-based-blog“The Medical Chaplain’s role is being a referral agent, safe haven and truth teller “for victim–survivors of domestic and sexual violence.” It was refreshing to hear such a quote from a chaplain.
Reverenced Al Miles, a board certified chaplain and national trainer in adult and teen intimate partner violence awareness, facilitated a webinar hosted by Faith Trust Institute “Medical Chaplaincy: Serving the Needs of Victims of Sexual and Domestic Violence.”
Rev. Miles spoke about his experience working with chaplains who counseled survivors and the person who caused them harm. He came to the conclusion that education and training is a definite need.  He discovered sexual abuse and domestic violence was being addressed through a scriptural interpretation that inquired about the survivor’s commitment to the relationship and if she was responsive to her respective role, which does not take into, consideration the cycle of violence, consent, and the dynamics of power and control.
When these factors are not part of the counseling conversation it can create unsafe outcomes for survivors and their children that feel pressured, unheard, and silenced. Further complicating the dynamic is the religious tenet of forgiveness: there is an expectation that the person who caused the harm will be forgiven by the survivor because it is the moral and spiritual thing.  Rev. Miles cited “truth teller” as a stance for chaplains to hold the persons who cause harm accountable and for survivors to know that “no one has the right to abuse “and that survivors are not to blame for the abuse they suffer”.  This position can help ensure a “safer haven” for people who are seeking help through faith-based services.
Rev. Miles emphasized the importance of faith-based organizations and chaplains to collaborate with other spiritual leaders, anti-gender-based violence advocacy agencies and healthcare organizations to better support survivors of domestic and sexual violence.  This collaborative approach could help chaplains become the referral agents Rev. Miles proposed. As a referral agent chaplains will be able to offer additional resources for the survivors to choose from.
Rev. Miles suggestions were in alignment with the original movement to end violence against women. Truth-telling spaces, community services, and awareness continue to be central to the movement. What is becoming clear is that this must include spiritual sites of healing and support.
I believe Rev. Miles’ declaration about the role of chaplains validates the continued need for anti-sexual violence and anti-domestic violence advocates to invite the faith-based community to collaborate to help address the complexity of gender-based violence. We know that sexual violence impacts our places of worship, and faith community can be a major resource for survivors and partner in promoting healing.