On June 2nd I was invited to AFAB's (Asosiyasyon Fanm Ayisyen nan Boston) 18th Annual Clergymen Breakfast which took place at the Mattapan Library. The purpose of the breakfast is to bring religious leaders awareness to domestic violence, rape culture and other violence against women; some who may be in their congregation and communities. The clergyman breakfast started at 9:30 AM and ended at 12 PM. The audience was given a well prepared breakfast with fruits, bagels, coffee, hot chocolate, paté etc.
The agenda started with a domestic violence survivor speaking of her experience with domestic violence. She was a wheelchair bound woman speaking her truth that she endured by the hands of her ex lover. Her relationship like many domestic violence survivor's experience was tumultuous. The final straw for her is when the ex lover pulled out a gun and shot her. She was able to get a visa and come to the United States for treatment and found AFAB who has dedicated their time and resources helping her overcome challenges stemming from the domestic violence abuse and getting justice.
The second speaker was Dr. Anne E Johnson who is a medical doctor that specializes in orthopedic foot and ankle surgery. She spoke about her practice and what exactly she does for her clients. In the case of someone who is wheelchair bound they still need to be able to take care of their feet.
The third person to speak was Judge Jonathan Tynes who works hands on for victims of domestic violence. He was very passionate about what he does as a judge and how the court does advocate for the safety of women and does provide resources for women but they need to come forward which can be complicated for multiple factors. In some cases these women have children with the abuser and doesn't want to arrest him and take him away from his kids. Some of these women rely on these men for survival. Some women don't understand what the consequences of domestic violence will be for the abuser. For example, a restraining order. Some may say it's just a piece of paper. In reality it is both a piece of paper and more. The power is in enforcing the paper and taking down all notes of when the abuser violates the restraining order. Judge Jonathan Tynes spoke specifically and candidly about what is a restraining order. Who can give restraining orders. The judge also discussed who can override them. A restraining order has detailed restrictions a judge types up in the interest of the person who sought it against a person who deserves it i.e a woman beater. A person must not violate any restrictions against the person who sought the restraining order out. If the person violates it, the person who has one against him will face repercussions like going to prison. A restraining order can say you must not contact the person who got the restraining order. It can also say stay 100 feet away from a person and to not talk to her or her friends and family. A restraining order could say just about anything a judge thinks is in the best interest for the victim. Only a judge can override a restraining order, not a police officer. Not a clergyman. Not even the victim who took out the restraining order.
The last speaker of the Roundtable discussion was supposed to be a Forensic Psychologist. A Forensic Psychologist was going to speak about how s/he works to empower victims of domestic violence in conjunction with the law and other resources. A forensic psychologist can assist when it comes to domestic violence cases and how they're used in court proceedings; however certain people request a forensic psychologist. An example of someone requesting a forensic psychologist would be a lawyer who needs an expert to testify in support of the victim of a domestic violence victim about character traits of an abuser.
The final part of the Roundtable discussion was the clergymen and the audience given time to ask questions or make statements. One clergyman in particular who perked my ears and had me mean mugging and curling my lip to the left was when he asked the domestic violence survivor, "Knowing all that you know now and having lived through being shot, what would you have done different in that situation." Meaning is she could go back in time to her abuser, what could she have done to not have gotten abused and shot. The victim answered professionally and in humility by saying she had learned a lot and is in school for psychology to understand what happened to her. I felt like she was experiencing victim blaming. As she spoke I muttered there wasn't anything she could have done because an abuser will abuse. A woman in the audience raised her hand and called the clergyman's mentality out as victim blaming and share the same sentiments as me. A couple clergymen wanted a clear understanding of what a restraining order is and what they can or cannot do. The judge took over those questions and informed them that he as a judge has the power to give restraining orders and the clergymen cannot change or allow someone with a restraining order to come to worship regardless if the person who has the restraining order was at the church first or was a member there before the victim.
The judge even stated that the person with the restraining order against him should leave the building if the victim does come into church. I raised my hand to ask a question as well. My question was for the clergymen. "What do they do to protect women who come forward about being victims of domestic violence." A woman pastor stood to answer first sharing she provides a safe shelter for victims being that she once was a victim herself. She also encourages victims to seek legal assistance as well. A Catholic Priest's response took me over the moon (side note, my first time seeing a Haitian Catholic Priest). He stated that his procedure is to separate the man from the woman. The church does an investigation to see if the allegations are accurate while the church provides support for the victim. If the allegations are truthful the Priests ends the marriage spirituality with the church members providing support. He counsels the victim and encourages the woman to seek legal assistance.
Out of all the responses, three in total, the Catholic Priest's response was better and thorough plus it included the community aspect instead of isolation of the victim or secrecy from the church. After the questions were asked a $250 dollar donation was given to AFAB were they graciously accepted the offering and gave thanks to the donors. A few staff members at AFAB shared their final words about the event, the speakers, their mission and what they have in store for the future. We closed out the Roundtable discussion with a warm prayer from the Catholic Priest.
In all, the AFAB 18th Annual Clergymen Breakfast had a fantastic turnout. There were many enthusiastic people there willing to learn and become equipped with knowledge. The majority of the audience members were women which isn't a surprise when you think of who is the face of domestic violence especially in a community where abuse of all kinds whether it's physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or psychological are hardly spoken of. Each attendee who walked into the room was given a folder with resources to help them if they're in need of protection from an abuser or know someone who is of need. Thank you to the AFAB staff, particularly Madam Chief Carline Desire.
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