As the founder and CEO of Crime Survivors Inc., an Irvine-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing hope and healing to victims and survivors of crime, Patricia Wenskunas knows the national and local domestic violence statistics – nationally, a woman is beaten every seven seconds; in Orange County, more than 3,000 women and children enter domestic violence shelters every year.
Wenskunas has held the bruised hands and dried the tears of escaped victims – often, she notes, they blame themselves and have lost all hope of leading happy lives.
She even has been personally victimized repeatedly – in 2002 she survived attempted murder at the hands of an abuser.
More importantly, she understands that she is in good company: Each year, thousands of women and children enter domestic violence shelters in Orange County.
Firsthand knowledge and experience motivated Wenskunas and her fellow Diocesan Domestic Violence Task Force Committee members to develop “Breaking the Cycles of Violence,” an Oct. 26 half-day forum dedicated to raising awareness of one of society’s most prevalent and hidden issues. It takes place, fittingly, during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“The forum brings faith leaders, victims, law enforcement representatives and community leaders together in a place to examine what’s working and how we can provide the best services to those in need,” Wenskunas explains.
There is no charge to attend the event, which takes place 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Christ Cathedral Cultural Center, but attendees are asked to bring hygiene and toiletry items to benefit several local domestic violence shelters.
About 300 people are expected to attend the forum, which launches the committee’s partnership with various agencies, including law enforcement, civic and community leaders and shelters, that will help families find solutions and support, says the Diocese of Orange’s Michael Donaldson, director of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages.
Donaldson’s office joins national organizations like Catholics for Family Peace in offering education, resources and referrals for families experiencing domestic violence.
He believes the involvement of the Catholic Church and other faith leaders is vital in combatting domestic violence because clergy members often are the first individuals to open dialogue with victims.
“If it doesn’t affect them immediately most people don’t think domestic violence is part of their concern,” Donaldson says. “But if our brothers and sisters are hurting, it is an issue that hurts the whole Church.”
When she works with abuse survivors, Wenskunas says that she offers to pray with them and for them, even though some are resistant. “Sometimes it takes years for them to allow faith into their lives. I tell them to never lose hope. If we lose hope, we’re not living.”
Actively addressing the issue of domestic violence is important for the Diocese because it is part of its ongoing advocacy efforts to address social issues, such as immigration, the death penalty, torture, war, and human trafficking, says Greg Walgenbach, director of the Office of Life, Justice & Peace.
“This is really an issue of life and death in some cases and in every case it’s an issue of the dignity of the human person,” Walgenbach says. “It needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency. We need to have a better response as a Church in order to protect people – to let them know they are loved and cared for.”
For more information, visit rcbo.org/events/breaking-the-cycles-of-violence/. To register, visit the “Register online” link on the page or call 714-282-6001 or email Esther Ramirez at [email protected].