Domestic Violence

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More than one-third of all women report being abused in some way by a husband or boyfriend.  Domestic violence is a huge problem but many communities are ill-equipped to deal with it. And victims can struggle to find support. Allysa Adams talks to one woman who is making sure churches become safe havens.

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These days Debbie Harsh takes comfort in the routine.

Debbie Harsh / Director, Domestic Violence Education: “I try to categorize myself as a survivor of domestic violence.”

Just a few years ago, she sought help from her church to escaped a marriage that had turned violent.

Debbie Harsh: “My pastors at the church really didn’t really know what to do with the situation.”

In many ways they made the situation worse, urging her to stay with her husband.

Debbie Harsh: “Wives submit to your husbands, and husbands are the head of the house – and I believed all that.”

Despite the wishes of her church, Debbie divorced her husband – but not without a lot of  fear, damage and anguish..

Debbie Harsh: “I was very angry and probably very angry at God for a while.”

Now, Debbie has turned that anger into positive action.

Natsound / Debbie talking to conference: “The first 13 weeks were terrifying.”

She leads an organization dedicated to teaching faith groups how to deal with domestic violence. Today, she’s speaking at St. Marks United Methodist Church in Tucson, Arizona.

Natsound / Debbie talking to conference: “I think that there’s a lot of work that we can do.”

Harsh believes churches are uneducated, too often emphasize forgiveness for the perpetrator rather than help for the victim, and ignore the overwhelming problem in their midst. 

The Rev. Paul Caseman / St. Marks United Methodist Church: “Sometimes domestic violence is one of those issues that we put on the back burner and say, ‘Surely in our church there isn’t domestic violence.’”

So the Reverend Paul Caseman says he will now speak about domestic violence from his pulpit and work to educate his congregation. After all, churches should be a safe harbor.

Debbie Harsh: “I can’t think of any better place than a faith community, a church community, to help victims of family violence.”


One concrete thing many churches can do right away to help victims of domestic violence is to make educational posters and leave pamphlets with resources for victims in their restrooms.

For more information, contact Debbie Harsh’s organization “Domestic Violence Education:  An Interfaith Project” at, or go to

Also see: Church must be sanctuary to domestic abuse victims, survivor says.