SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The statistics are startling. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are 960,000 incidents of domestic violence each year. Another survey of American families found 50 percent of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also abused their children. And the list goes on and on.
No one is immune to the social epidemic of domestic violence, so The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has established LDS Family Services, a private, nonprofit organization, to help individuals and families.
Fred Riley, commissioner of LDS Family Services and himself a psychologist, recently served on the Department of Justice domestic violence task force that included representatives from more than 20 religious faiths.
“The task force focused on how religions can be a part of dealing more effectively with domestic violence. We are all struggling with how to do a better job,” said Riley. “My experience is that the Church has listened and has put some really good things in place to help both its leaders and members.”
Family Services uses a holistic approach to help victims of abuse. Trained therapists work with a victim’s Church leader to provide emotional and spiritual counseling. The Church also stands by to help with any other physical necessities a victim might need.
Riley said: “If a woman were to call us and say, ‘I’m being abused; I need some help,’ our response to her would be, ‘When can you come in?’ And we wouldn’t charge her a thing.”
Besides providing counseling to victims at its 71 offices throughout the world, Family Services operates a 24-hour help line for Church leaders. The help line is staffed by trained therapists who have experience in dealing with child abuse, spouse abuse and other forms of domestic violence.
“The purpose of the help line is first to protect the victims, second to prevent any more victimization of those individuals or anybody else,” Riley said. “Next, we help the perpetrator get help, and that typically means to report the abuse.”
Family Services also provides counseling and resources to help children of abuse, which Riley said is critical to stop the cycle of violence. “If we can reach the children at a young age, then their tendency to have a different kind of parenting skill when they grow up is increased.”
Ultimately, education plays an important role in prevention and helping families help themselves. Family Services has created two courses of study called “Strengthening Family” and “Strengthening Marriage.” Addiction recovery support meetings are also available through LDS Family Services.