Domestic Violence – What can you do?

This week our Philanthropy by Philoptochos guest blogger is the Department of Social Services Director Paulette Geanacopoulos, LMSW.  You may remember her from her Domestic Violence panel discussion at the National Philoptochos Convention in Phoenix, AZ. The presentation received rave views not only for the information that was provided but also for the depth of the discussion. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and with this in mind, Paulette gives us some tips for dealing with Domestic Violence when we are confronted with it in our communities.

During the month of October, Philoptochos asks that you revisit and renew your knowledge about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, more recently referred to as INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV)

IPV is described as the physical, sexual, or psychological harm or threat of harm by a current or former partner or spouse.  It does not require sexual intimacy and it includes stalking and cyber-stalking.  IPV can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and is an “equal opportunity” public health problem that occurs in relationships among adults, teens and college students from all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds.   IPV is intentional, it generally escalates, and its purpose is to control and manipulate the other person.  For additional information about domestic violence, its prevalence and impact on the Greek Orthodox community, please visit our website at:  We also urge you to download and print the domestic violence Fact Sheets found on our website along with the 24/7 phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and place them strategically in the women’s rest rooms of your church. 

Many of us are at a loss as to what to do or say if we think someone is being abused, or if a woman reveals to us that she is in a controlling relationship.  Because how we react is vitally important, today’s blog focuses on our responses.  But first, let’s start with what not to do:  Don’t interrupt her while she is speaking.  Don’t let your facial expression or body language convey doubt or judgment about what is being told to you.  Don’t tell her what to do or what you would do, and don't imply that leaving an abusive relationship is easy - there are no quick, easy solutions.  Don’t recommend couple counseling – whatever is said by the victim in counseling could be used against her when she goes home, and it won’t resolve the problem.  And, don’t confront the abuser, no matter how much you would like to, as you could be placing yourself or your family in danger, and you could be making it even more dangerous for the woman who has revealed to you what is happening in her relationship.  

You can help a woman feel safe by assuring her that you will keep her story confidential - and doing so. When she tells you her story, listen attentively. When she finishes talking, ask, 'How can I help?'  Let her know that you care, offer to help her develop a safety plan for herself and her children (a sample outline is on our website), and let her know that when she is ready, there are people and agencies that can and want to assist her.  She may not know (and it is important to tell her) that thousands of other women experience such abuse and that special shelters, services, and laws have been created to help them. Make clear that the abuse is not her fault, that she is not to blame, and that it is her partner who has the problem.  Let her know that she cannot ‘fix it’ or stop the abuse, no matter how much she wants or how hard she tries.  Only the abuser can stop the abuse.  And remember, if she refuses to talk to you today or says 'no' to your offer of help, she has her reasons. Express your concern for her anyway. Tell her that emotional abuse and physical abuse are wrong and she deserves better. Assure her that you will stand by, ready to talk or help, if she asks. Then give her time.

Here is a simple checklist:
1. BELIEVE HER. She will not lie about abuse. Many controllers are so charming and gracious to outsiders that what you see of his behavior may deceive you. Even if the incidents she describes seem incredible, listen to her story and respect the way she tells it. Because abuse is so painful to experience, she may recall details slowly and in disjointed fragments. The pieces may not seem to fit together or make much sense. Remember that the violence itself is arbitrary and irrational. So no matter what she tells you believe her and let her know that you do.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE AND SUPPORT HER FOR TALKING TO YOU. She has taken a risk: her partner could hurt her, or you could reject her. Let her know you appreciate what she has done.

3. LET HER KNOW THAT YOU CONSIDER HER FEELINGS REASONABLE AND NORMAL. It is common for her to feel frightened, confused, angry, sad, guilty, numb, and hopeless.

4. LET HER LEAD THE CONVERSATION. You can ask questions like 'How can I help you?' but don't expect her to have answers the first time she talks. She needs you to be a good listener. And if she asks you to do anything within reason, do it.

5. IF SHE ASKS YOU TO DO SOMETHING YOU CAN'T OR DON'T WANT TO DO, SAY SO. Talk it over with her, and try to find another way of meeting the particular need she presented, and /or another thing you can do to help. Be careful not to impose your ideas of help on her.

6. TELL HER YOU CARE ABOUT HER AND HER SAFETY. Take her fears seriously. Feel free to express your genuine feelings of concern with statements like 'I think you are in danger.' 'I'm worried about your safety.'

7. DON'T BLAME HER FOR THE ABUSE. Let her know that the abuse is not her fault. But remember that her feelings about her partner probably are confused and mixed. If you express too much anger at her partner, she may feel the need to defend him.

8. OFFER YOUR HELP TO FIND RESOURCES IN THE COMMUNITY FOR PROTECTION, ADVOCACY OR SUPPORT – but only if you are actually prepared to follow through.  Please don't offer something you can't deliver.  If she wants to go to an agency or battered women's program, volunteer to go with her.  If she is in immediate danger, call the police. Always encourage her to get more support and information. Give her newspaper articles, books and pamphlets produced by your local shelter for abused women.

9. RESPECT HER PACE AND BE PATIENT. No one decides to give up a relationship overnight. Understand that for many women, they don’t want the relationship to end – they want the abuse to end.  She may also face threats and escalating assaults. So help her make plans, but let her make the decisions. As you plan, seek the advice of experts about abuse in your local community.

10. REMIND HER OF HER STRENGTHS, ACCOMPLISHMENTS, AND POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES. Avoid treating her like a child or a helpless victim.


12. REMIND YOURSELF THAT MANY COMMUNITIES STILL DON'T PROTECT WOMEN'S RIGHTS. Don't assume that police, courts, and public agencies will protect and help her. And don't be surprised if she feels safer taking no action. Do not mistake her strategy of doing nothing for passivity or indifference. Instead, find out what help actually is available for her in your community and offer to take her side with agencies, family, and friends. Try to find her a legal advocate from a program for abused women.

13. WITH PERMISSION OF THE WOMAN YOU'RE TRYING TO HELP, WORK ON EXPANDING HER CIRCLE OF SUPPORT. Find out if there is a support group for abused women at your local shelter or women's center, and encourage her to join. With her permission, enlist other coworkers or friends to help with childcare or go along to court. (You can support one another in your efforts to help the woman in trouble.) The more supporters she has, the stronger she may become.

Excerpted from 'When Love Goes Wrong', by Ann Jones and Susan Schechter, 1992 Harper Collins, Chapter 13 'For Family, Friends and Helpers'

Bullying: Is It Just Kid Stuff?

This week our guest blogger is Dr. Denise Millstine, a regular contributor to the blog and a friend, Denise is a member of the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos in Scottsdale, AZ. She is a loving mother, an excellent physician and a kind and generous person.  Her contributions are always enlightening and this post is no exception, please read on as she discusses bullying in settings we don’t always consider when the topic arises.

Bullying has become a hot topic in educational settings, and October is National Bullying Prevention month. Many schools have defined rules for bullying and have adopted no-tolerance policies for the behavior. The attention has, no doubt, heightened awareness and, hopefully, enacted change. Still, outside of academic settings, the concept of bullying is rarely considered. Is that because it is not there or that we are not recognizing it?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has focused some of their violence prevention work on bullying. In their report, “Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools,” they define three hallmarks of bullying:
1.    Aggressive behavior – including physical and verbal
2.    Repetitive attacks
3.    Involves an imbalance of power either real or perceived

Rates of bullying in children are estimated in the millions per year. What happens to those who are bullied, who bully, or who do both? As young adults, they are more likely to have psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It may surprise you that the ones who are both bullies and victims of bullying do the worst.

We probably all have an image of the prototypical neighborhood bully when we see the list of bullying characteristics. I picture him wearing rolled up jeans and a leather jacket in a back alley lying in wait as some nerdy kid walks home from school. If I stop though, I can see these hallmarks in other people as well, even adults. Consider complaints of a friend about pressure at work or with a boss. Have you known anyone harmed emotionally by items posted in social media, whether true or considered too private for the public domain? In truth, we have seen these behaviors many times among our contemporaries. For me, I never labeled this bullying until now.

Bullying in adults has been described in many environments, particularly graduate schools and healthcare. Much of the adult bullying literature is among nurses. With the broad use of social media among adults, however, the potential for bullying is fairly ubiquitous.

In practice, I have known two women who I now believe were victims of bullying in the workplace. In both situations, the issue involved a direct supervisor. For one, she needed to change jobs and relocate to avoid the situation. For the other, she opted to stay in her position but perceives her ability for advancement to be significantly impaired. I’m embarrassed that I did not label their situations as bullying. If I had, perhaps there would have been more assistance available for them.

What can be done about bullying? The first step is recognition of what is going on and understanding that the bully is the one with the problem, not the victim. Consider praying for the person even though they have hurt you. Bullies should be addressed in an assertive, but not aggressive manner. Humor has been helpful in some situations, especially if done kindly. Bullying is often derailed by having a witness, or someone on your side who knows what is happening. When bullying continues despite these strategies, professional assistance should be sought.

Bullying is different than other difficult work interactions and communication. Bullying has distinct characteristics that should be recognized, identified, named, and discussed with a professional. In that light, opportunities for correcting the behavior will hopefully be more likely.

Invite, Embrace, Involve – A Community Working Together

This week Chapter President Barbara Kuvshinoff is our guest blogger and although the beginning of the school year has passed, the “school kits” that her Chapter, with the help of the youth and adults of her parish, put together are just now truly serving their purpose. This is a great example of a community coming together for the greater good, everyone lending a helping hand.

How the school kits came about:
We used to have four different projects at Christmastime.  It was too much at the same time. Since we noticed that we had less activity and engagement during the summer months, we transformed one of our projects, the Christmas shoe boxes into "school kits.” We realized that many children needed school supplies but were unable to buy them. We also believed buying and donating school supplies would resonate with the youth of our church.  We have done it for three years now. We aim for at least 50 kits and have exceeded it for the last two years.

Here's how it works:
In July, when the back to school sales start, our Philoptochos Chapter distributes a list of

suggested supplies within our parish. Parents and children are encouraged to buy the supplies when they do their own school shopping. We also post the supply list on our Chapter’s Facebook page and try to spread the word so everyone participates. People who don't want to actually go out and shop for supplies often make a monetary donation. The first week in August we set up a collection bin in the community center at Church and it remains until the first Sunday of Sunday School. On the Sunday when children return to Sunday School our Chapter takes all the supplies and lays them out in groups on long tables, rows upon rows of erasers, pens, crayons, glue etc. On one end of the table there are drawstring nylon bags. After Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, all the youth take turns filling the bags with the items in an assembly line fashion. Complete kits are boxed and taken to a local elementary school near the Church. Any leftover supplies are also boxed up into "teacher supply" bags and taken to the school. The nylon bags are funded through donations to Philoptochos for that purpose - we bought 100 bags for $150. This year a local office supply company donated 70 binders. We have a young parish council member who teaches at a high school near the Church that serves a very impoverished population, so we asked him to take the binders and extra notebook paper, pens and pencils there - so we expanded our program into the high school. We always receive thank you letters from the schools. We post them so that everyone can see them.

How we chose the schools:
Many of our students come from suburban school districts that are very different from the schools in the city of Buffalo. We wanted to choose schools that were close in location to the

Church itself. PS 45 - The International School, with its high population of refugees and new immigrants and where 95% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, was a logical choice. The high school that was chosen also serves a very impoverished population.

We like the project because it unites the adults and the youth of our community in one philanthropic purpose. The children really empathize with the need for school supplies and our Chapter’s knowledge of organizing and publicizing the event ensures its success. Our children feel connected to the neighborhood surrounding the church and they feel like they are making a difference, even if it is a small one, in the life of another person. The project is also effective at involving ALL of our youth from JOY and HOPE through GOYA.

Barbara Kuvshinoff
Chapter President
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
Buffalo, NY