Claire Rolheiser and Kaeli Feehan

Claire Rolheiser and Kaeli Feehan

April 18, 2011

Edmonton — Abusers in close relationships seek to be the only source of information, support and contact with society for the people they abuse, says a parish liaison worker with Catholic Social Services.

Abuse and isolation are tactics abusers use to gain power and control, Claire Rolheiser told the archdiocesan Catholic Women's League convention April 8.

Because of that, anger management classes won't normally help end abuse, Rolheiser said. "The real issue is not the anger, it's the way they use power and control in their relationships."

Abusers are not out of control; in fact, it is control that they seek, she said.

Rolheiser and Kaeli Feehan, two members of the CSS parish liaison team, gave an hour-long presentation to the CWL and encouraged league members to promote education and awareness about family violence in their parishes.

In 2006, about 38,000 incidents of family violence were reported to police across Canada, they said. Victims can be abused violently up to 35 times before they contact police.

People who are abused in intimate relationships are groomed for the abuse by the perpetrator, Rolheiser said. "It will start very slowly and gradually and it will slowly wear the person down."

The perpetrator slowly builds a web of insults, name calling and control over those with whom the victim associates.

"The more isolated they are, the more control the perpetrator will have," Rolheiser said. "Often when they get into a position where they're being physically abused, they have no idea how they got there."

She outlined 15 reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, such as low self-esteem, isolation in a rural area, belief that any marriage must last forever and a lack of knowledge about where to find support.

"We need people to understand that there is hope and that they are not alone," Rolheiser said.

Feehan spoke of the cycle of violence that starts with a build-up of tension, followed by acts of violence and then a "honeymoon phase" where life seems to return to normal.

"But it's a pretend normal," she said. The perpetrator may offer apologies, bring flowers and even promise to turn to God.

But the cycle continues. Over time, the "honeymoon phase" becomes shorter or disappears completely. The abuse, Feehan said, tends to increase in frequency and/or severity.

Parishes, she said, can help in various ways. Including prayers for an end to family violence in the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass can have "an incredible impact" on those experiencing violence.

Providing posters or other information about community resources is also helpful, Feehan said.

Feehan and Rolheiser also provide workshops to parishes.