DCCW shines light on domestic violence, human trafficking

By Mary P. Walker
Senior Correspondent

The Austin Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW) held their 68th annual convention on April 24-25 at the Hilton Conference Center in College Station. The convention’s theme, “Beacons of Light,” reflected the priorities of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who asked the national council to focus on domestic violence, human trafficking and immigration. 
The convention was hosted by the councils of the Bryan/College Station Deanery and led by president, Dianne Friend. It brought together 200 lay women, Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia, 27 priests and several deacons.  
Growing up in an abusive home, keynote speaker Kathy Bonner prayed for the death of her stepfather because she thought that was the only way things would get better. Today, Bonner addresses audiences nationwide, bringing awareness and practical information to those who can help abuse victims. 
Using the example of a periscope, Bonner demonstrated how abuse occurs in our parishes and communities, outside our range of vision. The violence can be physical, sexual, verbal, psychological and economic in nature. The majority of victims are women and children. Abuse undermines a victim’s sense of dignity and self-worth. Because victims are often ashamed and fearful, they keep silent. 
Using an interactive demonstration based on real-life situations, Bonner showed how patterns of abuse develop in a relationship, and how the victim is systematically isolated from family and others who can help. 
Bonner explained that some ask why a victim cannot just leave the relationship. Love for the abuser, economic issues, shame, concern for children, isolation and the belief that they are getting what they deserve stand in the way of change. For example, when women leave abusers, their economic well-being can be at grave risk. Domestic violence is the third leading cause of family homelessness. 
With the prevalence of domestic violence in our culture, Bonner asked, “How can we say it doesn’t happen in Catholic families?” Yet, few priests address the subject from the pulpit.
Bonner called on the attendees to be beacons of light, illuminating the issue and offering practical help. She asked priests to preach about domestic violence, and others to educate themselves and intervene in practical ways when they become aware of abuse. 
One myth that Bonner and the USCCB seek to dispel is that a victim must put up with abuse because she is married. Marriage does not confer the right to abuse another. The first priority when a priest, person in ministry, family member or friend becomes aware of domestic violence is the safety of the victim, not the preservation of the relationship. The abuser must be held accountable. 
Human trafficking is another issue that the USCCB is asking Catholic women to address. Chief Prosecutor Hilary LaBorde of the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office Crimes Against Children Division clarified how human trafficking occurs in local communities. While we may think it is international in scope or involves kidnapping, she explained that in Texas it is illegal to transport, entice, recruit, harbor, provide or otherwise obtain another person by any means for forced labor or services, including prostitution.   
“It never would have occurred to me that it was happening in Waco. Any kid who is unloved could be trafficked,” LaBorde said. Victims include runaways, the poor, those from dysfunctional homes, the drug-dependent, intellectually challenged and mentally ill.
Those who have left bad family situations are particularly vulnerable to being enticed by promises of food, shelter and drugs. They may have a warped sense of “normal,” a low sense of self-worth, and seek relief through the escapism of drugs. They may not see themselves as victims — they are just making what they consider to be their best choices to survive. 
LaBorde encouraged attendees to find out how their own communities are addressing human trafficking, and cited examples of how the Waco area is raising awareness, prosecuting offenders and offering help to victims.
Other presenters on more upbeat topics included Dina Dwyer-Owens, a member of St. Louis Parish in Waco, and a franchise executive. Her business is based on values guided leadership. Just as franchises depend on systems to ensure success, she encouraged attendees to create “systems” in their lives to ensure that we live the values we cherish. 
Diocesan vocations director Father Jonathan Raia discussed the positive vocations outlook in the diocese, thanked the DCCW for their support, and asked for prayers. In addition, two seminarians shared their vocation stories.
During the convention banquet, the DCCW presented Bishop Vásquez with a check for $117,165.91 from the Clerical Endowment Fund. This fund was established in 1948, and is a major project of the DCCW. Parish enrollment drives, Mass and prayer card stipends, donations and estate bequests have made this fund a vital source revenue for seminary education and low-cost loans to parishes. 
In addition, the DCCW presented the bishop with a ceremonial “check” for more than 313,000 volunteer hours, symbolizing the time DCCW members have given to their parishes and communities. If this service had been purchased, it would have an estimated value of more than $4.7 million.
For more information on the ADCCW, visit www.austindiocesancouncilofcatholicwomen.org.

NCCW resources on domestic violence
“Women Healing the Wounds” are the titles of a free resource book and brochure available from the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW). These resources educate and empower readers to identify, prevent and help in abusive situations. In addition, they offer victims practical information about changing their situation. The brochure can be customized to include community and parish resources. The brochures can be posted, and left in restrooms and other places accessible to the victims. Download these resources at www.nccw.org (choose Commissions and Resources options).