Ex-victim educates religious leaders about domestic abuse

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    By Stephanie Richards

    She took an experience that could have destroyed her life and used it as a reason to educate other victims and community leaders.

    Peggy Adams-Williams suffered in an abusive marriage for twenty-five years and is now teaching clergy throughout Utah County how to deal with domestic violence.

    “The lack of education and awareness turned the source of vindication and support into another abuser,” Adams said.

    Adams encourages people suffering any type of abuse to become educated and find a support group.

    “Terrorism that goes on in the homes can parallel international terrorism,” Adams said. “The victim lives in fear constantly and there is not one decision that she makes where she does not worry about how the perpetrator will react.”

    This terrorism is not only limited to marriages. One out of four dating relationships is physically abusive, and without intervention can be setting up for a marriage based on abuse, Adams said.

    One thing victims need when they decide to leave an abusive relationship is the support and help of their clergy, she said.

    Adams said that when she left her marriage, her ecclesiastical leaders wanted to help her but did not understand how to handle the situation.

    “I thought I could wave a magic wand and change it (the situation),” Adams said. “I expected my bishop to be in tune enough that he would understand what I was going through.”

    Clyde Williams, professor of ancient scripture at BYU and stake president of the Sandy, Utah Mount Jordan stake, said, “each situation is so different. Some may need counseling that is made available through church services if the individuals want it.”

    Part of the challenge that clergy members face is that many individuals come in for help during the late stages of the abusive “cancer,” Williams said.

    Adams found that clergy would often give advice that fed into the control of the abuser because the church leaders could not comprehend the dynamics of domestic violence.

    Adams said she believes clergy sometimes advise women to go home and be more submissive and meek, Adams said.

    Being meek and submissive only feeds into the power and control tactics of the perpetrator, causing the victim to feel more trapped and responsible for the abuse.

    “We ask people to work things out but we don”t want them to destroy themselves physically, emotionally, or spiritually,” Williams said. “I can not imagine a bishop or stake president saying to anyone that they need to go and endure abuse.”

    Adams said victims who have support and ecclesiastical leaders who understand them are able to put their lives back together and heal.

    Adams is trying to fortify the education and awareness of clergy with classes that teach them how to deal with issues of domestic violence.

    “Leadership is being heightened, but it is continually changing within the church,” Adams said.

    Adams first class that she taught was to clergy in the Lehi stake. She has continued presenting smaller training seminars to local church groups on an ongoing basis.

    Adam”s instructions include presentations by front-line service providers, how to identify and understand domestic violence dynamics, and tools of how to overcome and heal from these abuse cycles.

    Adams reinforced that it doesn”t matter whether it is a man or woman who is the victim. The key is for all victims to be educated on the behaviors and dynamics of abuse so that they can take the proper steps to eliminate abuse from their lives.

    “The church is against abuse of any type and councils against it,” Williams said.

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