Home is somewhere you should feel safest, both within the space and with the people who reside there. Unfortunately, we know that for many who are experiencing relationship violence, either by a spouse or another intimate partner, this is not the case. Thankfully, there is a person intentionally embedded within the Coast Guard community to help those experiencing violence at home—the chaplain.
“The ministry of the chaplain is a ministry of presence,” said Lt. Cdr. John Sears, Coast Guard chaplain at Sector New York. “My role is to put a human face on the organization and to care for those people inside it.”
The chaplain is a sounding board, a constant presence at the unit that allows individuals to get information, resources, and to stay connected. This human connection can prove both life-changing and lifesaving to those suffering, as isolation from friends, family, and community is a major tool of abusers.
“Chaplains, like myself, are also trained in PREP – the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program,” said Sears. Educating the community is another avenue chaplains like Sears build rapport and trust within their communities.
Outside of facilitating formal conversations like PREP, chaplains also provide individual counseling to victims and survivors of violence. Chaplains’ total confidentiality breaks down another barrier for those seeking help.
Fear of reprisal can be a barrier for victims and survivors who are on the fence about disclosing their abuse. But, as Sears reiterated himself, the chaplains’ vow of confidentiality is unbreakable. Victims and survivors do not have to fear that what they disclose will “get out” or get back to their abusive partner.
A chaplain’s commitment to confidentiality doesn’t mean they can’t direct a member or their spouse to resources they need. “One of the biggest strengths of the chaplain is not the counseling they provide, but who they know in the community,” said Sears.
Chaplains like Sears are excellent connectors, referring victims and survivors to Coast Guard Family Advocacy Specialists (FAS), local therapists who specializes in trauma, or emergency shelters. These resources and others outlined in the Domestic Violence Awareness Month ALCOAST 379/20 are available to those in abusive situations, or concerned about loved ones.
What differentiates chaplains from these other resources is the spiritual guidance they provide. Abusers can and do use religion to maintain power and control over their partners—making them feel as though they can’t leave, or that if they do leave, they’ll be excommunicated from their religious community.
“People should not be afraid to talk about divorce with me simply because I’m a chaplain,” said Sears. “There’s nothing either secularly or theologically that says just because you’re married you have to put up with everything,” continued Sears. “If you can’t be safe, you don’t have to stay in a marriage. Marriage is about cherishing and valuing your partner, not tearing them down.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, or post-traumatic stress disorder. One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner that in some cases may not be considered “domestic violence,” such as shoving or pushing.
Mental abuse, emotional abuse, and financial abuse happen at even higher rates, but are unfortunately harder to track and report. This means it is more likely than not someone you know—a supervisor, a shipmate, a family member, a friend—has at one time was a victim or is currently a victim of abuse.
Many victims and survivors of violence go on to live happy and healthy lives once connected to the proper resources. Chaplain Sears and the chaplain corps serve as a touchstone for those who don’t know where to start.
- If you are in a life-threatening situation, please call 911.
- Find Your Local Chaplain – List of USCG Chaplains
- Oct 2020 Domestic Violence Awareness Month ALCOAST 379/20
- Office of Work Life Programs – Family Advocacy Program
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat .