Thursday, April 26, 2007

Standing up for victims of abuse

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Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette
Carolyn Murphy, left, is president and founder of the Upper Marlboro branch of Women of Excellence. She met with the members of the chapter’s board of directors (from left), Nancy Faucett, Theresa Bell, Georgia Robinson and Delorise Anderson.
Abused Christian women — even pastors’ wives — rarely come forward to seek help, says Upper Marlboro resident Carolyn Bell Murphy. Murphy, Founder of Women of Excellence NWAS, has launched a chapter of the organization she founded in Upper Marlboro to support women and educate girls about the warning signs of abuse.

‘‘Our organization enhances the total woman,” said Murphy, who recently received Bowie State University’s first Visionary Award during the Women’s Appreciation Ball. ‘‘Our focus is on abused women but we’ll help any woman who needs assistance by directing her to community services, offering referrals and helping her make good choices.”

Murphy formed the organization in 1998 in Ohio. Today chapters are located in Alabama, Virginia, the District and Glen Burnie. Since relocating to Prince George’s County three years ago, Murphy has begun the groundwork to build a viable chapter in this area.

‘‘The need is widespread here,” Murphy said. ‘‘No matter where you go, you run into women with the same problems. It’s a big secret that stays inside the home. Eventually the kids become big liars, too. Women just don’t want to talk about it.”

According to Murphy, 90 percent of Christian women never get help when they’re abused. Wealthy women and the wives of police officers also are unlikely to report abuse, she said.

‘‘Wealthy women have the resources to hide the abuse,” Murphy said. ‘‘Women in the church, on the other hand, learn to suffer in silence.”

In past years, she said, women who spoke out to their mothers or older women in the church were told to stay with their husbands. Many deacons also were unwilling to address the issue.

‘‘Pastors typically don’t support programs that address abuse because many are abusers themselves,” she said.

Murphy said marital abuse can range from verbal putdowns and criticisms to pushing, shoving, arm twisting, beatings and other forms of physical abuse.

‘‘Women are made to feel that what they have to say doesn’t amount to anything,” Murphy said.

Even if a woman is successful in the workplace, she said, constant nitpicking and criticism can chip away at her self-confidence.

Many women stay in abusive relationships because they don’t feel they can do any better, Murphy said.

‘‘They take the blame and say it’s their fault,” she said. ‘‘Wealthier women might love the status, so they don’t come forward because they don’t want to lose the power and prestige.”

Abusive husbands tend to be extremely controlling and insecure, Murphy said. The wives enable the abuse by lying for their spouses.

‘‘Women show up with bruises and lie for them.”

Some women, such as pastors’ wives, are ashamed or embarrassed because of their husbands’ positions in the church. A woman also might mistakenly believe she can change the situation if she prays hard enough.

‘‘She might think others will say, ‘She’s a Christian lady who’s always doing things. Why can’t she change her own husband?’”

The members of Women of Excellence provide a host of services, including scholarships, legal referrals and advice, skills training, temporary housing in conjunction with local shelters and more. However, members prefer to help women who are ready to leave abusive relationships.

‘‘We helped one woman get a college degree and clothing for interviews,” Murphy said. ‘‘We escorted her to court to begin divorce proceedings, but she didn’t follow through. Her husband apologized and she went back to him. Within two months the abuse began again.”

According to its Web site, the organization’s goal isn’t to break up homes and marriages. Instead, the members want women to examine their lives and make healthier choices.

Said Murphy, ‘‘We ask women, ‘Is this the relationship you want to be in?’ ‘Do you feel good about yourself?’ ‘Why are you in the relationship?’ We want women to think for themselves.”

In addition to supporting abused women, chapter members also seek to mentor middle school girls. The group hopes to launch chapters in schools and on college campuses to teach girls and young women the warning signs of abuse.

‘‘Speaking about it one or two times won’t work,” Murphy said. ‘‘Girls need to hear this information on a regular basis so they’ll learn that they are women of excellence and they’ll not tolerate abuse.”

Carolyn Bell Murphy

How she makes a difference: Murphy is the founder of Women of Excellence NWAS, an organization that uses workshops, retreats, mentoring and other services to strengthen women and girls and educate them about abuse. Call 301-559-6032 or