I wrote a month ago about the various ways we can respect life. Little did I know that I would soon write with a heavy heart after one of our Catholic Charities employees was murdered by her husband.

We celebrated Respect for Life month in October, and though we’re now beginning November, I want to make one more effort – a plea, really – for all of us to respect life by focusing on the problem of domestic violence.

October was also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it may have been a topic of discussion at your parish. We may not think domestic violence happens in our communities, our parishes, even our own families, but it is all around us, an evil lurking behind closed doors in the privacy of our own homes.

National studies show clearly that domestic violence is a huge problem in our society. Here are just a few shocking statistics:

  • A woman is abused and beaten every 15 seconds in this country, according to the FBI.
  • One out of three women is battered in her lifetime in this country. 
  • One in five men experience some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, according to the Department of Justice.
  • In the pews of our own churches, it is believed that at least one out of every four women has experienced domestic violence in some form in their lifetime.
  • This one always shocks me. During the Vietnam War, which I and many of you lived through, 57,000 military members died. In the very same period of time, 53,000 women were murdered in this country by their spouse or domestic partner. Let that sink in. Nearly as many women were murdered by their partners as soldiers were killed in the war.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline receives over 24,000 calls a month.
  • 43% of dating college women report experiencing abusive behaviors from their partner. 
  • One in five women is sexually assaulted during their college tenure. 
  • 57% of teens know someone who has been physically, sexually, or verbally abused in a dating relationship.
  • A 2014 study found that 10% of teenage students in dating relationships were coerced into sexual intercourse in the previous year. 

So, we have a problem. A big problem. One that is too often dismissed or swept under the rug because it is done by people we love who live with us.

Those staggering numbers became all too human to me and our Catholic Charities family a couple of weeks ago as one of our prized employees, Dilcia “Dede” Rodriguez, was violently shot and killed by her husband inside their apartment in Washington Highlands. He was found the next day in Prince Georges County, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Our entire staff is deeply saddened by her loss and this senseless violence. I’m sure our clients at 801 East (our Men’s Emergency Shelter in Southeast D.C.) are as well. Dede was only 32 years old and leaves behind four children.

There was a beautiful article about her in The Washington Post three days after her death that highlighted Dede’s time at Catholic Charities and the difference she made in the lives of those she met with just a simple hello, a kind gesture, or a hug. Whether working as a receptionist at our main office or helping the homeless find a bed and a warm meal at 801 East, she always thought of others first. She respected life.

I loved the thoughts from one of Dede’s co-workers, Christabel Estrada. As the article stated:

Estrada said Rodriguez “treated everybody with respect” and kept up her inspirational ways even as her life got harder. “Clearly, she was going through a lot of personal issues,” Estrada said. “Yet you would never know it. She would walk around making you feel good without sharing the hardship she was enduring.”

This tragedy hit home. It made it clearer to me that people in our own families, among our friends and colleagues, just down the street, or sitting next to us in the pews may be experiencing domestic violence and a lack of family peace. We at Catholic Charities are trying our best to educate priests, parish staffs, and our own staff about this devastating problem in our society. We have a Priests’ Advisory Council that has arranged for every deanery in the diocese to have a presentation by Laura Yeomans from our staff about the importance of this issue and how to guide those in trouble who come their way.

If you know of anyone or have personally experienced violence or abuse in a relationship, please share the National Hotline for Victims of Domestic Violence: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). For more information about resources that Catholic Charities can provide go to: https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/familypeace/gethelp/

Please pray for all those who are dealing with any form of violence in their relationships, be it mental, emotional, physical, or financial. My prayers will continue as well. We are all created in God’s image. Together, let us bring the light and love of Christ into the darkness, trusting in God’s promise that the darkness will not overcome it.