Tag Archives: Stacy Peterson

Is Your Faith Community Safe?

14 Sep

Did you know that churches and other places of worship are NOT usually looked at as allies by domestic violence shelters?  Did you know that the rate of domestic violence is the same in the church as it is outside of the church?  Did you know that more than 1/4th of all women will be victims of domestic violence in her lifetime?

If this sounds extreme to you, I don’t blame you.  It would have sounded preposterous to me before 2007, as well.  In 2007, I counseled Stacy Peterson (a church-goer) for the last time, and about 2 months later, she disappeared, and she’s never been found.  Her husband, Drew Peterson (also, a church-goer) is the only suspect in her disappearance, and was convicted in 2012 for killing his previous wife, Kathleen Savio.

I know today that churches are not typically great allies for victims of abuse, and I have to keep talking about it until that changes.  That’s why I’m so excited to share this with you…

On October 1st, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in memory of Stacy Peterson, and Kathleen Savio, I will be part of launching an initiative to start changing the church culture.  The initiative is called “The Safe Faith Community Project,” and through it, we will be helping churches become allies of victims and of shelters around the country.

If you are a pastor or church leader, and would like to find out more about this, send me a message.  Let victims know that you will stand with them.

Until then, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Peace,

Neil

 

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The Gospel, Church and Domestic Violence

21 Jul

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is GOOD NEWS.  What does that mean?  What is the news?  It’s the news that we have been set free.  Free from sin and death.  Free from the tyranny of self.  Free to be the people who God created us to be.  Free to serve, and free to use our power to uplift the marginalized.  Jesus didn’t come to give you everything you want…that’s a patently false gospel.  But Jesus did come to restore the image of God in you, and he came to partner with you in offering that same life-giving gift to others.

 

I’ve wondered for years how this applies to the 1 in 3 women who sit in church each Sunday and are victims of domestic violence.  How does this Gospel impact their lives?  For most it doesn’t.  Why?

 

Because church leaders have hindered their access to Jesus.

 

You might say…but when did I block someone’s way to Jesus?  I’d NEVER do such a thing.

 

But, you did just that when you told the woman who came to you with tears and trembling that her husband beat and raped her at gun-point each day for 10 years that she must have done something to cause him to have to treat her that way.

 

You did just that when the woman came to you and she said she was afraid for her life, and you said you were sorry, but the Bible made it “clear” that divorce was only possible in case of sexual infidelity.

 

And you did just that when you told the woman suffering from PTSD that she needed to embrace the “cross that she was meant to bear” and that God would reward her for it in Heaven one day.

 

The Gospel IS good news for victims of domestic violence, while very sadly, the church has not been.  We must change our response, or be held accountable to God for our careless theology and our lazy and heartless, religiously-devoid-of-goodness sort of responses to the ones that Jesus came to set free.

 

So what can we do?  Here at Naperville Christian Church, we pledge to stand with victims of domestic violence.  What that means is that we will LISTEN to victims when they come to us, and we won’t ever try to convince victims to reconcile with their abusers.  Victims aren’t the problem; abusers are.  We also work to find temporary safe places for victims to stay that are unknown to their abusers.  Shelters can’t do it all, so we’re here to help complement their good work.  Finally, we help victims get a “head-start” in the legal system, by encouraging each of them to complete the Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse, which is a ground-breaking tool designed in response to the disappearance of Stacy Peterson.

 

Even though we’re doing significant work to help victims, the resources needed are diverse, and sadly quite scattered.  I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with some great people whom are doing incredible work around our local community and around the world.  Here are some of them:

 

1.  Rise From The Ashes ~ They help women sever the legal ties that bind them to their abusers.  They also assist with the emotional trauma of DV with counseling.

2.  Restore ~ An international Christian alliance which seeks to end violence against women.

3.  SafeNight APP ~ An App that helps domestic violence and human-trafficking organizations crowd-fund hotel rooms when there’s an urgent need and no available room in DV shelters.

4.  A Cry for Justice ~ Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst.

5.  Focus Ministries ~ Domestic Violence and Domestic Abuse Help for Women and Families

 

All of these organizations are good news for victims of domestic violence.  Will you and your church become that, too?  Please contact me at neil.schori@napervillechristian.org if you’d like to book me to speak at your church or to your organization, so that more will experience the GOOD of the Gospel.

 

**I added numbers 4 & 5 tonight, as I inadvertently failed to mention them and the good work they do.  Forgive my oversight.

 

Peace,

Neil Schori

 

 

An Open Letter to #DrewPeterson

23 Feb

Drew~

Before I met you and Stacy, I worked at a fitness center, where I met a man who was a prison guard in Dwight. That isn’t very far from where you are right now. He told me that he felt like he should ask me to speak to the women on his cell block. He warned me that they were a tough crowd and that they were very difficult to ‘reach.’

He told me that almost all of the women were convicted murderers and that all were all convicted of violent crimes. At the time, I was only 24 or 25, and while I was intimidated, I knew that I needed to go.

I shared my story with them about how I came to know Jesus, as a senior in college. I watched the hardened looks on their faces wash away as I told them about freedom in Christ. The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:1 that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free…”

I told them that it must sound like a cruel joke to some of them to even be told about freedom, since most of them would never be physically free again. I reminded them that so many ‘free’ people aren’t really that ‘free’ anyway. Most people seem like they’re the walking dead; longing for freedom, but searching in all of the places that only delivery lives of slavery to addiction and self.

I told them that they still had purpose as long as they had breath in their lungs. And I told them that they could still be free.

Drew, you can be, too. No, it is unlikely that you will ever be released from prison. And I don’t believe that you should. What you have done is reprehensible, and you’ve taken no responsibility for your actions. But, you can do it. And I pray that you will. Stand up for the first time and admit what you’ve done, and then ask God for the forgiveness that only he can offer.

The moment you do that, you’ll be more free than you’ve been in your entire life.

Peace,

Neil Schori

Telling the Story—Breaking the Silence of Domestic Violence

12 Sep

First I would like to thank you for taking the time to listen to my story and how David’s Actions affected my life.

David and I were together for 2 years. In that short amount of time he drastically changed not only my life but who I am. I have many emotions when I think back over our relationship. David ruined his life but I have paid the consequences for his actions. His abusive behavior towards me not only caused me great physical pain but I have suffered and continue to suffer physically, emotionally and financially.

I was physically broken, literally! David broke my hand causing me to be unable to continue in the certified nursing assistant (CNA) program, delaying my plans for nursing school. It is still my dream and goal and I am determined to achieve in spite of the many obstacles. David broke my jaw on three separate occasions ( July 2010, April 2011, June 2011) causing me to spend over half a year with my jaw wired shut. Over that half a year period I lost weight dramatically dropping to just 93 pounds and suffered from severe dizziness. It continues to affect what I can eat and ultimately the nutrition that my body receives, as I have several loose teeth that need to be repaired. In addition to the nutritional affects, the physical effects are chronic pain and swelling in my jaw. The swelling has changed my facial appearance so much that I have friends who don’t recognize me. After being in the head more times than I can count, I suffer from brain trauma, especially after the last beating in June of 2011. I am just now coming out of a fog, just now able to focus long enough to begin living a somewhat normal life involving a job, independent living, and going back to school. It has been over a year that has passed and I am just starting to really physically heal.

I was emotionally broken. David isolated me from my family and friends and in the end I had no one to turn to. I struggle to rebuild those relationships now, unable to believe anyone could really love me. I feel unworthy of their love and support. This is all due to David constantly telling me lies to isolate me from everyone but him. I have trust issues that I may never overcome. I live in constant fear. At one point in our relationship, I was trying to find a way out, a way out for me and my children. He reacted by threatening to kill our puppy. When I did not come home, I was called and told he had been hit by a car. No accident report was filed, neighbors did not see or report a dog being hit, nor was Bella taken to a veterinarian. She was buried so fast we never were allowed to see her or say goodbye. Believing what he did to our puppy, I could only imagine who or what would be David’s next victim. Out of fear, I agreed to allow my children to move out of state with their father in an effort to distance them from David. I miss them terribly but I could never forgive myself if they were hurt directly by David or indirectly by watching David hurt me. Similarly, I protect and continue to protect my loved ones by keeping distance from them. I do not let anyone too close for fear that David may hurt them to hurt me. I always have a backup plan for escape, constantly playing scenarios in my mind. Similar to many women in physically and emotionally abusive relationships, at first I hid from the memories, through coping mechanisms ranging from using work to keep me busy to excessive drinking to numb my mind. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, I am now 9 months sober, choosing to face my future head on. I am haunted by memories, the nights are the worst. I need medication to help me fall asleep and just recently have been able to sleep though the night. Lack of sleep has made clarity and normalcy nearly impossible. I will continue to require counseling for years. I feel I have been trapped by David. I feel uneasy when someone stands between me and an exit. I feel overwhelmed; every move I make, where I live, where I work, my first thought is can David get to me or my loved ones.

I was financially broken. I worked 2 full time jobs but David would spend money faster than I could make it. He did not work the entire course of our relationship. I worked hard to buy items for the home- TV, computer, ipods- but he would sell, trade or hock them to support his drug addiction. I tried to keep money safe but David would find a way or beat me till I gave him what he wanted. My paychecks were not enough most of the time and any savings I had, David drained. My credit has been ruined as a direct result of David’s actions. We had bills I could not pay and evictions due through David’s damages to our home. I still have a bill from First Site Reality for $4000 worth of damages from his destructive behavior. This has made securing a place of my own, a sound car, and continuing my education a real challenge.

Finally, I am emotionally & financially ready to live independently; getting to this point has taken me a long time. I have a fulfilling job that gives me routine and confidence in myself. I am growing stronger each day by accepting help from others and letting go of the shame and embarrassment of being in an abusive relationship. I have leaned heavily on my faith, trusting in God to direct me in every move I make. I was afraid to be out in the world, but with my faith in God and through my hopes that I will be safe because David will be in prison, I am able to start living my life.

David has taken little responsibility for his actins against me in the past and I feel it’s unlikely he will unless the court holds him accountable for his actions by serving time in prison versus a lenient sentence of probation. He received conditional discharge and probation for other acts of violence against me, but he never followed through on treatment or counseling. Therefore, it is my hope that each day he spends in prison will give me and my family time to heal, time to get back on track with my educational goals, and finally some peace.

Breaking the Silence of Domestic Violence—High School

11 Sep

Another story of survival I received today, from a brave woman, named Dee Anne (she gave me permission to post her name). May this bring freedom to another woman. There is hope and there is help:

It all started one fun filled evening while at the mall with 2 of my best girlfriends in September of 1993 . We were actually headed home and there in the parking he stood with 2 of his friends. They flagged us down and I was immediately infatuated with this boy, any 16 year old girl would have been. He was so cute. We got to talking exchanged numbers and thats when my 3 1/2 years of abuse started.

It’s funny because my instincts told me to get out at the first signs of trouble however I was young , dumb and naive. We had gone to a high school football game and afterwards we all went to the local Pizza Hut to hang out as was the norm after the games. I had seen a classmate of mine that had been absent for a few days and I gave him hug. At this point was when I noticed my boyfriend not really talking anymore and he appeared to not be having a good time at all. I chalked it up to the fact that we went to different high schools and he didn’t know any of my friends. Later I would find out that I was sadly mistaken by his silence. We returned to the apartment I lived in with my dad and we were hanging out in my room and his demeanor still hadn’t changed so I kept asking him what was wrong. The next thing I knew, he grabbed me by my arm, jerked me down on my bed and told me he had better not ever see me hug another guy again. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe what was happening and I jumped up and explained to him that we were just friends and that I didn’t understand what the big deal was. He immediately apologized (of course) and said he felt terrible for grabbing me like that and it would never happen again (classic abuser). I being 16 of course believed this and was almost flattered that he was jealous, because naturally that must have meant that he really liked me right?

A few weeks passed and nothing else had happened there was nothing physical being done to me and there was no verbal or mental abuse………YET!!

Fast forward two months to November of 1993, I had gotten my drivers license on my 17th Birthday and not long after that I was in car accident that was my fault while driving 2 friends of mine home after exams, one being a male. Thank God we were all okay, that is until he came to my house to meet me. I of course thought it was because he was concerned and wanted to see for himself that I was ok, boy was I wrong. This was the first time that he literally beat me up. He threw me against walls he picked me up and dropped me on a table, he punched me, kicked me, slapped me and verbally attacked me as well. If anyone should have reacted this way about me being in a car wreck it would have been my dad whos car I wrecked (my dad would have never done that anyway). My boyfriend was so angry that I had another guy in the car and that was my punishment. I cried, I screamed and found that when I tried to fight back, it only made him angrier. Why didn’t I leave then you ask? As soon as his attack was over, he literally started crying and apologizing telling me that he didn’t know what had come over him. He begged me not to leave him because I was the best thing that had ever happened to him and he loved me so much. Again, 17, young, dumb and naive, I believed him.

Fast forward to January of 1994. I found out I was pregnant but hadn’t told him yet, I of course waited until after I suffered through another one of his beatings for God only knows what at this point. I thought this is the perfect time to tell him, he will apologize again, he will mean it this time because we are going to have a baby. He did cry again, he did apologize again and he rubbed my stomach and proceeded to promise me that this time he meant it, it would never happen again, he could never hit me now that I was carrying his child. WRONG!!!

Once he found out I was pregnant that abuse got worse but how could I leave him now? My dad was being transferred to Tennessee for his job, and I wasn’t going to go live with my mom because she had made it clear the minute she saw him, hadn’t even stepped out of the car yet, that she didn’t like him and he was no good for me!

I feel that I am extremely lucky thay my daughter who will be 18 tomorrow is even with me today. I am lucky that I was not killed and neither was she while I was pregnant with her. He busted my lip open when I was pregnant one time because I confronted him about his other girlfriend, whose picture he had taped to the back of his drivers license. He broke a glass and slammed my arm down on the table into the broken shards of glass. He told me I was fat, no good, worhtless. He told me that no one would want me now that I was going to be a teenage mom so it would be pointless to leave him. I believed him, when a person day in and day out tells you these things over and over again, you start to believe them, especially when you are young and impressionable.

There are many stories of abuse that I could share that went on through my whole pregnancy but I can’t tell them all, there wouldn’t be enough time.

My daughter was born in September of 1994 and things were good for a month or two and then they got really bad. I got a job and he didn’t like the fact that I was working and actually had to talk to people, customers and co-workers alike. Again, not exactly sure what happened, what triggered him but a few days after Christmas I suffered another beating. this time rather than just leaving marks on my arms and legs etc., he left bruises on my face. Guess who still didn’t leave? Thats right, this girl. There was another incident where we were fighting and he was hitting me and I either called my mom or she called me and she called the police from where she lived, two and a half hours away and sent them over to my house and I refused to press charges because I was so terrified. The police knew how terrified I was but with out my cooperation there was nothing that they could do.

Abuse continues and continues and in July of 1995 we have another daughter. I know, what was I thinking right? I was thinking that I was scared, lost, lonely and feared that he would take my children and run as he had threatened so many times before. I lied to everyone who asked. I told no one the truth, only my mom really knew and she was powerless to help me if I didn’t want the help.

We eventually moved to Tennessee with my dad, me, him and the two girls and my mother kept talking to me and talking to me because she had gained awareness about Domestic Violence through an agency called Women Helping Women in Cincinnati, OH. I finally listened and we came up with a safety plan to get me out of my dads house without my boyfriend knowing and let my dad deal with him after I was gone.

I have to be honest with you, that day was one of the hardest days of my life because I was broken, I was beaten down and truly believed that I was worthless and that no one else would want to be with me being 19 with two small children. We stayed separated for a few weeks and we actually did reunite for a few months but then I decided that enough was enough and I just couldn’t do it anymore, I could not be with him and at that point he wasn’t even physically abusing me.

What I have shared with you is just a small, small, almost miniscule look into the abuse I suffered. I could go one for days if I listed every punch, slap and kick.

To wrap this up, I wish I had been educated in high school about these types of relationships.
I wish I would have just ended things the minute I knew something wasn’t right just weeks into seeing him.
I wish I would have listened to my mom the minute she told me she knew he was no good for me.
I wish I had told my dad what was really going on and hadn’t been so afraid.
I wish that I had felt better about myself so Ididn’t feel that he was the best that I could do.

The only good thing that came out of my relationship with him were my two daughters that we share and the fact that he walked away from them and they weren’t physically abused by him is a true blessing even though him not being in there lives has brought about its own struggles. They did witness some abuse but not much thank God.

I just want people to know that there is help out there.
They aren’t sorry when they apologize and they will hit you again.
Tell someone you trust that can help you with a safety plan.

Thanks for listening.

Breaking the Silence of Domestic Violence—Into the Light

11 Sep

Last Thursday, Drew Peterson was convicted for the murder of Kathleen Savio. Women around the nation have reached out to me to tell THEIR stories of the violence they’ve suffered at the hands of their intimate partners. It is my goal to help set them free and countless others free by posting their stories here on my blog all week. Here is the first:

After rushing into marriage things were ok, not great but we decided to make things work. There were times when we had fun, usually around friends. And especially in the beginning, we made a consorted effort to have a good relationship.

Issues arose very early. We would have a great day, and in the middle somewhere, we would have a conversation and when my opinion differed I would hear things like, “Now, I think less of you.” The remarks were sharp and at first, far between. Most of our issues were about his actions. He had blatant disregard for rules at his place of employment, and in our home- spending most of his time out with friends or playing video games. Refusing to watch the children. He refused to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, and never gave gifts. On our wedding day, he never once commented nor complimented, in fact- he put me down. He hated for me to wear makeup, cut my hair or have a hobby. I decided I could handle the disrespect and simply turned inward more and more- until things digressed.

The abuse turned from verbal and mental to physical- short hard pushes against my shoulders, knocking me down. Threats. Typical threats of suicide, divorce, violence. I said I would leave if it got much worse. But my threats were half empty so his got worse- fueling the dysfunction. He made sure to only push me, hold me down or back me in a corner yelling, “I won’t hit you but if I do, it’ll be in the f***ing face so you’ll remember it.”

Most of our arguments centered around money or sex. I didn’t want to be with someone who has hurt me, that spiraled out of control, culminating in several violent outbursts and attempts to force a physical relationship. I lost self confidence, grew really thin and sick and lashed out- reacting very ungracefully. I was borderline anorexic and looking for love outside of my marriage. I had swelling and bruising from being pushed and pulled- which I hid from my friends. Finally, after a few years and a particularly violent episode I left. After being thrown around, kneeled on, held down and groped-I fought my way out of my own home- he took my keys, my phone, my shoes, my coat and I ran.

The church we attended at the time took him in. I received no phone calls, no visits. No one asked if I was ok, or why I had an order of protection. I received notes on christian notecards- written elegantly, misquoting scripture, saying I should “lay down my life for my children and go back to my husband.” I was told, “You’re wrong and you’re going to hell for it.” Thankfully, although I am very full of past mistakes and sin myself, I have studied scripture and was able to see through the lies. I had friends who left me and some who stood behind me and reassured me. They said even though they hadn’t seen the confident part of me in a while- it was in there and they loved me.

Years later, I have custody and he has visitation. Hes undergone counseling and admitted to some of the abuse. Daily I deal with the ramifications of the abuse although I refuse to live as a victim, but as a survivor. I fight and sometimes lose to the voice in my own mind that tells me I’m not going to be loved or that I’m hard to love. The voice that rings through saying his words “You’re not going to make it, you’re unintelligent, no one will employ you, no one will take you in and no one can love you.” After a few years of nightly crawling under my covers and begging God for peace- I have more peace than anxiety- much more. And I fight off those words less and less.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, know this:
God does not require you to stay. You are strong and I’ll help you, Neil will help you. Call Neil and get a copy of Time’s Up, by Susan Murphy-Milano. I have peace and you can and will have it too.

#Drewpeterson post-verdict work to do—Crisis Management

10 Sep

Last Thursday around 2:30 PM, I received a call from the Will County State’s Attorney, Jim Glasgow. He told me that he had done all that he could do and that now, there was a hold-out juror. There was one juror that was not ready to say that he believed Drew Peterson had killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Mr. Glasgow told me that he needed something beyond himself to do the work to get justice in this case. So we prayed over the phone and then Mr. Glasgow told me to pray like I’d never prayed before. I did just that. And about 5 minutes later, I read the #drewpeterson twitter feed and saw that the jury had reached a verdict. At that moment, I knew that they had come to a conclusion of guilt. They did, and I believe that justice was served after 8 long years for the Savio family.

There is now so much work to do. There are 1.3 million women each year whom are abused by their intimate partners. What a daunting number! There is no way that just a few can do the work that is necessary to make a difference in the lives of these precious women. This will take so many people joining together to change the culture of violence against women.

There are several crucial steps that must be taken. The first is really a matter of the heart. When women get the courage to share their stories of long-suffering, they need to be received well. They need to be taken seriously and not belittled. They need to be heard and they need to responded to in a “present” and caring way.

After women get the courage to tell us their stories, we need to offer them real assistance. This is where churches can step in and do great work in fighting for the oppressed (a key mission of Jesus). Since Stacy Peterson went missing, I’ve been privileged to help several women gain freedom from their wickedly abusive husbands. Using the Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse (The EAA can be found in Apple stores, today, as an app that can be purchased for $9.99) was the first step.

The EAA was created by Susan Murphy-Milano in response to Stacy Peterson’s disappearance. She approached me and told me that if Stacy had used this tool, that Drew Peterson would already be put away for her murder. The EAA is a legal document that helps a woman tell her story of abuse. Each page is notarized, and it is designed to be both legally sound, and cathartic, in the sense that it is designed to give each woman her voice back which was silenced by the violence of long ago.

After she completes the EAA, she gives a 6-7 minute “verbatim” of the document before video equipment in the church. The video is powerful and effective, and it is instrumental in giving her confidence and a sense of control back to her life. All of the women that have completed this in my presence are still alive and are free from their abusive partners. It is truly a positive and empowering experience.

The second part of the crisis management phase is to find safe places for these women. While there are many shelters that do tremendous jobs of helping women, they are simply not able to do it all. I mentioned earlier that there are 1.3 million women whom are abused each year. There are also around 260,000 churches scattered across the United States. It is my dream to find just 5 loving families in each church in our country willing to be temporary safe places for victims of domestic violence. So few people can make such an incredibly large difference for so many.

That’s enough for now…I’ll post again soon.

Starting to break the silence together,

Neil Schori