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May 19, 2012

Question: How do you handle cases of domestic abuse that come to your attention?

One of the committees of the nine local elected representative of the Bahá’í community (Local Spiritual Assembly) is called the Counselling Committee. Its mandate clearly covers cases of domestic abuse. In serious and rare cases, the assembly will handle a case itself. The counsellors will remind the believer(s) of the spirit and letter of the Bahá’í teachings and laws covering the case in question. If necessary, they take disciplinary action. The process takes place in strict confidence to protect the dignity of all persons involved.

Fact-finding is the first step. Representatives will meet with the parties concerned — often in separate meetings — to verify the facts. Remedies cannot be offered without knowing, to the extent possible, what has actually taken place. In cases of lesser marital dispute, the Counselling Committee reminds the parties of the spiritual principles involved and offers advice. The fundamental spiritual principle(s) pertaining to each and every case are outlined. Where it is warranted, professional counselling is recommended. Although the committee does not usually consist of professional counsellors, it has developed a list of professional counsellors who are familiar with Bahá’í teachings and principles.

In a case of domestic violence, because one or more persons is facing psychological abuse/and or bodily harm, the committee and Local Spiritual Assembly will take immediate action to: First, inform the endangered person of his/her legal rights and the services that are available to safeguard the well-being of the individual(s); Second, if necessary, immediate action is taken to provide a temporary haven for the endangered party. This action precedes the contacting of the social services and any possible judicial remedies that may be sought. Joined to any legal measures or social agency intervention, the Local Spiritual Assembly may recommend to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada the removal of the individual’s “administrative rights.” This removal includes the right to vote in Bahá’í elections.

This step, while it does not carry the radical step of expulsion from the community, carries serious spiritual penalties. In summary, the process of intervention in domestic abuse includes: fact-finding, informing, counselling, warning, legal and social intervention and the possible removal of the individual’s administrative rights.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen May 19, 2012
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