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Many people witnessing abuse, particularly when it takes place in the Baha’i community, feel paralyzed by indecision and lack of knowledge.  What should they do?  Overlook their faults?  Forgive and forget?  Report and be accused of backbiting?

Let’s look at some guidance from the Baha’i Writings.

If the abused person is an adult, it’s preferable that they bring the issue to the Assembly directly or with a friend:

In general, it is preferable that the abused person rather than a third party bring the issue to a Local Assembly. In some cases, the abused person may be willing to go to an Assembly if accompanied by a friend. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 63)

If allegations of child abuse arise during Bahá’í activities – no matter where the alleged abuse occurred, it should be reported promptly to the sponsoring Local Spiritual Assembly, to the child’s Local Assembly, or to the National Spiritual Assembly, who are then responsible to contact civil authorities:

Should an allegation of child abuse arise at a local Bahá’í school or from other children’s classes or activities – regardless of whether the alleged abuse occurred at the Bahá’í activity, in the home, or elsewhere – the allegation should be reported promptly to the sponsoring Local Spiritual Assembly, to the child’s Local Assembly, or to the National Spiritual Assembly, which will then have the responsibility to contact civil authorities.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 89

Cautions:

The Assembly should use extreme care not to take any action that might further endanger anyone:

In applying this principle to cases of domestic violence, the Assembly should use extreme care not to take any action (such as contacting the alleged abuser) that it or the abused person feels might further endanger anyone.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.70)

There may be situations in which the abused person does not want to go to an Assembly directly and also does not want anyone else to bring the matter to an Assembly.

In general, it is preferable that the abused person rather than a third party bring the issue to a Local Assembly. In some cases, the abused person may be willing to go to an Assembly if accompanied by a friend. However, there may be situations in which the abused person does not want to go to an Assembly directly and also does not want anyone else to bring the matter to an Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 63)

If the abuse is severe, this may present the third party with a difficult decision:

If the abuse is severe, this may present the third party with a difficult decision.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 63)

If the alleged abuser is a Bahá’í, the Assembly may be obligated to intervene whether the abused party wishes it to do so or not, as long as such intervention does not endanger anyone further:

However, if the alleged abuser is a Bahá’í, the Assembly may be obligated to intervene whether the abused party wishes it to do so or not, as long as such intervention does not endanger anyone further.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.70)

In matters which affect the Cause the Assembly should intervene even if both sides do not want it to:

In matters which affect the Cause the Assembly should, if it deems it necessary, intervene even if both sides do not want it to, because the whole purpose of the Assemblies is to protect the Faith, the Communities, and the individual Bahá’í as well.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 58)

Reporting domestic violence to civil authorities or Bahá’í institutions may seem threatening, but neglecting to do so could have serious consequences:

Although, in some cases, reporting domestic violence to civil authorities or Bahá’í institutions may in itself seem threatening, neglecting to do so could have serious consequences.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 54)

Reporting child (or domestic) abuse to a Local Assembly might further endanger the child or others if the abuser were to become aware of the report, particularly if the alleged abuser, relative or close friend serves on the Assembly:

In some situations, reporting child abuse to a Local Assembly might further endanger the child or others in the family, if there were to be a breach of Assembly confidentiality and the abuser were to become aware of the report. This danger is particularly apparent when the alleged abuser, or a relative or close friend of the alleged abuser, serves on the Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 63, 89)

Before approaching an alleged abuser, or carrying out any actions, the Assembly should:

  • consult with the abused and with advice from domestic violence professionals
  • assess the risk of any proposed approach
  • ensure the safety of everyone

It is essential that the Assembly be cautious in any contact with the abused party concerning the matter. Furthermore, before approaching an alleged abuser, the Assembly should, in consultation with the abused and with advice from domestic violence professionals as necessary, attempt to assess the risk of any proposed approach and take care to ensure the safety of everyone involved before carrying out any actions.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 81)

If you’re not sure how to proceed, contact the National Assembly for guidance:

Any individual who is not sure how to proceed in a child abuse situation is encouraged to request guidance from the National Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 89)

In any situation in which the Assembly has exhausted its local advisory resources and is still uncertain how to proceed, it should seek guidance from the National Spiritual Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 81)

Counseling

If a Bahá’í is mistreating another person, the Assembly has a responsibility to counsel that individual and if its counsels are not accepted, they should recommend that administrative sanctions be placed on the abuser:

If an Assembly becomes aware that a Bahá’í is mistreating another person, it has a responsibility to use its collective will to counsel that individual about his or her actions. If its counsels are not accepted, the Assembly should not hesitate to implement stronger measures, such as the recommendation that administrative sanctions be placed on the believer.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.66)

What’s been your experience?  Post your comments below.