Keeping the Faith. 6/2/2017
Published by INLANDER
Mable Dunbar founded a local nonprofit that focuses on supporting Christian victims of domestic violence
"We need to take a deeper look at the role religion takes in perpetuating abuses," says Mable Dunbar.
Helping other women heal has long been Mable Dunbar's calling. As
the founder of the Spokane-based nonprofit Women's Healing and
Empowerment Network (WHEN), Dunbar has over the years supported hundreds
of women trying to break free from the cycle of domestic violence and
WHEN stands apart from other local groups supporting battered women
because of its mission as a nondenominational, faith-based nonprofit
focused on serving clients who identify as Christian. Dunbar explains
that these women of faith are more likely than non-religious people to
justify the abuse they're receiving because of their beliefs.
"In my experience, religion has been one of the greatest perpetrators
of domestic violence," she says. "I have seen women beaten and stabbed
by their Christian husbands... I believed, and I felt strongly, there
needed to be an organization that let these women know that the God they
serve doesn't condone this abuse."
Often, she says, Christian abusers hide behind misinterpretations or
out-of-context phrases from the Bible's scripture to justify their
abusive behavior, and to hold power over the victim.
In turn, abused women of faith are more likely to stay in an abusive
relationship because they've been misled to believe it's their duty as a
good Christian wife and/or mother to obey and accept the mental or
physical abuse from their partner. Some of these women also are fearful
of the moral repercussions of breaking up a marriage or a family, Dunbar
"We use the same Bible to show women that the text is not interpreted
correctly, or is being partially quoted, and we show them where God
says that he really loves them, and wants them to be in an environment
where they are safe and can worship freely," Dunbar says of the healing
Founded in Spokane in 2008, WHEN offers a shelter and recovery center
for women from the Inland Northwest, and even outside of the region, to
come and stay a minimum of two months to recover and heal. There, they
participate in daily counseling sessions and workshops, in groups or
individually. Mothers are able to bring their children; girls of any age
and boys under the age of 10. Some of the women work or attend school
while staying at the healing center, which has space for five families.
Women in the community who choose to stay in their homes but need
additional support and advice can also attend support group sessions at
Because of its designation as a faith-based nonprofit, WHEN is solely
supported by donations, rather than federally funded grants, and the
healing center is staffed by an all-volunteer staff.
Dunbar first was called to the cause of aiding domestic violence victims while fulfilling internship requirements for her master's degree by working at a domestic violence shelter in Michigan.
"We were sheltering Christian women, and I realized there was a need
to have a shelter that catered to that population," she says.
Dunbar first opened a healing center in Michigan after a wealthy
donor offered a rural property to be used as a shelter facility. WHEN
moved to Spokane in 2008 when Dunbar's husband, Colin, was asked to work
as a pastor here.
Most women learn of WHEN's services by word of mouth, from their
church or friends. The nonprofit also partners with the YWCA and other
community organizations for client referrals; women must first apply to
the healing center because of limited space.
Continuing WHEN's work to aid abused women is close to Dunbar's heart for another reason.
"Prior to doing that internship at the shelter, as I was learning
about domestic violence, I had to look at my own background. My mother
was raped by a Christian, and when I understood what was happening, I
realized that my mother had to deal with that traumatic situation," she
says, continuing, "I realized how that could have impacted me, and I had
to go through my own healing... dealing with the ideology of being a
product of rape."
Though she's not been a victim of domestic abuse herself, Dunbar says
she often shares this story with her clients to help find common
Of the women served by WHEN, Dunbar estimates that as many as 65
percent are able to break the cycle of abuse, either by leaving their
abuser or working with their partner to overcome underlying issues
leading to harmful behavior. Other women, however, do choose to go back
to their partners and allow themselves to be victimized again.
"We don't force a woman to leave her abuser. If she decides to go
back, we support her, but we let her know the dangers. If we have space
available, she can come back and repeat the program," Dunbar says.
Although WHEN's main focus is supporting women who have been abused,
the organization also hosts an annual conference in the fall that offers
workshops to support male domestic violence victims, and to educate
male abusers who are aware of their ways and seek to make a change.
Though domestic violence touches all social and cultural
demographics, Dunbar believes such abuse is much worse in religious
communities than the general population.
"It's not only a cultural or community thing — it's combined with
religious beliefs, and that's dangerous. Most people who are religious,
that is their life, and that's why as a community, we need to take a
deeper look at the role religion plays in perpetuating abuse, domestic