Mildred Muhammad speaks about recognizing the signs of domestic abuse, supporting victims, and the need for survivor resources. Photos by Maeling Tapp and Liz Anderson.
by ELIZABETH ANDERSON
The Seabrook Seventh-day Adventist Church in Prince George’s County, Md., launched a resource line earlier this month to aid domestic abuse survivors.
The telephone line, called Steps to Restoration, connects callers to community resources that can help survivors re-establish themselves. One of these resources, After the Trauma, was created by Mildred Muhammad, ex-wife of convicted Washington sniper John Allen Muhammad.
At the inauguration of the telephone line, she said most people don’t know that her ex-husband’s terror-hold on the metro area began as a domestic dispute.
After he was arrested, police told Muhammad that she was likely the ultimate target. Prosecutors argued that her ex-husband shot others near where she lived and worked in order to shoot her and make it appear as a random act of violence, Muhammad wrote on her website.
Long before the shooting spree Muhammad suffered from years of domestic violence. She even moved to Maryland from Washington State with her children to flee her ex-husband.
Muhammad made a distinction between domestic abuse victims and survivors. Over the years, organizations have been created to help current victims of domestic abuse, but survivors who have left a dangerous situation need help too, she said.
It is only recently that groups have focused on the survivor, because once a woman leaves a domestic-violence situation, she needs economic help to get back on her feet, Muhammad said.
Gail Banner works with Steps to Restoration and said the new line will fill a void since there are not many local programs catering to the needs of domestic-abuse survivors.
“There are plenty of government organizations and private organizations to help [those that are in the midst of the abuse]. But those who are survivors, those who are out of the situation are kind of left in a black hole,” Banner said. “They’re on their own and they need support, they need resources, and they need help for jobs, food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their children. And that’s what Steps to Restoration plans to do for them.”
Charles Tapp, pastor of the Seabrook Church said the resource line is not focused on getting new church members.
“Jesus says be salt and light. We are so focused on being light so many times that we have blinded people. We have proselytized them to death,” Tapp said.
When training resource-line operators, Head Elder of the Seabrook church, Leslie Bridges, said that when training resource-line operators he insures that trainees do not project their own religious views or give spiritual advice.
“Well, we don’t give any advice period. If a caller was to call and ask for spiritual information, we have instructed our operators to give them the number of the church to get that information,” Bridges said. “So at no time are we preaching to those calls. We are simply there to answer the needs of the caller where they are.”
The current training process takes about two months and Muhammad has assisted in training. The church also received advice from the Prince George’s County Family Crisis Center who trained responders not to assume anything about the callers.
“Domestic violence doesn’t take place in any particular socio-economic group. It happens across the board,” said church chaplain Larry Jones.
Jones added that while his church addresses spiritual issues, other day-to-day concerns are ignored.
“We live on a daily basis where children, wives and families are living under the pressure of psychological, emotional, mental and even physical abuse,” Jones said.
“This is an opportunity where we can step up. Not just to spiritualize them or to preach them, but to make a difference in their lives where it hurts.”
A live operator is available 12 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Since Steps to Restoration is not a crisis hotline, those who call after 8 p.m. must leave a voicemail message. The number is 877-979-STEPS.