CONNECT is a New York City-based organization that works to prevent domestic violence and promote gender justice. Located in Harlem, they partner with over 200 community-based organizations around the city. Research conducted by CONNECT in 2003-2005 revealed that, while women of faith preferred to turn to their religious leaders when facing domestic abuse, their suffering was often dismissed or misunderstood by those faith leaders who were not equipped to handle these issues. These findings led to the founding of the CONNECT Faith, one of several programs within the organization. By working with faith communities and emphasizing the need for secular advocates to understand religious communities, CONNECT Faith brings an interfaith perspective to domestic violence work. They provide faith leaders and communities, in addition to secular advocates, with the proper resources and training to help prevent domestic violence and create a city “where safe families and peaceful communities can flourish.”[1]

CONNECT operates under a co-leadership model: there are two Co-Executive Directors, a man and a woman. This leadership structure, while rare for a domestic violence organization, reflects the commitment of CONNECT to finding solutions to all aspects of domestic violence. The organization’s work includes community empowerment, trainings for social service providers and community leaders, legal advocacy for survivors of abuse, and programs geared towards educating men, among others.

The breadth of CONNECT’s efforts demonstrates the pervasiveness of domestic violence and the need for a holistic approach to eliminate it. The organization defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior that keeps one partner in a position of power over the other through the use of fear, intimidation and control,” a definition that includes spousal abuse and intimate partner violence as well as child, elder, and teen relationship violence.[2] In 2013, police responded to over 250,000 incidents of domestic violence in New York City.[3] In response, Sally MacNichol, CONNECT’s Co-Executive Director, says that CONNECT works closely with their 200+ partner organizations “to help communities come up with their own culturally appropriate ways to work on this issue.” There is no “cookie cutter” approach when facing domestic violence prevention particularly when working with New York City’s diverse communities.[4]

MacNichol began working on domestic violence issues while she was a student at Union Theological Seminary. Over the years, she has worked to reduce the animosity and suspicion between religious communities and those working to prevent domestic violence. The CONNECT Faith program serves as a bridge between these two worlds. CONNECT Faith offers a number of services, including training for faith communities, training for secular advocates on dealing with religious needs, and assistance to communities in developing religiously and culturally relevant programs/policies. CONNECT Faith also organizes monthly interfaith roundtables, an opportunity for dialogue and honest discussion on domestic violence prevention from a faith perspective. For example, one roundtable topic was “Forgiveness,” where participants discussed how their faith’s understanding of forgiveness could shape the response to domestic violence. Another roundtable, “Sexuality and Spirituality,” focused on the messages different faith communities give about sex and sexuality.

MacNichol describes domestic violence as a “spiritual problem” and acknowledged the challenges of facing the deeply embedded norms and patriarchy of many religious communities. However, she hopes that the work of CONNECT can appeal to the common religious values of justice and treating others with respect.[5]

[1] “Connect Faith.” Accessed 30 March 2016.↩︎

[2] “What is domestic violence?”↩︎

[3] “Domestic Violence Annual Fact Sheet 2013.” NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. Accessed 30 March 2016.↩︎

[4] Sally MacNichol. Interview with author. New York, NY. 5 August 2015.↩︎

[5] Ibid.↩︎