25th November each year marks the start of the global awareness raising campaign 16 days of action Against Domestic Violence. Started in 1991 by the Women’s Global Leadership Institute, the campaign seeks to support people and organisations to take action against domestic abuse and violence.
Domestic abuse remains a serious public health concern and is widespread in all communities including churches, with the potential to destroy relationships, families and endanger lives. It includes any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
To mark the campaign, we’ve put together our seven top tips on how churches and faith-based organisations can take action this November.
1. Knowing the facts
Although domestic violence is chronically under-reported, one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute and research estimates that it:
- Accounts for 14% of all violent crime.
- At least 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
- In one year, it is thought that 1.4 million women and 600,000 men experience domestic abuse in England and Wales alone.
- 1 in 7 children and young people under 18 will have experienced living with domestic abuse.
- Only 2 in 7 church goers consider their church to be adequately equipped to deal with a disclosure of domestic abuse.
These are just some of the facts and statistics, but they show that domestic abuse is not something churches or faith organisations can ignore.
2. Understanding what scripture says
The church has often had much to say about violent crimes in society but tended to regard abuse in the home as a ‘private matter’ between a husband and wife. Churches must acknowledge that, biblically, this is no longer acceptable and undertake to take an active role in dealing with domestic abuse, just as they would any violent crime. In Ephesians 5 there is a very clear picture of the need for men to love their wives as their own bodies and lay down their lives for them, as Christ does the church. And how does Christ love the church? Not by exerting power and control to manipulate, not through violence or abuse, but through a love marked by giving, invitation and serving.
3. Recognising the signs and symptoms
If you believe that you or someone else could be a victim of domestic abuse, there are signs that you can look out for. Some examples may include:
- Constantly checking where someone is.
- Someone being told they are ugly, too fat/thin, stupid, useless, etc.
- Constantly putting a person down or criticising them (e.g. telling them they are a bad mother/father or bad wife/ husband).
- Preventing them from seeing friends or family.
- Hitting, pushing, slapping, kicking, punching.
- Not giving them any money, or taking all their money from them or checking exactly what they spend money on.
Everyone has the right to feel safe, but controlling behaviour thrives on fear. Coercive control tends to follow an ongoing pattern rather than consisting of one-off incidents.
4. Support for survivors
Responding well to abuse is always important. If someone shares information with you, don’t promise to keep it a secret. This can be difficult, as you want the person to speak to you, but it’s important you don’t mislead them. Reassuring the person can often be enough, particularly if you are clear from the outset that you will need to inform the right people.
Give priority to their immediate safety and protect their confidentiality.
After the disclosure, make clear notes. Any notes may form part of a following investigation. Finally, dealing with this can be difficult. Make sure you seek support for yourself.
Remember, information shouldn’t be shared with just anyone. Give them information about relevant support agencies and, if appropriate, offer to contact the agency on their behalf and do so in their presence or offer a safe and private place from which they can contact the relevant agency. Use the expertise of those properly trained.
5. Dealing with perpetrators
- If the perpetrator of the violence is a member of a congregation, it would be inappropriate for anyone from the church to engage in couples counselling. This is because it could give the perpetrator further opportunities to exert power and control over their partner. The first priority must be for the perpetrator to address their violent behaviour and the leader can help find an appropriate treatment program.
- It is potentially dangerous for the leader to discuss with the perpetrator anything the victim has told them. This is a breach of confidentiality. Not only could the perpetrators attempt to manipulate the faith leader into colluding with them, but they could also be putting themselves and the victim in serious danger.
- It is important to liaise with the authorities. It may be necessary to discuss boundaries or restrictions you would need to place on them.
6. Consider children and teenagers
Children are often called ‘hidden victims’ because responses to domestic violence can focus solely on the victim or perpetrator. Children do not have a choice when it comes to being drawn into domestic violence. Young people and teenagers may also experience abuse in their relationships, with their own boyfriend or girlfriend.
Emotional abuse in these relationships can be seen as jealousy, and a lack of trust can be disguised as or misinterpreted as genuine care and concern. Being isolated or prevented from seeing friends can further add to this.
7. Raising awareness
Finally, raise awareness. Recent research carried out by our partner organisation Restored revealed that Domestic Abuse wasn’t talked about in 57% of churches. However, churches and places of worship should be a safe, non-judgmental environment where women, children and men exposed to domestic abuse can seek refuge and support. Some church leaders have a good understanding of the issues and are well equipped to respond appropriately. We know of other leaders however who, albeit with good intentions, have counselled women and children to stay with partners beyond what is reasonable or safe.
This makes it even more important for leaders to be informed of the issues, and be in a place to support and properly advise those seeking help.
Some churches and faith organisations will want to raise awareness about domestic abuse but do not know where to start. The 16 Days of Action could be a good opportunity to start.
For more help and resources with learning about the issues surrounding Domestic Abuse visit Restored or find out more about our training run in collaboration with restored at thirtyoneeight.org/webinars