written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya
Experiencing Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) in the church community made me live in a reality that other survivors and members of society may perceive as very peculiar! That reality is that there are both victims and perpetrators of DVA in institutions of worship.
But that is not all! For the period I stayed in the women’s refuge, I was awakened to an extension of that reality! I observed that a vast number of women from diverse faith groups came to stay at the refuge. They too were affected by the DVA pandemic in the same manner as I had suffered. This meant that all our experiences were similarly very complex. We did not only have domestic, but spiritual, cultural, traditional and religious challenges to overcome, for us to be liberated from DVA.
That too is not all! Since the time I stayed at the refuge, I have continuously come across many more women from multi-faiths affected by this plight, including wives of faith leaders! When victims finally gather the courage to report their experience, usually after many years, their plight is normally brushed under the carpet. Victims are blamed for the actions of their perpetrators, while the perpetrators are encouraged to exert their authority over them more.
Such authority is branded “righteous” through diverse religious guises, and the women victims, labelled “sinners”, because of the so called lack of submission. The women therefore become victims of their perpetrator at home, and of their community in places of worship. Through such devastating responses, faith communities that are principally positioned to reach out to the oppressed and abused, impose more suffering instead of relieving it.
Another element I too experienced is that often some members of faith communities instruct women to be “patient” and to “fast and pray for breakthroughs” i.e. for their perpetrator to change. The perpetrators receive no instruction to stop their violence or abuse; neither do they receive any caution. In fact when perpetrators become exposed by the victims’ reports against their actions, their violence and abuse intensifies, exacerbating the plight of adult and child victims.
In their research, Hidden Hut, reveal that only 15% of Christian victims of DVA receive assistance from their church. The remaining 85% receive variable responses from heavy condemnation, to their plight being understood, but needs not addressed. 15% do not approach their churches due to fear. Hidden Hut also highlights that a lot of spiritual abuse is found in the context of DVA in faith communities.
In my case, after 10 years of silent endurance, it was the police and who assisted me to flee from my perpetrator. Working with the perpetrator, church leaders had stifled any prospects of my liberation, and in turn strongly condemned the police and subsequently the local DVA teams for assisting me to flee. They also used all manner of manipulative guises with the aim to compel me to return to the matrimonial home to live with my perpetrator. It was fortunate that the security, peace and calm of the refuge, gave me great persuasion to stay in that place of safety.
This part of my experiences proved to me that the police actually became my ‘Good Samaritans’, while the faith community – a group of ‘Priests’ and ‘Levites’ – chose to strengthen the arms of the brutal “robber”. Due to such ways, faith systems consequentially discriminate against victims, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to danger; while sustaining environments that do not challenge the perpetrators. Victims become objects of scorn, and are left all the more helpless and isolated.
Faith leaders must be equipped to act in an appropriate response with knowledge and skill, and the efficiency to do so in a way that protects the welfare of victims. They should also pursue to seek knowledge on the pandemic of DVA so that they understand the most relevant way to respond. When it comes to addressing DVA in faith communities, leaders need to realise that the blanket marital counselling approach is redundant.
In my approach to addressing DVA in faith communities I emphasise that the safety of adult and child victims is primary. This should be supported by a focus on their healing and restoration right from the start, allowing each victim as much time as they need for them to become completely healed and restored.
Perpetrators of violence and abuse are responsible for their actions, and no excuse can be used to account for their trauma inflicting conduct – each individual has the power to control their impulses, if they desire to do so. Many perpetrators pretend to have repented from their actions soon after their victim flees. Leaders need to understand that such “repentance” by perpetrators, in many cases is not genuine but is simply a ploy to win back power and control over their victims. Hence victims must not be compelled to return to the matrimonial home, simply because of their perpetrator’s “repentance”.
After enduring DVA over many years, victims in faith communities, lose focus on their ambitions, self worth, rights, identity, and sense of belonging; they would have become acquainted to the harsh realities of abuse – instead of love, peace and security. Complete restoration is possible even after such a long haul of trauma that crushes every area of life. Restoration begins internally, as the mind is transformed, the heart healed, and recovery and self worth generated.
Spiritual guidance is important, but what I would like to bring across is that victims of DVA need a lot of practical support. Statements like “we are praying for you” on their own, become very meaningless were there is a multitude of physical needs. Many of us have lost everything we possessed after fleeing from our perpetrators, leaving not only the matrimonial home but everything contained within it. Giving physical support alleviates some of the pressures a survivor is faced with, especially were there has been financial abuse also involved, like in my case.
I am highly optimistic that incidences of DVA will reduce in faith communities with openness, education and commitment to change. This can be achieved by a concerted effort between similarly dedicated individuals and organisations. As a Christian, now in a good faith community, I believe that the message of the cross, is a message of redemption – redemption from oppression and sin. This message must be a reality for those affected by DVA.
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2013. All Rights Reserved.