written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya
Domestic Violence & Abuse(DVA) is a pandemic that has been permitted to fester in faith communities over decades, as if it cannot be remedied1. But how can the systems that have sustained it be transformed, and its generational consequences be undone? The extent of DVA indicates that any progressive work will need to be deployed over the long haul.
Statistics reveal that this society group is not immune from the pandemic. In fact, the incidence of DVA is at the same level as non-faith communities1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. To make matters worse, I have found that due to religious codes and belief systems, experiences of DVA are the most complex in faith communities1.
A survey by Jewish Women’s Aid shows that 1 in 4 Jewish women are victims of DVA3. The study which was carried out across the spectrum, from Liberal to Orthodox Jews, showed bare differences between religious affiliations. But figures were higher among strict Orthodox Jews.
The survey also reports that most of the women interviewed believed that DVA was a hidden issue, often “brushed under the carpet” when it appeared, within the Jewish community3. 62% said they were not aware of any rabbi who publicly addressed the pandemic, but 11% of strict Orthodox Jews mentioned that their Rabbi had specifically addressed it. Otherwise, as one woman in the study also reported, her Rabbi turned her away, commanding her to return to her perpetrator, despite her injuries3.
Another report also illustrates how a church refused to assist a victim who had been strangled, left for dead, and had then suffered a complete psychotic breakdown for a year4. She was told, “We do not believe in divorce. Go back to your husband”. She asked them if they really wanted her to return to the man who had tried to kill her. They responded, “Yes … no help at all”.
A 2002 study by the Methodist Church showed that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 9 men, in the church experienced DVA, with the main perpetrators being husbands or male partners5. Furthermore, 25% had experienced DVA for a year or less; 54% for up to 5 years; 21% for 10 years or more, with one respondent reporting to have lived with her abuser for 30 years. 1 in 5 reported that they had lived with and witnessed DVA in their childhood.
The response of faith leaders, and their communities is entwined to their belief systems1. The study by the Methodist Church, also reports that 74% of ministers and lay workers “felt” that their approach to DVA had been influenced by their beliefs5. Some stated that the church was either out of touch with the reality of this pandemic, or out of touch with the rest of the society.
Others expressed that they saw a conflict between the church’s mindset on marriage, redemption, endurance, forgiveness – and that of dealing with violence and abuse. Hence they would preach for perpetrators to be forgiven, and for a marriage to be saved, rather than for victims to flee from their abuser. This is a consistent pattern in faith communities, though there is no mention of repentance on the part of the perpetrator. Where there is seeming sorrow from the perpetrator, abuse soon starts again5.
All survivors in this study said that they stayed in their marriage because they believed they had a huge responsibility of preserving their marriages. Although survivors found support from individual colleagues, they reported that the response of the church as a whole was “very poor and wanting”. Christian forgiveness was largely seen to imply continuing welcome to the abuser as a member of the church, while their ex partner was excluded. Victims who were church ministers reported that they put up with DVA due to fear of losing their jobs, and homes provided by the church.
Some faith communities like Muslim and Sikhs reveal the complexities brought in by closely knit extended families, in the exertion of DVA on women6. These exacerbate experiences of women, with actions branded as “honour” to their religious codes. In addition, there are incidences of family members – not in laws or husbands – abusing women and girls. At times these are carried out in the context of long held cultures and traditions especially among people of Black and Minority Ethnicities1, 2, 6, 7, 8.
In turn victims from these ethnicities are less likely to access help because of cultural or traditional reasons; and the feeling that the honour of their families would be damaged if they seek help6, 8. There are a multitude of social and cultural pressures, which lead women to believe that leaving their abusive husband is wrong, and that they must tolerate sexual abuse, where it occurs, because it is their duty to be submissive and obedient.
The National Zakat Foundation also reported that Muslim victims who contact them range in age from 18 to 72, as compared to the national average of 15 to 449. These women were victims of mental and physical abuse, sexual abuse, and forced marriages. Refusal to comply with an arranged marriage could result in honour killing. The report also showed that where women know of the help available to them, they reach out to access it1, 7.
The Metropolitan Police Sikh Association (MPSA) exposes that 20% of Sikh families in Britain are affected by DVA, in a context where families extend the most pressure regarding marriage and relationships to 30% of British Sikhs6. TheMPSA report that in the Sikh culture, boys are often brought up as superior to girls. Hence girls are at times treated as commodities. Horrendous crimes are then committed against them by their own male and female family members6.
MPSA adds that violence against women is a manifestation of historical unequal power (and control) relations between men and women that have resulted in domination over and discrimination against women by men. This has developed a crucial contributor to violence and abuse, and a social mechanism by which women are forced in to a subordinate position as the property of men. Unfortunately, this is reinforced by both customary practices, and the legal system6, 8.
MPSA also emphasises that though there is now a greater recognition of women’s rights, gender based violence has been on the increase in South Asian communities. Women become the most vulnerable to violations of rights to life, liberty, and security. They expose that the numbers of women murdered in the UK over recent years in the name of “honour”, clearly shows how some men and women, believe they are entitled to commit DVA, even resulting in killings. The National Zakat Foundation also makes similar reports9.
The remedy for DVA in faith communities would require for us to overcome the manipulations and misinterpretations of religious texts that have build systems that promote violence and abuse – over generations. It has to be noted that there is isolated positive work that attempt to support victims of DVA in some faith communities. A number of them are run by faith based organisations like Imams Against Domestic Abuse, Jewish Women’s Aid, and Restored. Hidden Hurt reveals that 14% of victims in their survey received help from their church10.
However for us to completely eradicate DVA in faith communities we need to invest more time and resources in transforming the communities themselves, instead of investing more on treating the wounds inflicted by the pandemic. Changes to belief systems that have sustained DVA, and undoing the generational devastation, can be attained through education and demonstration.
Education would focus on understanding the nature of DVA, its multi-dimensional impact, and the social responsibilities of all community members. Positive role models will also be required for the budding generation to observe the demonstration of safe faith communities. These methods would have benefits that will curb the number of children who would grow into perpetrators of violence and abuse in the long term, thereby transform future generations.
Totally reversing the state of DVA in faith communities will need significant work over the long haul – with the need for education on the intrinsic value of empowered and educated women and girls tied to any work. No civilisation has been created without the existence of women, and yet they have been the most down trodden1. This education would foster the right mindset on the esteemed role of women in society.
- Nyakudya, K. (2014). Tackling Domestic Violence & Abuse In Faith Communities. Kahrmel Wellness: Birmingham.
- Jamil, S. A. (2011). Domestic Violence In Our Community. The Reminder: Strathclyde. Retrieved 6 December 2013 from http://www.unityfamily.co.uk/files/reminder_3_domestic_abuse_as_printed.pdf.
- Robyn, R. (2011). One in Four Jewish Women Suffer Abuse in the Home. The Jewish Chronicle Online. Retrieved 20 November 2013 from http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/46410/one-four-jewish-women-suffer-abuse-home
- Mbubaegbu, C. (2013). Domestic Violence: In Churches Too. Evangelical Alliance: London. Retrieved 20 November 2013 from http://www.eauk.org/idea/domestic-violence-in-churches-too.cfm.
- Methodist Conference 2002 Report. (2002). Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church – the Way Forward. The Report and Recommendations on Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church. Methodist Publishing: Peterborough.
- Metropolitan Police Sikh Association. (2010). A Brief Guide To Honour Based Violence. Metropolitan Police Sikh Association: London.
- Fortune, M. M., Abugideiri, S., & Dratch, M. (2010). A Commentary on Religion and Domestic Violence. Faith Trust Institute: Seattle. Retrieved 20 November 2013 from http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/resources/articles/Commentary.pdf/?searchterm=A%20Commentary%20on%20Religion%20and%20Domestic%20Violence.
- The University of Warwick, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, University Of Roehampton London. (2012). Domestic Violence, Child contact and Post-Separation Violence Issues for South Asian and African-Caribbean Women and Children: A Report of Findings. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children: London.
- Bano, R. (2013). Muslim Women’s Hostels In ‘High Demand’. BBC News: London. Retrieved 20 November 2013 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-24578426.
- Hidden Hurt. (2010). Religion and Domestic Violence. Retrieved 26 August 2010 from http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/religion_and_domestic_violence.html.
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Updated 3 April 2014, original article published 7 December 2013.