Written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya
Faith doctrines, traditions & values can either be primary resources or roadblocks, in tackling Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA)1. This is because adult & child victims & survivors of DVA respond to their affliction on the basis of the belief systems that have been formed in them through the teachings & practices of their faith. This is also because perpetrators, & those who support them, justify their misuse of power & exercise of control towards adult & child victims & survivors by misinterpreting & manipulating religious texts, values & traditions to validate their abusive behaviours1, 2, 3, 4.
Under the vile conditions of the latter, victims & survivors are subjected to violence & abuse at home, as well as victimisation & condemnation by their faith community. They are also overwhelmed by self-blame, guilt, fear, & untold suffering1, 4, 5. Those who attempt to flee from abusive marriages or family relations are too often shunned & ostracised, resulting in further multi-dimensional affliction. At times these daring victims become victims of honour-based crimes, due to their attempts to achieve freedom from DVA2.
However, when used in their purity, religious texts, values, & traditions, are fundamental tenets for justice, healing, renewed hope, freedom, restoration, & reparation1, 4. The devastating reality, especially for adult & child victims & survivors, is that cultures of abuse are infiltrated into faith communities through misintepretation & manipulation of the tenets of faith. By this, misuse of faith tenets becomes an avenue for the perpetration of DVA.
For some faith communities, strong doctrinal positions against divorce & separation (even if its temporary) inhibit them from tackling DVA that occurs in a marriage, caused by an intimate partner1, 2, 3, 4. There are beliefs that the “sanctity” of marriage should be preserved at all costs, even if adult & child victims face grievous harm. And yet a fundamental question to pose is: Is it more important to preserve an abusive & devastating marriage, even at the cost of life, instead of saving the lives of adult & child victims, who face afflictions even to the point of death?
Some assume that any marriage is better than no marriage at all, & therefore marriage should be maintained – even through the afflictions caused by perpetrators of DVA1, 3. There are further complications where forced marriages or honor-based violence exists, as these fall under the DVA that is perpetrated by family members – with or without an intimate partner involved2, 4, 5, 6. Also under this kind of DVA caused by family members is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The physiological harm & suffering through FGM, has been found inter-related to DVA, with physical, emotional, & sexual violence & abuse as subtypes of FGM7.
Research indicates that some victims stay in abusive marriages because they are made to believe that they have a huge responsibility of preserving their marriages – which they have entered into by their consent or not – regardless of life threatening violence & abuse3, 8, 9. Some are also made to believe that they suffer abuse due to their wrong doing or omissions of religious rituals, & are instructed to be more obedient, or compensate for their omissions – instead of the address of the real issue – the behaviours of their husbands or families1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9. These types of victim blaming must not be permitted options in the address of DVA, as the accountability for DVA does not lie on the victims.
Because of such lethal assumptions, which also result in very devastating realities, victims’ reports of DVA, are “brushed under the carpet”, & the victims are commanded to be silent about their compounded plights3, 8,9. The predicaments caused by these lethal assumptions emphasise that DVA is not just about individual men abusing individual women, but about systemic abuse, where oppression & inequality of women are permitted to be sustained – through mishandling of religious texts, values & traditions2, 4.
But the reality of DVA is far more compounded where the racial or ethnic heritage of a community is tied to their faith, or where culture is intertwined to religiosity1, 4, 5, 6. In such circumstances, when victims seek help – most likely outside their faith community, they need refuge from a whole community, instead of individual perpetrators2, 5. This shows that there is need to invest more time, energy & resources in transforming the mentalities & practices of faith communities – to address the oppression & inequality of women – instead of solely focusing on treating the wounds inflicted by the pandemic of DVA.
It has to be noted that where there is DVA, divorce or separation does not break down the family, as is widely believed1, 4. It is the perpetrator’s behaviours that violate marital vows, hence break down the family. Perpetrators are the key agents & root causes of DVA. This makes them totally liable for their behaviours & the impact of their behaviours to family & community life. Emphasis needs to be amplified on targeting perpetrators. In fact, any work designed to eradicate DVA must unreservedly focus on perpetrators as the core problem to the DVA dynamics.
Divorce, as a result of DVA, must be seen as the painful, public acknowledgement of an already accomplished reality, caused by DVA which intensifies the longer an abusive relationship / marriage is sustained1, 4. In many cases divorce becomes a necessary intervention to generate healing & new life from a devastating & deadly situation1, 4. A marriage to an abuser is no marriage at all. God created marriage to be a place of the unlimited demonstration of love towards spouses & children, to a larger extent the community. Adult & child victims must be urgently saved from the terror & oppression of DVA, into God’s glorious freedom, revival, restoration, peace, & love, as is found in pure religious tenets.
References: 1. 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.
2. Metropolitan Police Sikh Association. (2010). A Brief Guide To Honour Based Violence. Metropolitan Police Sikh Association: London.
3. 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.
4. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. (2007). Religion and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Pennsylvania.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Salihu, H. M., August, E. M., Salemi, J. L., Weldeselasse, H., Sarro, Y. S., & Alio, A. P. (2012). The Association Between Female Genital Mutilation & Intimate Partner Violence. British Journal Of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2012;119:1597–1605.
8. 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.
9. 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.
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2014. All Rights Reserved.