All too often, when we think about domestic violence, we picture a husband hitting his wife. But the truth is that domestic violence can happen in any type of relationship. It doesn't discriminate based on gender, race, or religion. In fact, domestic violence is a serious problem in the religious community. And it's one that we can no longer ignore.
According to a study by FaithTrust Institute, 60% of religious leaders say they've been contacted by someone in their congregation who was experiencing domestic abuse. And yet, only 10% of those leaders feel confident that they know how to help.
This is a problem. Because when religious leaders don't know how to respond to domestic violence, it creates a culture of silence and complicity. It sends the message that domestic violence is something we don't talk about in our community. That it's not our problem to deal with.
But the reality is that domestic violence is everyone's problem. And it's one that we can no longer afford to ignore.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Before we can talk about how to respond to domestic violence, it's important to understand what domestic violence is. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It can take many different forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and psychological abuse.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who believe that domestic violence is simply a "family matter." They believe that it's not our place to get involved in other people's relationships. But the truth is that domestic violence affects us all. It impacts our families, our friends, our co-workers, and even our neighbors.
When Domestic Violence Happens in the Religious Community
Domestic violence doesn't just happen in secular relationships; it happens in religious relationships too. In fact, according to FaithTrust Institute, some faith leaders have admitted to being physically abusive towards their wives.
This is a disturbing statistic. But even more disturbing are the stories of survivors who have been failed by their religious leaders. Stories like Denise who was told by her pastor that she needed to "submit" to her husband's abuse because that was God's will for her marriage. Or Susan who was told by her rabbi that she needed to "try harder" to make her marriage work—no matter what the cost.
These are just two examples of the way that well-meaning religious leaders can inadvertently perpetuate abuse by giving survivors dangerous and misguided advice. Which is why it's so important for religious leaders to be equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to properly respond when someone in their congregation comes to them for help.
No one should have to suffer in silence. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please reach out for help at www.slidfnd.org or 919-791-5578
Together we can end the silence around domestic violence and create safer communities for everyone involved— survivors, abusers, children, families, and friends alike.