Does Domestic Abuse Happen in Faith Communities?
It’s no shocker that domestic abuse does happen in faith communities. That’s because it can happen anywhere, to anyone.
Abuse is often a taboo subject in faith communities. Victims may feel obligated to stay with their abuser because of their religious beliefs. In many faiths, marriage is a holy union, and divorce is rarely or never an option. Therefore, partners who are married to an abuser often feel a religious obligation to stay.
What’s more, studies show that leaders from many major religious groups encourage couples to stay together, even if abuse is involved. Because marriage is seen as sacred, leaders encourage couples to seek counseling and work on the relationship when, in some cases, staying puts the victim in even greater danger.
Religious leaders are often underequipped with the training and resources to recognize abuse and support victims. In many cases, religious leaders and counselors do not fully understand the scope of abuse. Many think physical violence is the only definition when, in fact, there are many different types of abuse: economic, emotional, and psychological, for instance.
Finally, we know that not all abusers are men, but many are. In a religious context, believers might learn from a young age that men are the “leaders” and women should defer to a man’s authority. Some religious sects teach women to be submissive to their husbands, creating an environment where abusers can use these teachings to manipulate the abuse victim. And many abuse victims within faith communities fear that leaving an abusive relationship will also mean losing the support of their religious community.
When Beliefs Become a Weapon
Faith sometimes adds another layer of complexity to an abusive relationship. To be clear, we aren’t implying that all faith communities harbor abusers. There are plenty of faith communities that nurture healthy, loving relationships and support domestic abuse survivors. But religious groups can also create a safe haven for abusers who twist sacred teachings into weapons.
Abusers who are part of a faith community may use spiritual abuse to further isolate and control their victims. Spiritual abuse includes tactics like taking religious teachings or scriptures out of context to manipulate behavior, using religion to shame a partner or their children, or forcing them to adhere to certain spiritual practices.
Using religion as a weapon is damaging on many levels. Not only does it leave the victim feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically insecure, but it also impacts her spiritually. And if that survivor isn’t supported by her faith community, she often feels abused not only by her partner, but by her faith community as well.Regardless of each partner’s religion or faith, domestic abuse is never acceptable. If you are in an abusive situation, tell someone and get help. You can learn more about safely reporting domestic abuse here.