A study looking at the kinds of support black female victims of domestic abuse receive from their churches has revealed that in some churches the tendency can be to protect the abuser rather than the victim.
The research, by two academics for the University of East London found churches could also do more to support victims of domestic abuse and violence by providing a safe space where they could disclose their experiences.
The ‘Spirit and Solace’ research wanted to find out what it is like for congregants in black majority churches (BMCs) who report domestic abuse and their experiences of supporting fellow members.
One of the researchers, Dr Ava Kanyeredzi, tells Premier it is particularly difficult for spouses of church leaders to speak up :
“There are examples of really good support, with churches supporting people who came to them. The problem identified, particularly in this study was especially when the people who are reporting abuse are wives of senior ministers or church leaders. Churches might feel a particular difficulty, because these leaders are representing something really positive within church and community spaces, of good marriages. So what do we do if we think upholding a good marriage is actually abusing their spouse? What does it mean for the ministry? There tends to be a bit of tension."
Dr Kanyeredsky said the researchers had hoped to interview at least a thousand churches for the study, but they came up against “blocking and gate-keeping, especially in terms of how churches were responding.”
The study found that traditional style churches, described by participants as Old Testament, New Testament, Independent, Windrush or Post-Windrush had leaders who were “controlling, dictatorial, some requiring 'blind loyalty' and with the expectation that women, especially when they had been abused by their spouses who are pastors or church leaders, should ‘put up and shut up’.”
It found that some of these churches had provided support to men who had committed abuse with a "tendency to protect the abuser when he is a minister/church leader."
The study found that BMCs tend to want to manage domestic abuse in-house, but are not fully equipped to do so because church leaders may view asking for outside agency support as evidence of inept leadership or a stain on the reputation of the church.
It found that even when churches address domestic abuse in sermons, it tends to be reports about cases “not in our church”. The absence of domestic abuse information on church walls or in sermons means that people who wish to report and seek support, look outside of the church. However, when churches do include domestic abuse in sermons, more people seek support.
The study says the situation could be improved if more professionals within the church like lawyers, teachers, doctors, and nurses could volunteer to provide practical support to peers reporting domestic abuse.
35 people participated in the research: 34 as survey respondents; three in a focus group and six in individual interviews. Six participants were church leaders and 13 (38 per cent) had experienced violence/abuse in the past, most had not sought support for experiences and two participants had abused a partner in the past.
Research findings will be revealed at a special event being held at the University of East London, Salway Place, London E15 on Thursday March 9 at 6pm.