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Christian domestic abuse charity says definition needs to address the church's response too

by Cara Bentley

The government introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill to parliament on Tuesday, which will define the term and require local councils to provide housing for victims.

It will define domestic abuse as physical or sexual abuse; violent or threatening behaviour; controlling or coercive behaviour; economic abuse or psychological, emotional or other abuse.

The bill also proposes establishing a full-time Domestic Abuse Commissioner to work on the issue and to prohibit the cross-examining of victims in family courts by their abusers.

Mandy Marshall from Restored, a Christian charity that equips churches to call out domestic abuse and teach about it, told Premier's News Hour that she largely welcomes the bill: "It's really important that we get a comprehensive view of what domestic abuse is and what it looks like. Often people think of it as physical abuse or sexual abuse, which is very visible, but actually domestic abuse is insidious and abusers will use different tactics of abuse, because at the heart of abuse is power and control over a person.

"In essence, at the heart of it is sin and selfishness and saying 'you're there to serve my needs and I will do whatever is in my control and power to make you serve my needs'. So, that includes economic abuse, verbal violence, psychological control, which often is invisible to the outside world but actually can have devastating lifelong consequences for the victim and survivor of abuse."

Mandy Marshall explained that Restored's one concern was how it did not cater for how churches could respond: "For us, we still want more to be done. For example, churches are absent, so faith is absent in this response. We know that when churches are educated and aware, they come to be a safe space for victims of domestic abuse to get the help and support that they need and sign post to the professional services that are available.

"We want people to advocate for faith and church to be included in the response."

She explained that research in Cumbria suggested one in four church goers had suffered domestic abuse and that it is a problem in the church as well.

When asked if she thought the term 'spiritual abuse', which is increasingly being used to describe manipulation by a Christian who may use the Bible to coerce someone, should be included in the definition, she replied: "This is a difficult area. I think it comes into psychological abuse and I think that's a fine, fine line. I think there's arguments for and against it but I think what is important is that we recognise as a church community that spiritual abuse can happen and we're aware of ourselves and actually making good systems and processes and accountability in place to ensure that spiritual abuse doesn't happen in our churches.

"God hates sin, and domestic abuse is a sin. God hates sin and that's where the church needs to step up but also we know now it's going to be a crime.

She recommended that Christians ask themselves: "'How are we responding to that as a church and what would we do if a survivor came forward and asked for help and support in our church?' It's about knowing the basics of who is the best person to sign post people to. So, we'd encourage churches to respond, download our free church pack and write to their MP and say where's the church's response to domestic abuse Bill?"

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