What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence refers to a pattern of violent and coercive behavior exercised by one adult in an intimate relationship over another. It is not “marital conflict,” “mutual abuse” or “a lovers’ quarrel” or “a private family matter.” It may consist of repeated, severe beatings; or more subtle forms of abuse including threats and control.

Who are the victims of domestic violence?

Statistics reflect that 95% of domestic violence victims are women, although men may also be victims. Regardless of who is being victimized, domestic violence is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by religious communities.

How prevalent is domestic violence?

Surveys from the United States and Canada indicate that domestic violence occurs in 28% of all marriages. Researchers believe that this estimate is too low since most domestic violence incidents go unreported.

What are the types of domestic violence?

Physical Assault: This includes shoving, pushing, kicking, slapping, restraining or hitting. Physical assaults may occur frequently or infrequently, but in many cases they tend to escalate in severity and frequency over time.

Sexual Assault: Any time one partner forces sexual acts which are unwanted or declined by the other partner.

Psychological Assault: This includes isolation from friends and family, forced financial dependence, verbal and emotional abuse, threats, intimidation, and control over where a partner can go and what she can do.

Attacks Against Property and Pets: Destruction of property may include household objects, treasured objects belonging to the victim, hiding or destroying important paperwork (such as social security cards, birth certificates, etc.) hitting walls, and abusing or killing pets. 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control them.

How do I know if someone is a victim of domestic violence?

Women who are being battered are as different from each other as non- battered women. They come from all walks of life, all races, all backgrounds and all religions. A battered woman could be the vice-president of your local bank, you child’s Sunday School teacher, your beautician, or your dentist. Anyone experiencing the pattern of abuse is a victim of domestic violence.

Why do battered partners stay?

People stay in violent relationships for a variety of reasons. Common reasons include the fear of not being able to make it on one’s own, the fear of losing children, and the fear that the abusive partner will become more violent if they leave the relationship.

Who are the batterers?

Just as with battered women, men who batter don’t fall into specific categories. They come from all walks of life, religions, backgrounds and education levels. They may be unemployed or a highly paid professional. The batterer may be a sober, up-standing member of the community and a respected member of a congregation.

What can I do to be helpful if an abusive relationship is revealed?

For the Victim

  • It is very important to understand that suggesting she return home places her and her children’s lives in danger.
  • Listen to the victim and believe them.
  • Tell them it’s not their fault and that it is not God’s will for them.
  • Tell them that they are not alone and that help is available.
  • Let them know that without intervention abuse often escalates in frequency and severity over time.
  • Seek expert assistance. Refer then only to specialized domestic violence counseling programs, not “couple’s counseling.”
  • Help her find shelter, a safe home, and advocacy resources to offer her protection.

For the Batterer

  • Hold the abuser accountable.
  • Don’t minimize the abusive behavior.
  • Support them in seeking specialized batterers counseling to help change the behavior.
  • Continue to support the victim even after the batterer has entered counseling.
  • Understand that if restoration of the relationship is to occur, it can only be considered after the above steps have taken place.

How does religious doctrine address domestic violence?

Religious teachings can serve as a roadblock or a resource in addressing domestic violence. There is nothing in Jewish or Christian teaching that can rightly be used to justify abuse. There are teaching which can be distorted and misused to suggest that domestic violence is acceptable or even God’s will for a victim. When these teachings and interpretations of scripture are misused they become roadblocks to ending the abuse.

An example would be an interpretation of Shalom Bayit, the Jewish teaching about peace in the home. This teaching places sole responsibility on the woman to “keep the peace” and to obey her husband. This could be a serious roadblock to addressing domestic abuse, but it could also be understood that it is a woman’s responsibility to keep a home free of violence, thereby freeing a woman who is being abused to seek help in an effort to end that violence.

Likewise, there is the Christian teaching that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This is a challenge to husband to treat their wives with love and respect, not with violence and control. This teaching can serve as a valuable resource to advocate against and prevent domestic violence.

As religious communities, we have a mandate to minimize any roadblocks facing the members of our congregations and to maximize the resources that exist within our religious traditions.

What can our congregation do to prevent domestic violence?

  • Form a committee to address domestic violence issues.
  • Encourage the clergy to speak out from the pulpit against domestic violence.
  • Invite staff from local domestic violence program to make educational presentations.
  • Designate a day or month for educating and activating the congregation.
  • Offer pre-marital counseling dealing with equality, conflict, violence and control.
  • Use available curricula for youth that encourages the values of gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Offer meeting space in your church or synagogue to the local domestic violence program.
  • Contribute financial support or other donations (food, cell phones, clothing furniture) to your local domestic violence program.
For more information click here to visit The National Center for Sexual and Domestic Violence publications on faith and faith based communities.

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