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Churches Not Prepared For Domestic Abuse

Christmas for Christians is a time of joy and renewed faith as we celebrate the birth of Jesus but sadly there is growing evidence that faith based communities include the same spike in Domestic Abuse that befalls Australian women at this time of the year. A recent investigation by ABC News and 7.30 report revealed not enough was being done within faith based communities to address the issue.

Key facts

The following Our Watch basic statistics help demonstrate the prevalence and severity of violence against women in Australia:

  • On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.

  • 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.2

  • 1 in 5 Australian women has experienced sexual violence.

  • 1 in 6 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by current or former partner.

  • 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

  • Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.

  • Australian women are almost four times more likely than men to be hospitalised after being assaulted by their spouse or partner.

  • Women are more than twice as likely as men to have experienced fear or anxiety due to violence from a former partner.

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of mothers who had children in their care when they experienced violence from their previous partner said their children had seen or heard the violence.

  • Almost one in 10 women (9.4%) have experienced violence by a stranger since the age of 15.

  • 10Young women (18 – 24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.

  • There is growing evidence that women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women report experiencing violence in the previous.12 months at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women.

  • In 2014–15, Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence as non-Indigenous women

In faith based communities Domestic Abuse can include spiritual abuse which like other forms of Domestic Abuse remains a major deterrent to the overall safety and well-being of women, especially those trying to escape an abusive male partner. In a Christian context, it is the misuse of God, Jesus Christ, church doctrine, sacred texts—from both the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture—and cultural and familial teachings and traditions to encourage, excuse, maintain and promote male entitlement and male privilege and to offer justification for beliefs and practices which espouse female subjugation.

There are two key components in the propagation of spiritual abuse. First, the belief that females, in both religious circles and society in general, are lesser than males—in intellect, power, strength, value, worth and in the view of God and Jesus Christ. Second, that females themselves are to blame for the crimes and sins males perpetrate against them.

Stay, Pray, Obey, Okay

Female victims-survivors of domestic abuse are frequently pressured to stay with, obey and even pray for the very men who are violating them. Somehow, the women are often told that these sacrificial acts will please God and Jesus Christ and make everything okay in the abusive relationship. The women are also told that their “obedience” in this earthly life will be “rewarded in heaven.” But in these circumstances, no plausible strategies are provided to victims-survivors as to how following such instructions will bring an end to the abuse or, for that matter, offer them any other positive outcomes.

I refer to this kind of counsel as Stay/Pray/Obey/Okay advice, and it must be noted that it comes from all corners of society:

  • Armed services

  • Behavioral health

  • BusinessCourts,

  • law enforcement and other legal professions

  • Entertainment and other media outlets

  • Faith, religious and spiritual communities

  • Healthcare Institutions of higher education

  • The sports arena

Women are frequently told that their actions and inactions cause or contribute to the mistreatment they receive from their male intimate partners. The corollary being if women didn’t behave, dress and speak in certain ways then men would not have to “correct” them. As a result of these precepts, many women suffer even greater emotional, physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual devastation. And some end up being murdered.


Women are not as likely as men to perpetrate spiritual abuse tactics. It is rare for women to misuse God, Jesus Christ, church doctrine, sacred texts, and cultural and familial teachings and traditions to claim female entitlement and female privilege and to offer justification for beliefs and practices which espouse male subjugation.

Men of faith do misuse God, Jesus Christ, church doctrine, sacred texts, and cultural and familial teachings and traditions to harm their female intimate partners. Perpetrators of domestic violence are found in every segment of religious and secular society. And yes, some of them are spiritual leaders—board members, deacons, educators, pastors, pastoral counselors and youth ministers. They will not only use various aspects of culture, faith, religion and spirituality to assert control and power over their current or former female intimate partners. These men will also claim that God and Jesus Christ instructed them to carry out their misdeeds.

Domestic violence is not caused by Satan. An all-too-common spiritual abuse tactic employed by male perpetrators is to suggest that some outside evil force, most often identified as “Satan” in the Christian context, is the real culprit for the violence being perpetrated. Male spiritual leaders and laity are especially susceptible to this tactic of deception. Caution needs to be taken regarding one specific dynamic surrounding an alleged “Satan invasion.” It occurs most frequently when a male violator is facing accountability for his criminal and sinful behavior.

Female victims-survivors are not to blame for the spiritual abuse being perpetrated against them. No one can provoke another person to use abusive tactics. This is true even if the person being violated has an alcohol or drug problem, has chosen not to participate in religious worship services or sexual activities with her intimate partner, is said to be “too cold,” “too emotional,” “too flirtatious,” “too aggressive” or “too passive,” and even if the victim-survivor is having an extrarelational affair. The person solely responsible for the violence being perpetrated is the one who has chosen to be abusive and violent—the perpetrator.

If you need support:


1800 737 732

24 hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

Call toll-free 1800 737 732.

Visit website


13 11 14

Lifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your State. Anyone across Australia experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide can call 13 11 14.

Visit website

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