Over the summer of 2013, Restored, in conjunction with Christianity magazine, launched an online survey in order to gain a snapshot of domestic violence in the UK church. In total 443 people completed the survey. There was a high response from women (77% female and 23% male), but whether this echoes the common perception that ‘domestic abuse is a women’s issue’ is unclear. A limitation of this study is that answers weren't broken down in terms of gender, therefore the pattern and extent of male violence in intimate relationships (which is the majority) is unclear.
What is staggering in this survey is that just over half (n=256) indicated that they had suffered some form of domestic abuse. This has to be factored into the answers below.
- 90% attended church every week.
- 80% who answered have a high educational level - degree or above. This needs to be considered in the context of the answers that follow, as one of the myths about abuse is that it happens mainly to people with a low educational level.
'Causes' of Domestic Violence
Causes of domestic violence -‘Domestic violence takes place because women don’t submit to their husbands/partners’ –
- 79% disagreed with this, which is encouraging.
- 16% agreed with this statement - this is still too many. This reaffirms that work still needs to be done by the church in ensuring theological teaching does not lead to creating an enabling environment for abuse to occur.
- 87% agreed that one of the reasons was because a partner needed to have authority and control over a relationship. This showed a high level awareness.
Sexual violence/rape/unwanted sex
- 19% who said their partner would not take no for an answer when it came to sex. This is rape. 6.35% said this happened frequently. Marital rape was outlawed in 1991; clearly there is still a long way to go in terms of understanding that any experience of sex without consent is illegal in the UK. Sexual violence is in our churches. We need to be crystal clear in communicating that this is criminal, a sin and destructive.
Using Intimidation (glaring, shouting, smashing things or sulking in order to get their own way).
- 40% of respondents said intimidation was used in their relationship. This was the highest form of abuse recorded. It highlights the need for education/ awareness-raising on power and control in relationships, what abuse is and what it looks like.
- Physical abuse - 16% admitted physical harm (pushed, slapped, hit or hurt using an object). This is 66 people out of those surveyed.
‘In churches too…’
- 95% acknowledged that this issue does take place in Christian families.
- Just over half sought information and help from friends, closely followed by help from the church.
- 94% said they would intervene in a domestic violence situation, which shows a willingness to engage with the issue. As one respondent stated:
'…I am aware that I helped to build self-confidence and self-esteem in a female colleague, over a number of years, and she eventually had the confidence to leave a verbally abusive marriage. I probably had some indirect involvement.'
Is the Church a safe space?
- 58% disagreed or were unsure that ‘my church is a safe place’.
- Only 40% however, didn’t know who to contact in their church if they or someone they knew were suffering domestic abuse. These last two points highlight the need for training on domestic abuse in churches.
Overall the survey displays that Christians and the church have some way to go in understanding the nature of abuse (power and control), how to respond, and supporting those who disclose. Notwithstanding that some churches are doing great work in this area.
The survey was conducted as a part of our In Churches Too campaign.
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If you feel that you might be in an abusive situation, help is on hand. You can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, or speak to Refuge using their online chat function. You can also get in touch with our Survivors' Network - we're not an emergency service or helpline, but we can stand alongside you as you access the support you need.