Home Family & Relationship Faith Communities Can Perpetuate Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence, Suggests New Study

Faith Communities Can Perpetuate Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence, Suggests New Study

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A new study sheds light on the complex role of faith communities in perpetuating domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV). The research, conducted in the states of Kansas and Missouri, delves into the lived experiences of abusers seeking faith-based counselling and reveals a troubling relationship between faith culture and abusive behaviour.

The study was spearheaded by Tara D. Wallace from Liberty University’s School of Behavioral Sciences. The research aimed to fill a significant gap in existing literature by exploring the attitudes, behaviours, and cultural aspects of faith communities that support abusers’ actions.

The study’s participants, all self-identified male abusers, shared their experiences of seeking faith-based counselling after episodes of IPV. The findings indicate that these individuals experienced a range of conflicts both before and after engaging with faith-based counsellors, which profoundly impacted their relationships with survivors, their support networks, and their faith communities.

Participants reported feelings of confusion, demasculinisation, and mistrust towards the faith community as a source of restoration. The lack of clear guidance and the presence of mixed messages often exacerbated their abusive tendencies rather than alleviating them.

One of the most striking revelations of the study is the ambiguous and sometimes harmful role faith communities play in addressing IPV. Faith-based counsellors, pastors, and laypersons often lack formal education on domestic violence, which leads to inconsistent and ineffective responses to abuse. This deficiency not only fails to provide adequate support to survivors but also reinforces abusers’ behaviours by excusing or enabling their actions .

The research highlighted that abusers sought faith-based counselling not only for spiritual guidance but also for validation and justification of their behaviour. This reliance on faith communities for support often resulted in abusers receiving conflicting messages that further complicated their efforts to change. For instance, some participants noted that their faith communities emphasised forgiveness and repentance, sometimes at the expense of addressing the root causes of their abusive behaviour.

For survivors, the study’s findings are equally concerning. The culture within faith communities can lead to survivors receiving mixed messages about their abuse, which can contribute to their silence and reluctance to seek help. Survivors may be encouraged to stay in abusive relationships under the guise of preserving marriage or family unity, thereby perpetuating the cycle of abuse​.

Furthermore, the study revealed that interactions with faith-based counsellors often left survivors feeling blamed for the abuse they endured. This response can have detrimental effects on their self-esteem and mental health, leading to further isolation and entrapment in abusive relationships.

Wallace’s study underscores the urgent need for comprehensive education and training for faith-based counsellors on domestic and intimate partner violence. By understanding the dynamics of abuse and the appropriate ways to respond, faith communities can become a part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.

The research advocates for a more informed and empathetic approach to counselling that prioritises the safety and well-being of survivors while holding abusers accountable for their actions. Additionally, it calls for faith communities to foster an environment where open discussions about IPV are encouraged, and support systems are put in place to help both survivors and abusers seek meaningful change.

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