SUGGESTED REPRESENTATIONS / DISCUSSION POINTS ON THE DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL 2021; PROPOSALS FROM THE BLACK CHURCH DOMESTIC ABUSE FORUM – BCDAF
The role of the Church, and indeed all faith groups – in the battle to eradicate domestic abuse should not be underestimated or belittled. Too little attention and recognition is given to the significant contribution that they can make. Having a religious belief has been found to provide women who have experienced sexual assault or violence from a partner/spouse with a sense of comfort from being in a safe and welcoming environment. In addition to this research has shown that belonging to a faith group can be a barrier to accessing help and support from secular organisations for domestic abuse. Women of faith need their tenet of faith to be an integral part of their recovery/healing/solution.
In this regard the Church should be categorised as a responding agency to enable it to provide holistic support to members, visitors and their families who are dealing with issues of domestic abuse. The Church should therefore have access to similar funding, resources and support available to other responding agencies. In a similar manner, funding and support should be made available to those organisations established to provide training and support to churches – such as the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum – set up to provide specific support to black majority churches.
- Government funding should be made available to churches to develop and implement a domestic violence strategy for its members and visitors. Churches would need to apply for the funding, and satisfy criteria that the resources are to be used for that specific purpose.
- With the funding available each church should appoint at least two Domestic Abuse Officers (male and female) within its Safeguarding Team dedicated to dealing with the issues of domestic abuse.
- If Churches are to efficiently fulfil this role, training and support must be made available to them. As a minimum training to churches should enable the following:
- The creation of a culture of acceptance and zero tolerance to domestic abuse. A place where victims can feel safe and confident to share their experience knowing that it will be handled properly;
- Raise awareness and be alert to the signs that a congregant may be experiencing domestic and how to sensitively handle difficult conversations safely;
- Develop the skills within relevant teams – safeguarding etc – to respond appropriately to individual cases – liaising and working as necessary with external agencies;
- Understanding all forms of domestic abuse including emotional abuse, coercive control and economic abuse, and the specific issues with respect to male victims – female perpetrators and abuse in same sex relationships;
- Contribute to the wider local community response to domestic abuse, engage with statutory and other partners to be part of the community strategy to eliminate domestic abuse.
- With respect to the final point above, a consistent recommendation from studies is that faith and secular organisations partner to more effectively support women within such contexts. There needs to be a better working relationship between the church, statutory and legal agencies on this issue. The Church should not automatically be viewed as a body that either colludes with or fails to respond to allegations of domestic abuse. It is true that the Church historically has not always been seen to provide the best response to domestic abuse and this has been well documented. There are many reasons for this and is the raison d’etre behind the BCDAF. However, with training, support and positive inclusion, the church and other faith organisations are very well positioned in our communities to be torchlights in the campaign against domestic abuse and, all statutory and other local agencies should work with the church more readily.
- As part of any approach to encourage the inclusion of faith groups as responding agencies, the Government should encourage refuge services to engage with Churches and church organisations – such as chaplaincy services – to enable them to have the opportunity to access refuges and provide spiritual, practical and emotional support to victims of domestic abuse and their families. For a woman of faith, going into a refuge away from her ‘church family’ can be devastating – at the very point in her life when she needs this kind of support most – it is taken away from her. So, in addition to the isolation and loneliness that all victims face in this situation, she is additionally deprived of the spiritual support that may be essential for her mental health and wellbeing at this time. This compounds the challenges that these women face – not wanting to go into refuges because of the upheaval and the impact upon their ability to work, or for their children to attend school. As a result many return to abusive situations to regain some sense of ‘normality’. The Church could be instrumental in providing support so that victims do not place themselves and their children at further risk. This approach has its risks – for example it is critical that this support is provided by church groups – and possibly denominations – that have no previous relationship with the victim. These and other risks associated with this proposal are addressed in the BCDAF toolkit – Walk in the Way of Love.