IN CHURCHES TOO: DOMESTIC ABUSE HAPPENS TO CHURCHGOERS
One in four Cumbria churchgoers who took part in recent research say they have experienced abuse in their current relationship.
Churches in Cumbria were invited to participate in a ground-breaking study of domestic abuse, to be published this week (Wednesday 21 March). According to Dr Kristin Aune of Coventry University, who led the research, the findings were compelling:
"Domestic abuse happens in churches too," she said. "A quarter of the people we heard from told us they had, for example, been physically hurt by their partners, sexually assaulted, emotionally manipulated, or had money withheld from them. This includes twelve women who have experienced between ten and twenty abusive behaviours and six women who are currently in relationships where they fear for their lives.
Co-author Dr Rebecca Barnes, of the University of Leicester, added: "More broadly, 42% of the people we heard from had experienced in a current or previous relationship at least one of the abusive behaviours we asked about."
438 churchgoers from a range of churches completed the survey, and 109 of them said they had experienced abusive behaviours in their current relationship. People aged over 60 were less likely to say they had experienced domestic abuse than younger adults were, and women more likely to say they had experienced serious forms of abuse than men.
Only 2 in 7 churchgoers felt their church was adequately equipped to deal with a disclosure of abuse.
"We clearly have a lot of work to do," says Bishop of Carlisle The Right Revd James Newcome. "Churches in Cumbria have been taking this very seriously for many years, which is why we wanted to take part in the research. Many churches have taken part in training, promote helplines and liaise with local support services and we have come a long way in understanding that this is a vital part of our ministry to the community. It's time to recognise that we must also examine ourselves."
Some clergy in Cumbria have themselves survived domestic abuse. Before meeting the man who is now her husband, Anglican parish priest Rev Eleanor Hancock was in an abusive relationship for ten years:
"We lived on a farm, so I blamed my bruises and injuries on slipping in the yard or being kicked by a sheep," she says. "He was emotionally abusive too, calling me fat and ugly and blaming me for everything. I kept making excuses for him because I loved him, but eventually I knew I had to leave."
Eleanor went with a friend to church, which was an important part of her healing, and was later ordained. In parish ministry, she found that her experience helped her advise couples preparing to marry and to listen to people who were being manipulated and abused.
"The church is a vital resource for any community and, at its best, is both a refuge and a place where deep transformation happens," says Mandy Marshall, Co-Director of Restored, the organisation founded to help churches around the world to tackle violence against women.
"Talking in church about domestic abuse is the most important first step, whether that's mentioning it in sermons or being open in pastoral conversations to respond to disclosures. This vital research is the wake-up call we need to help us understand that this happens in churches too."
You can download the report here.
For resources to help churches address domestic abuse go to www.restoredrelationships.org/churchpack
For a copy of the In Churches Too report, a press invitation to the launch in Penrith on Wednesday 21 March, or for interviews with Rev Eleanor Hancock, Mandy Marshall or Dr Kristin Aune please call Katie Harrison on 07735 280598