Resources for Faith Communities

Domestic abuse education and awareness among faith leaders and in faith communities is essential to ending this epidemic. Below are a few resources for faith leaders and faith communities.

If you are interested in a more comprehensive domestic abuse training for your faith community, please contact us. Safe Haven has a unique area of expertise in faith and domestic abuse issues – we are happy to work with your group free of charge.

Please note: several of following resources are excerpted from “The Healing Path,” A Guide for Survivors of Domestic Abuse, published by the Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviors that may include physical assaults, sexual assaults, emotional abuse, isolation, threats, stalking, manipulation, and/or intimidation. These behaviors are used by one person in an intimate relationship to control the other. The partners may be married, engaged, separated, or dating; heterosexual or gay; living together or not.

Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of someone’s religion (or lack of), gender identity or expression, age, race or nationality, cultural background, class, ability, and/or education.

More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Approximately 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 7 men in the U.S. have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime (2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Examples of Abusive Behavior

Emotional/Verbal/Psychological Abuse

  • Ridicules opinions/beliefs
  • Belittles or puts down
  • Continually criticizes or calls names
  • Humiliates in public or private
  • Threatens harms or suicide if relationship ends
  • Lies/contradicts, plays mind games
  • Withholds access/information about family finances
  • Destroys property or threatens to kill pets

Physical Abuse

  • Pushes, kicks, bites
  • Hits, slaps, punches
  • Throws objects or destroys property
  • Locks partner out of home
  • Refuses to help when partner is ill or injured
  • Uses weapons against partner
  • Abandons partner in dangerous situations
  • Threatens physical abuse

Sexual Abuse

  • Forces unwanted sexual acts on partner
  • Accuses partner of cheating
  • Insists partner dress in a sexual manner
  • Constantly criticizes partner sexually
  • Endangers partner’s sexual health with unprotected sex
  • Sabotaging forms of birth control
  • Reproductive coercion, including forcing partner to have unwanted children
  • Infecting partner with a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Spiritual Abuse

  • Quotes scripture to justify abusive, dominating, or other oppressive behaviors
  • Forces partner to violate religious beliefs
  • Prevents partner from attending church

Digital Abuse

  • Constantly checking texts, emails, and/or social media accounts without permission
  • Sending or distributing sexual photos of partner
  • Using GPS or other electronic devices to track whereabouts
  • Recording telephone conversations

Signs of Abuse

Victims of domestic violence are not likely to speak openly about their relationship, but may show subtle signs of having an abusive partner. Signs may include:

  • Unusually quiet or hesitant or unusually cheery behavior
  • Withdraws from activities and/or distances themself
  • Acts very guarded while talking on the telephone
  • Asks permission from partner to do ordinary things
  • Appears very depressed and/or anxious
  • Claims to be “accident-prone”
  • Makes comments about partner’s “moodiness,” “short fuse,” or “temper”
  • Glances quickly at partner before responding to a question or statement from others
  • Tries to smooth things over and works harder than seems necessary to avoid upsetting partner
  • Looks often at watch when away from home
  • Frequent vague physical symptoms and sicknesses
  • Makes a suicide attempt or gesture.

If you notice someone exhibiting these characteristics, don’t be afraid to privately ask if the person feels safe at home. If the person tells you they do not, refer them to a local program, such as Safe Haven’s, for help.

Why They Stay

There are many barriers in leaving an abusive relationship. Often times, what keeps someone from leaving an abusive relationship is fear for their safety, and if they have children, fear for the safety of their children.

The National Institute of Justice reports that the period of time following a survivor’s decision to leave a domestic violence situation is often the most dangerous time in the relationship. It is estimated that 75% percent of domestic homicides take place right before or right after someone leaves an abusive relationship.

Additional barriers to leaving an abusive relationship include:

  • Economic Mobility: Abusers often use financial abuse as a way of controlling their partner. Without access to funds, many victims of abuse do not have the resources to seek help and/or fear they will not be able to support themselves and/or their family after they leave.
  • Cultural and/or Religious Pressure: Those experiencing abuse often think they will be ostracized from their community if they chose to leave their abuser.
  • Self-Blame: Someone experiencing abuse often blames themselves for the abuse they experience. This can lead them to think that if they could only do something different the abuse will stop.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Abusers often use verbal and emotional abuse to constantly put down their partner. This can cause the person experiencing abuse to have low self-esteem.

How to Respond to Someone Who Reveals an Abusive Relationship

  1. Believe them. A person revealing abuse for the first time often only reveals part of the abuse. What you’re hearing may only be a small portion of much more extensive abuse.
  2. Reassure them that this is not their fault. They don’t deserve this treatment; it is not God’s will for them. They are not alone.
  3. Let them know that help is available and that you will be a support for them throughout her journey.
  4. Give them referral information for help at a local domestic violence agency. Do not recommend marital counseling as this can often put the abused person in more danger (see below for more information about couples/marriage counseling when abuse is present).
  5. Hold the abuser accountable – domestic abuse is never justified. Do not blame the victim/survivor.
  6. Pray with the person experiencing abuse.

What about Couples/Marriage Counseling?

When abuse is present in a relationship, couples and marriage counseling is not recommended for several reasons, primarily because a person who is being abused may not be safe in a counseling session for fear of retribution from the abuser. Initially, individual counseling is recommended, although reconciliation counseling may be an option after the abuse has ended.

What Faith Communities Can Do to Prevent Domestic Abuse

  1. Become educated about domestic abuse. Safe Haven offers many opportunities to help faith communities recognize signs of abuse and learn how best to respond. Sign up to have someone come and speak to a small group or adult education class about domestic abuse.
  2. Give a sermon on domestic violence. God desires Shalom (peace, wholeness, completeness) in our homes and on earth and yet Shalom cannot be present where there is domestic abuse. Let your community know that there is no justification for abuse. Taking a public stand against domestic abuse can give hope to individuals who are being abused and help prevent abuse from happening elsewhere.
  3. Discuss domestic abuse in pre-marital counseling. Educate couples who are about to enter marriage on domestic abuse – what it is and why it’s wrong. Discuss this topic openly and let couples know that your faith tradition values healthy, peaceful relationships.
  4. Teach teens about healthy relationships. One in three adolescent in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. Make healthy relationship discussions part of your youth group curriculum. Take advantage of Safe Haven’s Teen Dating Violence Prevention Program. For more information, click here.
  5. Post resources for help in restrooms. Safe Haven Ministries is happy to provide you with posters including tear-off resource cards for your restrooms. This is a safe and inconspicuous way for individuals who are being abused to learn that help is available. To request these posters, please email us at info@safehavenministries.org

Recommended Reading

Fortune, M.M. (1995) Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse. San Francisco: Harper Publishing.

Fortune, M.M. (2004) Forgiveness and Abuse: Jewish and Christian Reflections. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Gardsbane, D. (2001) Embracing Justice: A Resource Guide for Rabbis on Domestic Abuse. Washington, DC: Jewish Women International.

Gardsbane, D. (2001) Healing & Wholeness: A Resource Guide for Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community. Washington, DC: Jewish Women International.

Kaufman, C.G. (2003) Sins of Omission: The Jewish Community’s Reaction to Domestic Violence. Boulder, CO: Westview Publishing.

Miles, A. (2000) Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

Miles, A. & Fortune, M.M. (2002) Violence in Families: What Every Christian Needs to Know. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

Staff of Volcano Press. (1995) Family Violence and Religion: An Interfaith Resource Guide. Volcano, CA: Volcano Press.

Web Resources