On May 22nd several hundred people gathered at North Sydney Independent Theatre (hosted by Northside Baptist Church) to think further about how the local church can respond to Domestic Violence. We were confronted by the heart-wrenching story shared by a victim-survivor, and challenged to think about how our theology and every day practices help or hinder us to hear the voices of women and particularly of domestic violence victims in our midst. We were challenged to think about what the local church can do to respond better, to take action, to advocate and to protect, and reminded that the local church can play a significant role, that we can be a place where victims of domestic violence can be safe and cared for.
But where do you start? Here’s a few suggestions:
Learn about the dynamics of domestic violence: the pattern of power and control, manipulation and fear that characterises a relationship where DV is happening: https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/domestic-violence/about . DV is often so much more than physical violence: it can include emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, threats to harm person, family members or property, social isolation, financial control, spiritual abuse and sexual violence – these last two appearing to be particularly prevalent in the experiences shared by Christian women.
Learn what signs might suggest someone you know is experiencing domestic violence: there is very helpful information about signs to look for and how to respond on the 1800 RESPECT website: https://www.1800respect.org.au/violence-and-abuse/domestic-and-family-violence//support . Remember of course that domestic violence does not look the same in every situation, and there may be no specific “signs” at all.
We heard at Time to Act that there are groups in our community that have additional vulnerability to experiencing DV and for whom the impacts may be magnified by powerlessness or their lack of access to information, or feeling unsafe to ask authorities to intervene on their behalf; but let’s also remember domestic violence happens regardless of cultural background, socio-economic status, or educational background, so don’t get caught in thinking it won’t be happening in “my” community or church. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7T33JZSrSU
Be willing to start a conversation about domestic violence: if you are concerned someone might be experiencing DV, ask them about how things are going at home, are they feeling safe? Remember they quite likely won’t identify what’s happening as domestic violence, and may feel they are to blame. It can take time with gentle support to unpack the dynamics and how it is impacting them.
Ask your church leadership to schedule domestic violence information seminars to raise awareness, and for the leadership to do specific training on how to respond. (DV ALERT is one such training: https://www.dvalert.org.au/ ) You might like to give a copy of the St Marks Review Special Edition (March 2018) to the ministry team to read. Consider Active Bystander training to know how to address men’s attitudes around violence https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/2017/11/10/stop-nothing-not-option/ and join or host a community White Ribbon Day event.
Ask church leadership to access and make public your denominations domestic violence /domestic abuse policy and where people can access help: have posters on display in public areas that indicate we say No to domestic violence, have support service numbers visible in private locations, such as the women’s bathrooms. Make sure you have information available in your community languages as well. (DV Hotline: 1800656463, 1800RESPECT, note AURORA and DAISY apps also useful for local service information and how to access help)
Find out about local services supporting victims of domestic violence and see how your church can partner with them: hold a fundraiser for a local women’s shelter or support service or offer practical help. I know of one church in southern Sydney that makes care parcels for women and children arriving at the shelter in their area. Mary’s house in North Sydney is a great example of community partnership, find out how they developed that.
Has anything happened, has anything changed in churches in the last year..?
We’ve been challenged and confronted by the stories of victim-survivors that have been published in the last year by both the Julia Baird, Haley Gleeson report and the stories shared on Fixing Her Eyes, and the outpouring on social media around the #metoo, #churchtoo campaigns. The courage of these women to share their experiences in order to help the church do better at responding cannot be underestimated, and I think we owe them a deep debt of gratitude. The need to listen to the experience of survivors and be informed by them continues to be central to the church responding well, without of course any expectation that these women have to become advocates for change.
In the last 12 months we have heard apologies from the leadership of several denominations for the poor response to victims in the past: the work to do better is ongoing. New resources and initiatives have been made available: the “Safer” online resource for churches from Common Grace, https://www.saferresource.org.au/ and Baptistcare’s “More than Skin Deep” campaign https://morethanskindeep.org.au/ . The Sydney Anglican Church Synod passed the first Domestic Abuse Policy and good practice guidelines in October 2017. https://safeministry.org.au/for-parishes/domestic-violence-resources/ . This interim policy is under review and hopefully a final policy will be approved when Synod meets again this October. (If you’re an Anglican, ask your Synod reps to pay particular attention to this when the document is released). Additional work is being done on better response and practical support for spouses of people in Anglican ministry who are victims of domestic violence.
Anglicare Sydney has two new initiatives: the creation of the position of Family and Domestic Violence Advisor and Educator, to be a contact person for ministry staff responding to domestic violence situations, to provide advice and referrals and initial training for ministry teams, and a number of churches have already engaged in training or community DV forums. (call Anglicare Parramatta 9895-8144 for further information). Secondly, a new transitional housing project “SHIFT” which is building up a resource of properties to provide supported transitional housing to families leaving domestic violence, and refugee families. https://www.anglicare.org.au/get-involved/support-our-campaigns.
Anglicare has also become an accredited Men’s Behaviour Change programme provider with programmes available in Nowra and Parramatta: our work complements that of BaptistCare, Catholicare, Relationships Australia and others who are already experienced providers both in men’s behaviour change and victims support services. (contact Men’s Referral Service for information: http://www.dvnswsm.org.au/dvsm_directory/mens-referral-service-nsw/ ). The Beyond Abuse programme is also offered by Anglicare to support women who have been victims of DV; Catholicare (https://www.catholiccare.org/family-and-Individual-services/post-separation/domestic-and-family-violence-services/ ) and Baptistcare offer similar programmes. (https://baptistcare.org.au/our-services/community-services/domestic-and-family-violence/ )
Apologies, new policy and new programmes are not in themselves enough: the real work is done by the Holy Spirit, challenging and changing hearts and minds in each one of us about how we use or abuse power, and revealing what structures and practices make us blind to the impact of how power is used in the institutional church.
May we listen, learn and act, that our local churches can be places of refuge and safety, healing and hope, where we humbly live together as Christ’s dearly loved family, holding firmly to the Word of Life.
Family and Domestic Violence Advisor,