FAITH communities, including churches, are reluctant to tackle
domestic violence and sexual abuse because of their understanding
of their sacred texts, and a lack of understanding of the issues, a
conference heard this week.
Leaders of different faiths joined police, local politicians,
and professionals for the conference, held on Tuesday at a centre
attached to a Sikh temple in Birmingham.
The conference heard that one victim of domestic violence was
told that she could not leave her abusive husband unless he was
unfaithful, because "that's what the Bible says." Another was
pressured by church leaders to retract a statement that she had
made to the police.
The organiser of the conference, Kudakwashe Nyakudya, a survivor
of domestic violence, established the Kahrmel Wellness organisation
to educate faith groups both about the issue. Part of the problem,
she said, was the "diminished value of womanhood" in many
"Women are seen as subjects," she said. "I was told by my
ex-husband that many men say that women are the property of their
husband, so the husband can do whatever he likes to them. This is a
belief system that has been sustained from generation to
generation. So part of our work is eradicating domestic over the
The subject leader in Abuse Studies at Manchester Metropolitan
University, Dr Lisa Oakley, told the conference that many female
victims of domestic violence did not seek help from their churches
"because women think their pastors are not interested, or don't
know anything about it".
She cited a study of the Roman Catholic Church which reported
that 87 per cent of respondents knew someone who was a victim of
domestic violence; but 71 per cent said that the Church's teaching
on divorce was an obstacle to seeking help.
One in four women is thought to be a victim of domestic
violence. Research by the Methodist Church and Jewish groups
suggests that this figure is the same in faith communities.
"Research shows that only 14 per cent of victims in churches get
help," Ms Nyakudya said. "We have come across a few isolated
examples of good practice, but some have restrictions. Some of them
are known to signpost [to sources of help], but they can't do
anything on their own."
Delegates were shown scientific studies showing that the brain
development of unborn babies can be affected if the mother suffers
from violence and abuse during pregnancy. The director of the
Stefanou Foundation, Amanda McIntyre, said that "by the age of
eight, children exposed to domestic abuse from birth to the age of
two will have an IQ on average 7.25 lower than those who were not
An imam from Bradford, Alyas Karmani, spoke about his work with
the Amirah Foundation, which works on the streets and in prisons to
tackle the "negative masculinity" that leads to the perpetration of
violence by young men.
"Many young men now believe that violence is the norm," he said.
He blamed what he called the "Grand Theft Auto paradigm", where
children are educated by video games and internet porn, and
influenced by pop culture, including the performance of the song
"Drunk in Love" by Beyoncé and Jay-Z at the Grammy Awards ceremony
last month, which has been accused of condoning domestic abuse.
Mr Karmani spoke of the gang culture in which many young
people's first experience of sex takes place at the age of 13 or
14, and involves groups of boys and girls having sex together,
while the incident is filmed to ensure that the boys have control
over the girls.
He spoke to one young man in prison who had been involved in
this: "He sees girls as worthless objects. He could never see
himself in a positive relationship with a woman, because women
weren't equals. . . He could not understand that I had been married
to the same woman for 20 years."
Mr Karmani also criticised sex education in schools which, he
said, taught children how to use a condom and avoid sexually
transmitted infections, but did nothing to challenge the myths
about relationships, or to support positive partnerships between
men and women.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, Bob
Jones, said that it was important for faith communities to tackle
domestic violence and sexual abuse within their own communities and
organisations; and also to join with the police to tackle the issue
in wider society. "The importanceof working together should be
heightened," he said, after speaking at the conference.
One of those attending the conference was the Canon Liturgist at
Birmingham Cathedral, the Revd Janet Chapman. She said that the
Church should start "taking apart . . . the very difficult passages
about divorce" and "see them in context". They should not be used
as "an excuse to perpetuate relationships where the damage has been
done, or putting glue on a relationship where the vows have been
broken . . . by one of the partners."
On Monday, the General Synod will debate gender-based violence,
after a report by the Mission and Public Affairs Council (News, 24 January).
The motion before Synod calls for support for "measures to bring
perpetrators to account" and encouragement for "boys and men to
stand against gender-based violence".
It also calls on "dioceses, deaneries, and parishes" to "seek
practical approaches" to implement an Anglican Consultative Council
resolution on "preventing and eliminating gender-based