AS MANY as one in four churchgoers in Cumbria have experienced domestic abuse in their current relationship, a new study suggests.
The study, In Churches Too, was carried out by academics from the University of Leicester and the University of Coventry in conjunction with the charity Restored, which was set up to help churches around the world confront violence against women.
More than 400 people took part in a survey, and 109 of them said that 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, and women were more likely to say they had experienced serious forms of abuse than men.
Dr Kristin Aune, of Coventry University, who led the research, said: “Domestic abuse happens in churches, too. 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 12 women who have experienced between ten and 20 abusive behaviours, and six women who are currently in relationships where they fear for their lives.”
Emotional abuse was found to be the most commonly experienced form of abuse.
Respondents attended a range of churches in Cumbria. Only two in seven felt that their church was adequately equipped to deal with a disclosure of abuse, and most were more aware of domestic abuse outside the church context than within it.
A co-founder of Restored, Mandy Marshall, said: “One of the biggest barriers we have faced is Christians not believing that domestic abuse could happen in their church; maybe that one down the road, but not their church, or perhaps the woman sat next to them on a Sunday morning. My hope is that this research is a wake-up call to all churches to recognise that domestic abuse happens in churches, too, and that we need to respond appropriately and effectively when domestic abuse is disclosed.”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, said that churches clearly had more work to do in educating churchgoers on responding well. “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.”
The Revd Eleanor Hancock, who was Priest-in-Charge of Carlisle until her retirement last year, was in an abusive relationship for ten years. She said: “We lived on a farm; so I blamed my bruises and injuries on slipping in the yard, or being kicked by a sheep. 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.”
The study said that the findings could not necessarily be extrapolated to represent all churchgoers in Cumbria or the UK, as it was carried out among individuals who put themselves forward to take part in the survey, and therefore had an interest in domestic abuse.