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Religion and Intimate Partner ViolenceUnderstanding the Challenges and Proposing Solutions$

Nancy Nason-Clark, Barbara Fisher-Townsend, Catherine Holtmann, and Stephen McMullin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190607210

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190607210.001.0001

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(p.1) 1 Introduction
Religion and Intimate Partner Violence

Nancy Nason-Clark

Barbara Fisher-Townsend

Catherine Holtmann

Stephen McMullin

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Intimate partner violence is a complex, ugly, fear-inducing reality for large numbers of women throughout the world. When violence exists in a relationship, safety is compromised, shame abounds, and peace evaporates. Violence is learned behavior, and it flourishes most when it is ignored, minimized, or misunderstood. This chapter outlines the authors’ program of research and their intellectual indebtedness to diverse bodies of literature on domestic violence and on lived religion. It is organized around a series of pertinent questions that enable the exploration of concepts such as vulnerability, resiliency, cultural competency, and accountability in the lives of families impacted by abuse.

Keywords:   intimate partner violence, resiliency, vulnerability, accountability, lived religion, abused women, abusers

Intimate partner violence is a complex, ugly, fear-inducing reality for large numbers of women throughout the world. Although proportionately women are far more likely to be the victims of abuse, and men the perpetrators, some men are battered and some women are the aggressors. When violence exists in a relationship, safety is compromised, shame abounds, and peace evaporates. Children are always impacted whether or not they are the targets of specific abusive acts on the part of either parent. Violence is learned behavior, and it flourishes most when it is ignored, minimized, or misunderstood. Early detection and intervention is critically important, but so too is compassion and the application of best practices for those impacted by it. Prevention is the ultimate goal.

Religious families are not immune to the frequency, severity, or long-term consequences of the problem of abuse. When violence strikes the homes of deeply religious women, they may be more vulnerable. They are more likely to believe that their abusive partners can, and will, change. They are less likely to leave a violent home temporarily or forever. They are often reluctant to seek outside sources of assistance. They are frequently disappointed by the response of the religious leader to their call for help. Often, they believe they are called by God to endure the suffering, to forgive (and to keep on forgiving) their abuser, and to fulfill their marital vows for better or for worse until death do us part. Sometimes they fear that calling 911 or going to a transition house for shelter will raise suspicions about their spiritual maturity. Sometimes religious batterers employ explicitly religious language to justify the violence toward their intimate partners. It is not uncommon for men who batter to manipulate spiritual leaders and to ensure that they alone receive the support of the congregation.

(p.2) This book seeks to navigate the relatively uncharted waters of intimate partner violence in families of deep faith, or strong religious convictions. We examine the specific challenges that are raised, or exacerbated, when violence and religion comingle in intimacy and shared family experiences. We isolate and examine the boundaries of the reality of fear but also the power and complexity of human agency, the reality of control but also the power of those who are prepared and trained to assist, and the centrality of faith—through pastoral or spiritual care—to mediate and negotiate strategies for those impacted when abuse strikes the homes of the faithful.

Understanding the challenges posed by violence when victims or perpetrators or both are highly religious is extremely important for those who work with women and men impacted by abuse. Secular community-based workers find it very difficult to work with the highly religious, whereas pastors and priests find it very difficult to work with the violated and violators. Both sacred and secular professionals—clergy and community-based workers alike—find it difficult to cooperate and collaborate. There is fear and mistrust on both sides, fuelled by experiences of working with people who do not understand or respect those who differ from themselves.

The program of research on which this book is based spans more than 25 years and includes a wide variety of specific studies involving religious leaders, congregations, battered women, men in batterer intervention programs, and the army of workers who assist families impacted by abuse. These include criminal justice workers who are engaged in the justice part of the story (police, parole, probation, and judges), therapeutic staff who are involved in intervention or support (social workers, group facilitators, and therapists), advocacy workers (in emergency shelter or outreach programs), and religious workers (e.g., pastors, clergy, seminary students, and elders/lay leaders from a variety of faith traditions).

As we develop the themes of the various chapters, we will rely on the data generated from our various studies to provide the rich and colorful portrayal of the intersection of intimate partner violence and religious beliefs and practices that inform and interweave throughout daily life. Such a focus on lived religion1 will enable us to isolate, examine, and evaluate ways in which religion both augments and thwarts the journey toward justice, accountability, healing, and wholeness for women and men caught in the web of intimate partner violence.

Later in this chapter, we situate our story of understanding intimate partner violence and religion amid the growing literature on domestic violence, the emerging writing on lived religion in America and elsewhere, and the ever-increasing but still relatively infrequent calls for religious leaders to take notice of abuse among the faithful. First, however, we turn to our story: how we began researching abuse, our program of research, what we each bring to the project, and our understanding of the issues.

Our Story of Researching Religion and Intimate Partner Violence

We began working together many years ago. For some time before that, I (Nancy) had been exploring how communities of faith were responding to abuse, including how they were sometimes directly responsible for it, as in the case of clergy predators. My first government report on issues of child sexual abuse was prepared in 1987; I helped establish the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research at the (p.3) University of New Brunswick (UNB) in the early 1990s; and Westminster/John Knox Press published my first book on wife abuse in Christian families in 1997, titled The Battered Wife: How Christians Confront Family Violence.

Barbara joined my research team as a doctoral student, worked with me later on a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship, and we have collaborated ever since—whether she is living in Florida or on the east coast of Canada. Cathy returned to university after many years of employment as a Roman Catholic chaplain in a university setting, completed two graduate degrees under my supervision, and she now serves as Director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research at UNB. Steve is an ordained Baptist minister who currently holds the post of Academic Dean at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Previously, Steve served for 27 years as a pastor before returning to university and beginning to work with our team.

Throughout the years, I have worked with a fantastic group of graduate students, many of whom have become colleagues and co-partners in research. Although they were not involved in any direct way with this book, many former graduate students played a role as a research assistant in one of the many projects this book highlights. Their names are mentioned in the Preface.

The research of our team has been enriched by a vast array of religious perspectives and persuasions of those connected to it. Although not all the women and men connected to our team were people of strong religious convictions themselves—and a few were decisively not religious—most were involved at some level with a particular faith community, as sympathizers, members, or activists, and some would place themselves in the “lapsed” category.

Our Research Projects

During the past 25 years, we have been engaged in a wide variety of studies on abuse and religion. Taken together, these projects, outlined in Appendix 1, offer a window into how congregations and their leaders understand abuse and respond to those impacted by it—victims as well as perpetrators. In the early years, we were focused on clergy and religious women who were survivors. Using diverse methodologies, we sought to understand what happens when a religious woman looks to her faith community for help after she has experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner. We wanted to tell her story from her perspective, but we were also interested in the story of religious leaders, told from their perspective. We employed quantitative and qualitative research strategies in our search for answers, and we conducted interviews, focus groups, and surveys among church leaders and the women connected with parishes associated with numerous Christian denominations.

Alongside our work in congregational life, we began projects that attempted to understand the perspective of community-based professionals and agency workers who found themselves assisting religious clients or were in contact with religious leaders. Here, we collected data from staff of transition houses and others employed as advocates, as well as criminal justice workers such as police, probation, and parole officers.

Later projects focused more fully on the response of agency workers to those who act abusively and the stories of the abusive men. For a period of 4 years, we interviewed 50 men every 6 months who were connected with one batterer intervention (p.4) program, and in another agency we collected data from more than 1000 case files representing a 10-year period of the agency’s work with abusive men. As part of Barbara’s dissertation, she went to court to observe domestic violence cases, and together we interviewed many workers involved in the lives of men who batter, such as parole and probation officers, group facilitators and other agency staff, as well as a few judges.

For several years, we were involved in research projects at various seminaries in Canada and the United States where Steve collected both survey and focus group data from more than 400 students. One of our studies, Cathy’s dissertation, involved interviews with 58 Christian and 31 Muslim women who had settled in the Atlantic Region within the past decade; Cathy also conducted a cross-Canada research project on Roman Catholic resources for domestic violence. Another study, Steve’s dissertation, examined the social aspects of congregational decline. Other graduate and undergraduate honors projects connected with our team involved the role of women clergy in cases of abuse, church youth groups and family violence, and the role of religion and congregations in the lives of Catholic or Mennonite or Baptist women. Most of these projects were based in North America, but there were some research endeavors in Jamaica, Croatia, Germany, and India.

As our book unfolds, we focus on the stories of battered religious women as told to our research team, as well as the narratives of violence told by women to clergy or secular service providers whose help they have sought. By focusing on data collected over many years and several different projects, we are able to examine some of the contours of how women of faith talk about their experience of domestic violence and their search for practical and spiritual resources in its aftermath. We are particularly interested in ways in which religious leaders and religious congregations respond to women who have been violated in their intimate relationships. And we want to identify and explore how religious practices are understood by women victims and by those who walk alongside them as contributing to women’s search for peace and safety at home. Later chapters focus on men who have acted abusively and have been processed by the criminal justice system as a result, followed by further chapters that highlight more fully the response of religious leaders and the training that they receive.

Condensing a large amount of data into a small amount of space is no easy task. Neither is extrapolating explicitly religious factors in a woman’s life, or a man’s, as distinct from family connections, friendship networks, and other personal characteristics. However, religious practices, or practices endowed with religious or sacred significance, abound in the lives of the women and men we have studied. In our effort to highlight these, we turn our attention to how women and men view their faith as impacting their journey and some of the complications that arise as they search for help and try to accommodate their experience of being abused, or being abusive, with their deeply held religious convictions and ongoing religious practices. We draw from our published research, disseminated in various forms in books, book chapters, and refereed articles listed in Appendix 2; the studies are listed in Appendix 1. We end each of the data chapters, beginning with Chapter 2, with a section in which we highlight the response of victims, advocates, religious leaders, and the criminal justice system to the data we are addressing. Not only is this meant to illustrate the various constituencies involved in any response to intimate partner violence but also it highlights the divergent issues, challenges, and possibilities that surface for each group.

(p.5) The Development of the RAVE Project

In 2005, with a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation, our work expanded greatly and we were able to begin an online initiative called the RAVE (Religion and Violence e-Learning) Project. As we developed, tested, and implemented this web-based dissemination series, including resources and online training, we invited a wide variety of partners from four location sites to join with us. Our four sites (Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbia, Missouri; Eugene, Oregon; and Calgary, Alberta, Canada) were chosen as a way to understand more clearly some specific groups within the broader population.

Our RAVE Project partnerships involved collaboration with criminal justice workers (police, parole, probation, and court officers and judges), therapeutic staff (social workers and group facilitators), domestic violence advocates (shelter staff and outreach workers), and religious leaders (pastors, clergy, and elders) in three American cities as well as one Canadian urban center.

One of our location sites was Charlotte, North Carolina, which is affectionately known by some as the City of Churches. We chose Charlotte as a venue to explore the role and influence of the many African American churches that are located there. African American churches have been in the forefront of recognizing the prevalence and severity of domestic violence in their own midst—inside their churches—and beyond their fellowships in the communities in which their churches serve (Townsend Gilkes, 2001; West, 1999). Lay pastors, many of whom are women, as well as ordained elders and clergy (some of whom are women) work tirelessly to build bridges between their congregations and the needs of the hurting in their communities.

In this area of the country, many criminal justice workers use the language and symbols of faith in everyday conversation and even in their work. Charlotte is the birthplace of evangelist Billy Graham, and one of the contributors from the Charlotte team was a former police officer who worked for many years with Graham’s ministry. It was not uncommon in this cultural context to hear workers in the criminal justice system or in advocacy or community-based agencies use religious language or mix together social justice and advocacy concerns with talk of God or the spiritual life. Every time there is a domestic violence homicide in Mecklenburg County, the police department organizes a candlelight vigil in downtown Charlotte in order to bring citizens together. The vigil is infused with religious symbolism in order to assist the community in remembering and honoring the life of the deceased, to acknowledge the pain of those left to mourn, and to remind those working for change of the hope that informs their important work.

Calgary, a diverse city in western Canada, was chosen as a site to highlight both the unique needs of the aboriginal population there and the innovative coordinated response to domestic violence called HomeFront, or the HomeFront Society for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (see http://homefrontcalgary.com). In 1990, before HomeFront was established, the Mayor’s Task Force on Community and Family Violence, working with the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, was instrumental in bringing the issue of abuse to the fore in the city, laying some of the groundwork, providing initial seed funding, and offering political will to a concerted effort between police, the courts, and other key agencies in the city.

Calgary’s structured coordination of agencies involved with domestic violence also incorporated a religious voice through the presence of FaithLink—a faith-based (p.6) community agency that sought to build bridges between the sacred and the secular. The Calgary Domestic Violence Collective (http://www.endviolence.ca), another coordinating group of service providers and agencies, worked in collaboration with FaithLink to bring together both secular and faith-based resources to respond to sexual and intimate partner violence. In the Calgary context, the needs of particular groups, such as aboriginal families, Jewish families, and immigrant families, were identified, and programs and services were developed to meet their unique needs. Although there are no explicit faith-based programs in Calgary, various intervention programs have therapeutic staff available for both victims/survivors and perpetrators of abuse who wish to address religious issues specifically.

Eugene, Oregon, was chosen as one of our sites for two very different reasons. First, it is located in one of two US states with the highest proportion of religiously unaffiliated individuals, so this was a place to examine whether there was any difference in a location with a greater proportion of the population who self-identify as nonreligious. Second, it is home to the largest faith-based batterer intervention program (BIP) in the United States, serving approximately 200 men each week. This combination of characteristics offered us an opportunity to explore religion and intimate partner violence in a setting very different from Charlotte.

In the Eugene context, there is a well-developed community-based system of advocates and organizations working to end domestic violence and a vibrant organization offering drop-in and residential services for victims/survivors called Womenspace. Here, the faith-based agency Christians as Family Advocates (http://www.cafaweb.com) has been instrumental in ensuring that matters of importance to religious people are identified and considered. It has a strong track record in working together with other service providers in the local area, and it offers a state-certified BIP, funded without any monies from the state.

The fourth location site, Columbia, Missouri, which is centered in the religious “heartland of America,” offered us the opportunity to observe the nexus between religion and domestic violence in a relatively homogeneous and highly religious environment. Here, we were able to explore several smaller community-based initiatives and to partner with university, advocacy, and religious team players. At this site, we saw the tensions between various religious leaders within the Christian community as they sought to understand and respond to issues of violence in their own denominational contexts.

Our team’s religious credibility was significant at the Columbia site, and we experienced how this played out in various contexts as we worked together with our university colleagues, those in the shelter movement, and with various religious congregations and denominations. Hosting a variety of training venues with and for those in the local area, we were able to understand the close relationship in this geographical area between religious beliefs and practices, provision of services, and the application of best practices for families impacted by abuse.

Strengths and Limitations

For the most part—but not exclusively—our credibility and our data related to intimate partner violence (IPV) and religion are linked to the broader Christian tradition. Here, we have both depth and breadth of experience. This is evidenced through our (p.7) numerous research projects carried out over an expansive period of time. Throughout the years, our team has represented the diversity within Christendom (in terms of commitment levels and theological orientations) as well as those of no expressed religious commitment. Although we can speak with confidence about our knowledge of the Christian tradition and IPV, we have a growing number of experiences of working collaboratively with others in various areas of eastern and western Canada and the United States (and in other selected areas of the world) who work with other religious communities, including Jewish congregations, Muslim communities, and other religious expressions such as native spirituality.

Whenever possible, we broaden our coverage of various world religions in the book. However, we want to be careful to do so without diluting our credibility or exaggerating our strengths. Our scholarship has been developed, for the most part, in understanding how one major world religion—Christianity—has been instrumental in either hindering or enhancing the journey for a victim (or a perpetrator) in the aftermath of domestic violence. We have sought and examined ways that religious communities and their leaders have been part of the problem and part of the solution. Certainly, there is great overlap in the issues from one world religion to another. That is the message we have been told time and again from those representing other traditions with whom we have worked or who have been present at training sessions we have offered. However, it is important not to overestimate the similarities nor to underrepresent the specific issues that need to be addressed within each faith tradition, whether Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and so on. To maintain the integrity of our expertise while ensuring that we are as inclusive as possible in our discussion, we have made every attempt to include references to other religious traditions in the literature review and in the chapters that follow, but we want to be clear—our data are rooted, for the most part, in the Christian tradition.

Our book aims to assist those who walk alongside religious victims, perpetrators, and their families as they cope with life in the aftermath of domestic violence. This includes religious leaders—such as ordained clergy, priests, pastors, and others in positions of spiritual leadership—as well as families, friends, and co-religionists who offer assistance and support. It also includes professionals, many of whom may be secular in orientation and training but who work with clients in the social work, criminal justice, or therapeutic fields. Victims and survivors who are religious may find the book helpful, and we have made an attempt to write in a way that increases its accessibility to a wider, generalist audience. We do so on the basis of data we have collected from a variety of projects. Thus, we consider our book to offer evidence-based best practices related to intimate partner violence and religion.

As with any book, we have made choices about what to include and on what issues we wish to focus. We have not focused on men as victims of IPV. We certainly recognize that men too can be victims of IPV. However, women are more likely to be victims, and religious women are much more likely (than religious men) to seek help from a religious leader in the aftermath of victimization. That is the data—but it is important, of course, to highlight that there may be a plethora of reasons why religious men might be too ashamed to seek help from a pastor or other religious leader if their partners abuse them. We note the prevalence of IPV in same-sex relationships, but here too, religious same-sex couples do not appear to seek help from their religious leaders (in the same proportions as heterosexual couples) when violence strikes their homes (that is the data from our clergy studies; Dickey Young, 2012). With our strengths (p.8) highlighted and our limitations acknowledged, we turn to consider the story of the vast literature on domestic violence and on religion that has impacted our thinking.

Selected Themes in the Literature Impacting Our Understanding of Intimate Partner Violence and Religion

It is commonplace to begin the story of IPV with an overview of its frequency and severity as well as the long-term implications of being impacted by it. In other writing, we have adopted this approach. We have chosen to follow a different path here. The frequency, severity, and consequences of abuse will be interwoven throughout the chapters that follow. As we discuss our data related to the victims, perpetrators, religious leaders, and congregations, we will reference relevant research of divergent scholars that help us to make sense of what we have found—how it differs, or is similar, to their published work.

What we wish to do here is frame our analysis of religion and IPV by considering several important questions related to points of intersection between religion and abuse. We have chosen these as selected themes in the more recent literature on domestic violence. We situate our literature review within the contexts of these issues and the dialogue they prompt for us and for others.

We start by thinking about vulnerability and then resiliency—two concepts deeply embedded in any discussion of IPV both for victims and for those who harm them. We then move on to think about religious congregations and the networking possibilities that they offer and the diversities that they represent. Next, we consider issues of justice. We then consider cultural competency, a key response to the more recent focus on intersectionality in the study of IPV. Finally, we highlight the impact of IPV on children.

  1. 1. What are some of the vulnerability factors that surface prominently in the lives of those impacted by abuse?

There are several vulnerability factors that prevent women from recognizing and disclosing abuse and seeking safety. Patriarchal social structures make women vulnerable to violence at the hands of their male intimate partners. Although they are undergoing changes (Inglehart & Norris, 2003), context-specific social constructions of gender and the expectations for gender roles continue to put pressure on women to think and act in ways that place them in subordinate positions of power to men. Even a cursory look at images used in advertising reveals men in positions of dominance that emphasize their power and strength, whereas women are in positions of submission. Male power is enforced through the constant threat of violence against women (Hartsock, 1983). That violence against women is also highly sexualized is attested to by ubiquitous technological access to pornography (DeKeseredy, 2011). MacKinnon (2006) argues that pornography conditions male sexual gratification on the violation and degradation of women. Some Western secular states prescribe women’s sexual availability in the public sphere (Selby, 2014). Walby (2009) argues that violence is constitutive of patriarchal power, and there are a variety of manifestations of patriarchy in different institutions and cultures (Hunnicutt, 2009).

(p.9) Despite postmodern theorizing about the social structuring of desire and the disruption of gendered discourse through the practices of identity politics (Butler, 2006), patriarchal religious structures support gender dualism and can promote women’s emotional and spiritual dependency on men. In particular, religious women feel a disproportionate responsibility, even a sacred duty, to keep their families together (Nason-Clark, 1998). Feelings of shame and guilt can keep religious women in violent marriages.

The capitalist structuring of global economies also contributes to the vulnerability of women impacted by abuse. Neoliberal capitalism has led to a rapid increase in the participation of women in the paid labor market; however, their gendered responsibilities for care work have resulted in the proliferation of precarious work—work that accommodates women’s caregiving responsibilities but perpetuates economic inequalities between women and men (Kalleberg, 2013; Vosko, 2000). Economic globalization has produced large flows of migrant workers from the South to the North. Immigrant women in all societies face barriers in accessing information about their civic and legal rights in different national contexts (Miedema & Wachholz, 1998; Mosher, 2009) as well as knowledge about public services available to them in the aftermath of violence. A significant barrier in accessing information is language differences and the inadequacy of translation services for immigrants in the public sector (Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, 2016).

There are a number of vulnerabilities found in men who act abusively that offer roadblocks on their journeys toward changed lives. The first originates in their families of origin. The witnessing and/or experiencing of violence in the home causes children to internalize a culture of violence within the family (Black, Sussman, & Unger, 2010), leading to the intergenerational transmission of violence (Rosenbaum & Leisring, 2003). In their early socialization, children learn that violence can be a normative means of conflict resolution within the family (Bandura, 1973). Dutton (2000) argues that overcoming and recovering from the impact of witnessing or experiencing abusive behavior during childhood is important to peaceful living. There is a consistent link between exposure to violence in the family of origin and subsequent family violence (Chen & White, 2004; Delsol & Margolin, 2004; Kerley, Xu, Sirisunyaluck, & Alley, 2010; cf. Renzetti, Edleson, & Bergen, 2011). In our earlier book, Men Who Batter (Nason-Clark & Fisher-Townsend, 2015), we discuss challenging childhood experiences that increase propensity toward violence in later years—including instability factors such as drug use, alcohol use, or other risk-taking activities (Gover, 2004) and issues such as insecure attachment, poor problem-solving skills (Ehrensaft et al. 2003; Teague, Mazerolle, Legosz, & Sanderson, 2008), or being from a fragile home environment (Högnäs & Carlson, 2010).

For those who have been abusive, the contexts in which most people typically find social support, such as friendship networks, are either missing or unsupportive of change. According to Laub and Sampson (2003), friends act as sources of informal social support that may help regulate behavior by contributing to lifestyle stability through encouragement and example. Those who act violently in the family context are likely to find themselves detached from exemplary friendship networks and more connected with those who act like themselves. They have alienated themselves from families and are often barred by no-contact orders from any interaction with their victims and children. What are they to do, then, other than seek out former friends and acquaintances—those who supported their previous violent lifestyle? And, as (p.10) Michalski (2004) notes, exposure to violent networks increases the likelihood of repeating their behavior.

The support of family and friends is essential to help keep abusive men focused on changing their attitudes and behavior. Relational distance and social isolation contribute to the maintenance of undesirable behavior in men who have acted abusively (Michalski, 2004). The lack of these supports therefore increases the vulnerabilities of men as they journey toward changed lives.

Overcoming drug and/or alcohol abuse is another area of vulnerability. This is part of what the men in our research refer to as “doing the work.” They firmly believe that it is only through personal effort that their lives will improve. Numerous researchers have discussed the complex relationship between substance abuse and woman abuse (Brown, Werk, Caplan, & Seraganian, 1999; Galvani, 2004; Gondolf, 1995; Humphreys, Regan, River, & Thiara, 2005). Intervention must then include useful sequencing of therapy for both wife abuse and substance abuse to ensure that violent situations are not further exacerbated by alcohol and drugs. Many of the men we interviewed were indeed enrolled in drug and alcohol treatment programs concurrently with their intervention programs and were seeking to change “one day at a time” with the support of their “higher power.” Yet this is a difficult journey fraught with setbacks and disappointments. Reliance on drugs or alcohol makes daily living a challenge and offers particular vulnerabilities for those moving toward change.

  1. 2. In what ways does the concept of resiliency help us to understand more accurately the response of families and individuals to abuse in the family context?

The notion of resiliency represents a strengths-based approach to understanding peoples’ responses in times of adversity (Howard, Cross, Li, & Huang, 1999). Resiliency can be used to describe the characteristics of both adults and children who have been victimized by domestic violence and who work toward safety and healing. It can also describe the characteristics of perpetrators of violence who make the changes necessary to act nonviolently. Both internal and external protective factors that foster resiliency have been identified.

One important internal protective factor that contributes to human resiliency is hope. Roy, Turcott, Montminy, and Lindsay (2005) identify the instillation of hope as a key therapeutic factor in groups for men who batter. The therapeutic value of hope is also identified by Bergin and Walsh (2005), who argue that the therapist is invested with the role of being “an ambassador of hope.”

A common theme that arises when searching for a definition of hope is that hope is intrinsically adaptive and positive (Bergin & Walsh, 2005). The word “hope” appears frequently in a spiritual context. In the Christian New Testament, it is viewed as an abiding characteristic of spiritual maturity, along with faith and love (e.g., 1 Corinthians 13:13). For a spiritually mature Christian, the Bible teaches that the character and the promises of God ultimately provide for one’s confidence and hope even in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Meadows, Kaslow, Thompson, and Jurkovic (2005) describe hope as “positive expectations about the future and positive ways of assigning causality to events” (p. 110). Thus, hope, particularly when linked with faith, engenders positive attitudes and serves as a potential protection against despair, giving up, and failing to meet goals. In addition, a person’s entire sense of well-being is (p.11) affected by the ability to perceive positive effects following negative experiences (Park & Folkman, 1997).

In our book Men Who Batter (Nason-Clark & Fisher-Townsend, 2015), we delineate several aspects of hope that were identified by the men involved in our research. These include notions such as the following: Hope is a life without dependence on alcohol; hope comes from God alone; hope is linked to a belief that one will reconnect with one’s children; one can hope to make a difference in someone’s life; and hope is having restrictions, such as travel, lifted. Each of these facets of hope offers resiliency to men on their journeys toward changing their thinking and behavior.

Women who are victims of abuse have hope that the violence in their relationship will end and that they and their children can live peacefully in the family unit. Often, they hope for reconciliation with their partners as well (Nason-Clark, 1997). Sometimes religious women are unrealistic in the hope that their abusive partners will change or that they themselves have the faith and ability to help their husbands change. Sacred texts are filled with passages encouraging those who live in times of pain and darkness not to give up hope in their journeys toward joy and light. Religious women need assistance in recognizing behaviors associated with cycles of abuse and understanding that they are not responsible for the actions of their abusers. They need to understand that men who act violently, for whatever reason, need professional help in order to change and that their role is to do whatever needs to be done in order to ensure their own safety. When this becomes clear to victims, then religious women’s hope can be directed toward their own journey of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Learning to access the available help and support for victims of domestic violence from both sacred and secular sources can help foster the realistic hope women require to assist them on their healing journey (Nason-Clark and Holtmann, 2013b).

Another internal aspect of resiliency is strong interpersonal relationships. Certainly, these strong relationships are often lacking in the lives of those impacted by abuse. The abusive men in our research identified the necessity for acquiring what they describe as “the tools” to help them sustain acceptable behavior and to sustain good relationships. These tools, often learned in therapy, teach them how to set boundaries and live in healthy relationships. They learn coping skills, social skills, and communication skills. The availability of these skills, which organize and direct their striving to achieve a better life, contributes to offering hope for improved lives through strong interpersonal relationships.

Victims of abuse are often isolated by their abusers from their support networks (Liao 2006). Threats of violence or of escalating the violence are often used to prevent victims from seeking help from family or friends (Basile & Black, 2011). A community of support that includes other survivors will contribute to the resilience of religious survivors who are renegotiating their beliefs in the aftermath of abuse (Nason-Clark & Holtmann, 2016). By working with a religious leader who has been trained in the best practices of responding to domestic violence or with support from a secular service provider who is sensitive to the importance of religion to some women, religious survivors can explore how concepts such as love, humility, submission, forgiveness, and sacrifice can be reinterpreted and put into action so as to support their well-being (Chaudry, 2013; Gerhardt, 2014).

External resiliency factors include family support, community support systems, and spirituality or religion (Benavides, 2010). These are sometimes in short supply for men who have acted abusively—but they can be acquired. Support, encouragement, (p.12) and forgiveness can be found by seeking these resources, perhaps using some of the “tools” they are offered in intervention programs. Those fortunate enough to find support from their family, community agencies, and/or religious beliefs can draw on these resources to increase their resilience in lives defined by adversity.

When religious leaders become knowledgeable about family violence and work collaboratively with secular service providers, female victims/survivors of violence can come to understand that they are not alone and that domestic violence is a widespread social problem (Holtmann, 2013b). The availability of information about domestic violence services in the community, such as those provided by police, shelters, therapeutic professionals, and outreach workers in places of worship, will contribute to the resiliency of survivors. This knowledge is also important for families, friends, and members of religious social networks who seek to support survivors. Religious prohibitions against divorce and the rhetoric of failed marriages must be nuanced in light of the empirical evidence of the prevalence of domestic violence. This can reduce individual feelings of shame and help women in using their experiences of domestic violence to develop empathy and compassion for other women. Understanding the social science data and the dynamics of IPV can prompt religious groups to work collectively for change, thus empowering survivors and giving them additional reasons for hope (Doob, 2002).

  1. 3. What do we know about social networks, especially among the religious, that might give us clues as to the benefits of religion for women in crisis?

The idea that being part of a religious congregation provides important social ties and supports is not new. In the 19th century, one of the earliest sociologists, Emile Durkheim, credited religion with promoting a greater consciousness of a collective identity in contrast to the individualistic identity promoted by modernity and capitalism (Durkheim 1990). He argued that it is through regular participation in collective religious rituals that religious people develop strong interpersonal bonds with one another. Regular participation in collective religious rituals is normative for both men and women in Christianity; however, this is not necessarily the case for other religious traditions. With globalization, Beyer (2007a) argues that all religious groups in the West are somewhat adapting to Christian norms, but there remain differences. For example, considerations of purity and space prevent some Muslim women from praying together with men (Anderson and Dickey Young 2010). In some mosques during Friday prayers, men and women pray in separate areas (McDonough & Hoodfar, 2009). Communal worship is not necessarily an essential practice for all Jews (Davidman, 2003).

There is considerable literature about the importance of social ties in religious congregations, especially with regard to the effect of those social networks on the health and well-being of members (Ellison & Levin, 1998; Idler, 1987; Kraus, 2006, 2008; Kraus & Bastida, 2011). Of particular note with regard to the potential role that a congregation might play in the life of a woman in crisis, much has also been written about the importance of the social supports that are provided to members in religious congregations (Edgell, Tranby, & Mather, 2013; Ellison & George, 1994; Merino, 2014; Taylor & Chatters, 1988).

This scholarship demonstrates the very positive effects of the social networks that are part of congregations large and small. So important are these social relationships that in smaller congregations, members often describe one another as family because (p.13) of the close ties that develop and the importance of those ties in providing trusted friendships and in meeting needs during times of sickness, crisis, and grief (McMullin, 2011). In larger congregations, and especially among the increasing number of so-called megachurches, such social networks are intentionally provided in the structure of the organization (primarily through structured small group meetings) so that even in a very large congregation there are opportunities to develop close ties that will provide effective social support (Putnam, 2000). In most large congregations, some of those structured small groups are gender specific—not because of a desire to segregate people by gender but, rather, to provide opportunities for women to support and encourage one another. Small group activities include groups that gather to study sacred texts; talk about the shared faith; engage in spiritual practices; organize and carry out formal and informal social events for the faith community; work together to raise funds for the religious group, missionary activity, or worthy social causes; and devote themselves to faith-based social change (Nason-Clark & Holtmann, 2013b). Small group religious activities can take place in churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues but also in homes, coffee shops, and local pubs. Many religious groups have also taken advantage of new technologies and provide opportunities for members to interact online in addition to their face-to-face activities (Campbell, 2012).

It is through participation in public religious rituals and a plethora of small group activities that religious social networks develop and involvement in religious social networks tends to heighten individual religiosity (Baker, 2013; Stroope, 2012). Religious social networks are particularly important to immigrants, and for many, collective religious involvement is a central form of social support when they are facing the challenges of settling into a new society (Ebaugh & Chafetz, 2000; Holtmann, 2013b). Many second-generation Muslim women in Canada have chosen to become more religiously engaged than their parents because it gives them a measure of authority and autonomy with the Muslim community (Hoodfar, 2012).

For victims who feel voiceless and powerless because of abuse, the congregation can potentially provide hope that they can once again contribute in meaningful ways. Ammerman and Farnsley (1997) note that the legitimacy of the congregation as a social organization makes it a place where it is possible that “otherwise voiceless people have a voice, and where those denied leadership learn to lead” (p. 363). That can be especially meaningful for a victim who, in an abusive relationship, has had all sense of power removed. Congregations can empower them by providing them with roles within the social life of the congregation that might have been denied to them at home.

Involvement in religious social networks can decrease the risk of a woman getting into an abusive or violent relationship (Ellison, Bartkowski, & Anderson, 1999), but social support networks play a complex role for a woman who is in a relationship with a violent partner (Katerndahl et al., 2013). Women living with IPV with social support networks report a stronger sense of safety and better physical and emotional well-being compared to women without social support. They are also more likely to seek legal assistance. However, women are more likely to leave a violent relationship if their social support is inadequate. Women living with IPV have smaller social networks compared to women who are not victimized, and the members of victims’ support networks tend to have similar experiences with abusive relationships.

  1. 4. How does religious diversity in the general society impact the provision of services for individuals and families when intimate partner violence occurs?

(p.14) A coordinated community response (CCR) to IPV is designed to improve victim safety as well as the accountability of perpetrators within specific local contexts (Uekert, 2003). It is intended to harness community leadership in response to the widespread problem of IPV, maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of community resources, and avoid duplication of services (Post, Klevens, Maxwell, Shelley, & Ingram, 2010). Ideally, a CCR would include shelter and advocacy services, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, therapeutic professionals, health care providers, government departments, community organizations, and religious groups. Each of these CCR components offers multiple services, including education, prevention, and awareness-raising campaigns (Shorey, Tirone, & Stuart, 2014).

Only relatively recently have religious organizations begun to be considered as part of a CCR to victims of intimate partner violence. This is partly because many religious organizations have been slow to respond to the problem of IPV within their congregations, whereas many secular service providers, particularly those grounded in feminist praxis, have assumed that because of patriarchal ideologies, religious groups can only be part of the problem of IPV and not part of the solution (Nason-Clark, Holtmann, Fisher-Townsend, McMullin, & Ruff, 2009). There is also an assumption among public service providers and policymakers in Canada that religion is not an important factor in a secular society (Bramadat, 2007). However, increased levels of religious diversity in the West, largely due to immigration (Beaman, 2006; O’Connor, 2014), have led to a reconsideration of the role of religion and the implications of religious diversity in all aspects of public life (Bramadat, 2008; Breton, 2012).

Because religious diversity is closely intertwined with ethnic diversity (Bramadat, 2005), increased religious diversity has presented an internal challenge to religious groups. Many religious groups have focused resources on the settlement and integration of large numbers of immigrant and refugee newcomers. Ethno-religious diversity also reshapes the nature of religious practices. For example, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is undergoing a dramatic transformation because of immigration from Latin America, whereas the character of Canadian Catholicism has changed with the arrival of large numbers of Asian Catholics (Fay, 2009). Some Canadian priests believe that visible minority Catholics are more conservative than their Canadian-born counterparts, particularly with regard to gender roles in the family (Holtmann, 2013a). This assumption may fuel the tendency of “othering,” or the inordinate projection of undesirable social behaviors, such as IPV, onto minority groups (Korteweg, 2012). This blinds religious groups to the prevalence of IPV among all Canadians, regardless of their ethno-religious backgrounds, and prevents them from sharing the responsibility for implementing the value of equality in a multicultural society (Beaman, 2012).

Ethno-religious diversity also presents challenges to the providers of public services. Assumptions of the secular nature of public life and criticism of lingering Christian hegemony in public institutions (Butot, 2007), the increase in the proportion of Canadians who do not claim religious identities (Statistics Canada, 2011a), and widespread religious illiteracy (Prothero, 2007) leave many public service providers unprepared to deal with clients for whom religious beliefs and practices are central to their identities, creating a chasm between the need and the services available. In many contexts, this insensitivity to ethno-religious diversity and institutional racism has led to the creation of culturally sensitive domestic violence services by minority groups in urban centers (Agnew, 1998).

(p.15) As immigration patterns shift, there is also an increasing amount of ethnic diversity within existing congregations—especially within the growing number of Christian congregations with more than 1,000 worshippers on an average Sunday. According to the 2015 Canadian Large Church Study (Bird et al., 2015), one in eight Protestant worshippers in Canada attend a congregation with an average worship attendance of more than 1,000 people, and among those large congregations, 62% are classed as multiethnic. Of even greater interest is that when asked for reasons for attending such a congregation, the second-most common response related to the “diverse range of people” within such congregations. That means that within these large Protestant congregations, there is not only a growing ethnic diversity but also an acceptance and even an enthusiasm regarding such diversity. In a social and religious environment in which people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds are welcome, there are opportunities to address cultural issues surrounding family life such as attitudes toward domestic violence.

Such congregations can also provide opportunities for victims who are perhaps thousands of miles from family to find close friendships and support networks so they can seek help in times of crisis. According to Putnam (2007), among all social groups that he has witnessed, it has been the so-called megachurches in the United States that have been the most successful at racial integration. He hypothesizes that “this undoing of past segregation is due, at least in part, to the construction of religiously based identities that cut across (while not effacing) conventional racial identities” (p. 161). In such congregations, religious belief provides an important bridge among people of different social, economic, and racial backgrounds. In a sense, large churches are socially structured to embrace diversity: The only way a large congregation can sustain itself is to focus its resources on the religious commonality among members. That means that regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or family background, the congregation welcomes people on the basis of their common religious faith. In such a congregation, diversity flourishes and opportunities exist to provide guidance and help for victims with diverse backgrounds.

  1. 5. What have we learned about the role of the criminal justice system in responding to intimate partner violence that might offer some guidelines for congregations as they respond to families impacted by abuse?

As members of the Religion and Violence Research Team of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, located at the University of New Brunswick, we have become convinced that building bridges between sacred and secular communities holds the most promise for reducing violence in our communities and responding with compassion and best practices to those who suffer its impact (Nason-Clark, Mitchell, & Beaman, 2004; Nason-Clark, Kroeger, & Fisher-Townsend, 2011). Central to the task of bridge building is creating an awareness of both the issue of domestic violence and the need to involve community-based and religiously informed workers in responding to it (Nason-Clark & Holtmann, 2013b). Each constituency needs to be aware of a plethora of new policies, programs, and procedures added within the criminal justice system in order to deal with the issue of abuse in the family context (Ames & Dunham, 2002; Denham & Gillespie, 1999; Loue & Maschke, 2001).

The intervention of the criminal justice system in cases of IPV most often begins with police response to a 911 call. Virtually every jurisdiction in North America now (p.16) has a mandatory arrest policy when it is clear that abuse has happened. Williams (1998) identifies a series of consequences that may arise in concordance with this initial response, including retaliation against the victim, dual arrest, lack of cultural sensitivity by the police, and slow responses in known ethnic neighborhoods. Once an arrest has been made and the perpetrator is out of the residence, a protection (no contact) order may be granted, which, according to Wallace (1996), is a court order that prohibits the offender from contacting the victim or their children, using physical abuse, or damaging the personal property of the victim. The next step involves the prosecutorial office laying charges. Depending on the seriousness of the assault or perhaps the use of a weapon, these charges may be either at the misdemeanor level or at the felony level2 and involve a particular level of assault, criminal trespass, stalking, sexual assault, or a variety of other crimes including homicide. As the case moves through the system, the next step is the prosecution phase in the court. If a specialized domestic violence court is available, this step usually occurs within days, but if it must go through the regular court system, this step could take months. If found guilty, the most common dispositions are offender treatment conditions, alcohol or substance abuse assessment and treatment, conditions requiring that the offender abstain completely from the use of alcohol, and conditions prohibiting contact with the complainant (Van de Veen, 2004, p. 84).

Danis (2003) argues that although “there are no simple answers to getting the batterer to stop his abusive behavior or to ensure client safety” (p. 242), congregations can offer support within the boundaries of several of these initiatives just described.

Congregations and their leaders can fill a helpful and important role with regard to the interaction between victims and the criminal justice system. First, a pastor or religious leader can serve as a “permission giver” to a victim who may believe that it would be wrong to involve the authorities in something as sacred as her marriage. The fact that the couple has made vows before God, the close relationship between the idea of marriage and the victim’s deeply held religious faith (and thus a sense that the home is a sacred space for a believer and her partner), and a fear (which perhaps has been encouraged by the abuser) that calling the police will do irreparable harm to the family’s reputation in the faith community can be reasons why a victim may decide to continue to endure the abuse rather than seek help. Although some might view those aspects of religious ideology as reasons to exclude religion from the response, the opposite is the case: If a religious leader is involved in the coordinated community response and can encourage the victim to call the police, have charges laid, and seek protection from the courts, the religious victim can access the help she needs with a sense of not having betrayed her congregation, her vows, or her faith.

When a victim is dealing with the criminal justice system, it can be helpful if the pastor or congregation can provide resources and recommend people to help. Perhaps the pastor knows of a lawyer who understands and appreciates the victim’s religious faith; it is also very helpful if there are other people within the congregation who have experienced the criminal justice system in relation to the abuse that they suffered. The vast majority of congregations include women who have experienced abuse, and some of those women have gone through the process of seeking personal protection from the courts as well as dealing with issues related to divorce and child custody. After those women have sufficiently healed from the abuse they once suffered, they can be an invaluable resource for women who are dealing with police, lawyers, and restraining orders. Having guidance from someone from within their own congregation will (p.17) remind them that they are not alone in their faith community and that they do not need to isolate themselves from their church family as they go through the legal processes.

The congregation can also provide practical support; examples include ensuring that the victim does not attend court alone but is accompanied by friends from the congregation, helping financially with legal expenses, and providing space and volunteers to assist with supervised visitation of children.

Congregations and their leaders can also help through their relationship with the abuser. On the one hand, the congregation can express to the perpetrator its condemnation of the violence while at the same time offering accountability and a long-term relationship as the abuser deals with the legal system and seeks to change through batterer abuse programs and/or substance abuse programs. In some cases, men in the church might serve as mentors as the abuser seeks to learn new ways of relating.

What pastors should not seek to do is to replace the role of the police or the courts. The primary roles of the pastor or religious leader are to ensure the immediate safety of the victim and to provide long-term spiritual care for victims and their family members. The pastor who seeks to confront the abuser about the violence or to enforce better behaviors within the marriage will most likely put the victim in even greater danger and will make it more difficult for the victim to find strength in her faith to escape the abuse.

  1. 6. How has our increased understanding and interest in the provision of culturally competent services to families in crises, and abused women in particular, impacted the inclusion of religious leaders in the coordinated community response to domestic violence?

Cultural competency relates to the ability to offer services that take into full account an individual’s distinctiveness in terms of ethnic, social, sexual, and religious diversities, to name a few. Relatively recently, cultural competency has been raised as an important issue for responding to aboriginal and immigrant women and men, for whom, it is recognized, the presenting needs may differ from those who belong to majority populations.

For aboriginal people in North America, the problems of racism, oppression, and the legacy of European contact and colonialism have created a disconnection from their cultural heritage that continues to profoundly impact their contemporary life (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2003). This legacy includes deaths due to epidemics of influenza and small pox, displacement from traditional native lands and ways of life, the rape and murder of native women, and the removal of children from native families to be placed in residential schools or to be adopted by non-native families, as well as the loss of traditional languages. Duran and Duran (1995) refer to the intergenerational transmission of the trauma from these types of atrocities and injustices as the “soul wound.” There is a genuine need for aboriginal men to recover from the effects of that disconnection with their culture and to reconnect with the traditions of their people.

The latest data from Statistics Canada (2014) indicate that aboriginals were slightly more than twice as likely to report being a victim of domestic violence and to experience more severe types of violence. The 2006 report of the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics states that both native American women and (p.18) Alaskan native women had rates of IPV of 18.2 (per 1,000 population)—the highest in the nation. The violence behind these data is a legacy of that “soul wound.” Any intervention program or procedure must recognize the colonial legacy as well as the context of violence within native families and attempt to bring restoration through the inclusion of spiritual and cultural practices meant to reconnect aboriginal peoples with their heritage.

The provision of culturally competent public services is also necessary for responding to domestic violence among Canada’s growing immigrant and visible minority populations, who are also impacted by structural racism and oppression (Agnew, 1998; Fong 2010). One in five Canadians are foreign born, and for many immigrants, religion is an important aspect of their identity and daily practices. Immigrant religious and ethnic identities and practices are often so closely intertwined that it is difficult to distinguish between them (Bramadat, 2005). Although the majority of immigrants are Christian, a large proportion of new immigrants identify with religions with which Canadians are less familiar, such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Like aboriginal worldviews, immigrant worldviews differ in significant ways from mainstream Canadian or secular worldviews (Selby, 2014). It is important for public service providers who respond to domestic violence among aboriginal and immigrant groups to better understand their identities and practices as well as the spiritual and religious resources available in their local contexts (Holtmann, 2016).

The inclusion of aboriginal and non-Christian worldviews and values requires a culturally competent service provider. Zellerer (2003) argues that becoming a culturally competent service provider involves (1) becoming knowledgeable about the group with which one is working, (2) being self-reflective and recognizing one’s own biases as well as those within one’s profession, and (3) integrating this knowledge and reflection with actual practice.

According to Bussey and Whipple (2010),

To respond most effectively to domestic and other forms of violence against Native women, it is vital to work toward an integrated, coordinated effort among practitioners across differing systems (i.e., tribal leaders, child welfare and social services, advocates, probation and parole officers, attorneys, and law enforcement officers). (pp. 296–297)

Likewise, coordinated and culturally competent responses to immigrant women survivors of domestic violence need to include the expertise of immigrant settlement services, multicultural and cultural associations, as well as Christian and non-Christian religious groups, particularly those that have developed support networks for women.

Culturally focused intervention programs for men who have acted abusively have been developed for an array of racially or ethnically diverse groups of male abusers (Gondolf & Williams, 2001; Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998; Kiyoshk, 2003). Aboriginal peoples have been identified as one group in need of culturally focused therapeutic interventions. Waldram (1994) argues that there is explicit therapeutic value in aboriginal spirituality programs because they have a significant effect on the (p.19) well-being of offenders. He details the following four benefits of spiritual programs within prisons that are relevant for batterer treatment programs as well:

  • They provide a mechanism for coping with life stresses.

  • Involving elders as therapists allows men to talk more openly and have more confidence in the therapeutic process.

  • Utilizing native therapists ensures a better understanding of the reserve context, including problems of physical and sexual abuse, as well as alcohol and substance use.

  • Aboriginal therapists have the ability to deal with questions of aboriginal identity, including the problems faced by some aboriginal men who have been raised in the “White” community and have been ostracized by the aboriginal community.

In a broader context, Pennington-Zoeller (2009) provides a succinct argument as to why the criminal justice model of a CCR needs to be expanded. She refers to the increased possibilities of social support systems for women who have been victimized and often isolated from friends, family, and other supporters. She argues that

community coordinated responses fail to identify and include the formal and informal resources and strengths available to survivors. By not including informal resources like extended family, neighbors, friends, and social groups, and formal organizations like churches and employers, the quality and quantity of support and resources available to survivors are drastically reduced. (pp. 541–542)

  1. 7. How has the most recent focus on intersectionality addressed some misconceptions in how researchers and activists understand and communicate the dynamics of intimate partner violence?

Many contemporary feminist researchers and domestic violence advocates employ an intersectional framework in order to conceptualize the lives of women who experience violence in their intimate relationships (Crenshaw, 1994). This means that they focus on the intersection of the multiple structures of gender, class, ethnicity/race, religion, ability, and sexual orientation that create both inequalities and valued differences among women in society (Johnson 2005). Intersectional frameworks do not initially privilege one difference or inequality, such as gender, over another (Sokoloff & Pratt, 2005) but allow for the investigation of the particular structural intersection that is the most important to address for ensuring an abused woman’s safety depending on her societal context. For some victims in a particular context, their ethnic/racial background may be a more crucial aspect of their day-to-day lives to consider than gender in terms of appropriate interventions following domestic violence. The economic differences between and within ethnic/racial groups are sources of inequality and vulnerability for minority women (Siltanen & Doucet, 2008), indicating that structures of ethnicity/race and class often interlock and reinforce one another. Differences of ethnicity/race, gender, class, and religion are not the sources of domestic violence but, rather, mediate and shape it (Liao, 2006). Some social practices within minority groups may actually be more empowering for women than practices within the (p.20) dominant groups of a local context. It is also possible that dominant and minority groups collude in practices that make minority women more vulnerable when domestic violence occurs (Jiwani, 2005). As increasingly more countries in the West experience increasing ethnocultural diversification due to contemporary global flows of immigrants, the more important an intersectional framework becomes in order to understand the complexity of abuse.

Many churches, temples, and mosques in North America are the primary source of social support networks for minority groups, particularly for immigrant families (Ebaugh & Chafetz, 2000; Gunn & Lambton, 1999; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2008). Religious institutions can commit to the painstaking journey of assisting individuals and families in overcoming situations of domestic violence as well as the long-term work of advocating for social justice for minority groups.

Natalie Sokoloff (2005) argues that “research and practice in the area of domestic violence all too often has been presented as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. This is inadequate to the experiences and needs of diverse groups of women who are abused” (p. 1). That thought is reinforced by Danis and Lockhart (2010, p. 1) who add that the “universal woman” notion and the “one-size-fits-all” approach were dreadfully inadequate in describing the experiences and needs of diverse groups of women who were being abused.

The concept of intersectionality proposes that domestic violence is but one form of oppression and social power. We exist in social contexts created by the intersections of systems of power and oppression that lead to processes of advantage and disadvantage. Walby (2007) argues that the intersection of multiple social structures is complex, creating both valued differences and social inequalities. One’s experience as a victim of domestic violence is realized only in relation to intersectionalities in society such as those identified by Danis and Lockhart (2010), including race, skin color, age, ethnicity, language, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic class, ability, geographic location, and status as a migrant, indigenous person, or refugee—all interacting to determine one’s social experiences and reality. All of these differing forms of identity exist in relationship to each other (Anthias, 2014).

When religious groups are considering interventions in cases of domestic violence for aboriginal or immigrant families, for example, it is important to keep in mind how intersecting structures in particular social contexts mediate and shape the situation. Immigrant women from minority ethno-religious groups may be hesitant to disclose domestic violence because of stereotypes in the dominant society that reinforce existing structural inequalities. In Canada, for example, Islamophobia has produced widespread assumptions about the inherently violent nature of all Muslim men and their systemic oppression of Muslim women. This stereotype amplifies the structural racism that increases Muslim immigrant women’s emotional and financial dependency on their husbands and fathers and ignores the teachings and practices within Islam that condemn violence, encourage work for social justice, and support women’s agency (Mahmood, 2001; Wadud, 1999; Zine 2004).

Given the reality of intersecting structures and complex inequalities, religious groups that wish to respond appropriately to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence in their midst should also at the same time address the structures of domination that perpetuate sexism, poverty, racism, and the marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities. Even within religious groups there are persistent divisions of gender, race, and class that remain unaddressed (Emerson, Smith, & Sikkink, 1999; Hinojosa & Park, 2004; Smith & Faris, 2005; Whitehead, 2013).

(p.21) Although much has been written about the ways in which religious life in the West (particularly in the United States) has been racially and ethnically segregated, it has relatively recently been noted that the growing number of American megachurches have been successful in bringing together diverse groups of men and women (Putnam, 2000, p. 409). Gender differences in congregations also persist; the number of women in attendance at Christian worship services still outnumbers the number of men, although the reasons for this are complex (McMullin, 2015).

  1. 8. What are the social costs/impacts of domestic violence?

The impacts of domestic violence are far-reaching, and the consequences for not addressing this problem within religious groups are potentially huge. The worst-case scenario of domestic violence is the murder of an intimate partner. Threatening to kill one’s spouse is a tactic used in the cycle of domestic violence, and the threat is carried out far too often. In Canada between 2003 and 2013, there were 960 domestic homicides, with three-fourths of these involving female victims (Campbell, Dawson, Jaffe, & Straatman, 2016). According to the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a woman is fatally shot in the United States by a spouse, ex-partner, or boyfriend every 14 hours. In the United States, 72% of all murder–suicides involve an intimate partner, and 94% of the victims of these murders are female (NCADV, 2015).

Women who have lived with domestic violence experience poor physical, mental, and reproductive health. Physical injuries include fractures, broken bones and teeth, bruises, cuts, burns, and, in some cases, disfigurement. It is estimated that in the United States, domestic violence results in 2 million injuries per year, with more than a half million requiring medical attention. Annual direct medical and mental health care services in the United States due to domestic violence are estimated at $4.1 billion (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control [NCIPC], 2003). Sexual assault can result in unplanned pregnancies, pelvic pain, sexually transmitted diseases, and urinary tract and bladder infections. Victims are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs and attempt suicide (United Nations [UN], 2006). Infants born to women experiencing physical or sexual violence tend to have a lower birth weight. Some women and children refuse to seek support for health problems resulting from family violence and may engage in further self-destructive behaviors such as cutting and eating disorders. Living with family violence is stressful, and persistent high levels of stress can lead to conditions such as lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and sleep disorders (Doherty, 2003).

Children who witness domestic violence between their parents also experience physical and emotional impacts, including stomachaches, headaches, insomnia, feelings of guilt, self-blame, and depression. Exposure to domestic violence at home affects children’s ability to learn, leading some to act out in school and others to have difficulty concentrating and learning. Socially, they may have difficulty trusting people and may accept or use violence in dating relationships (The Learning Network, 2012).

Domestic violence prevents victims from fully participating in a host of social and economic activities. Women who are living with violence and abuse are less likely to be employed, and if they do have paid employment, it tends to be in low-status jobs (UN, 2006). They are likely to experience disruptions in their employment history and have lower incomes. It is estimated that the direct and indirect costs of domestic (p.22) violence to Canadian employers is $77.9 million annually (DV@work, 2014). In the United States, it is estimated that in a single year, women miss approximately 8 million days of work due to the consequences of domestic violence—the equivalent of losing 32,000 full-time jobs (NCIPC 2003). Perpetrators of domestic violence also report workplace impacts such as the inability to concentrate and negative job performance.

  1. 9. How are children impacted when violence strikes at home?

Everyone’s story begins in childhood, and what happens in those early years sets the stage for what is to come. In our book Men Who Batter (Nason-Clark & Fisher-Townsend, 2015), in which we follow the stories of 55 men who act abusively over time, we learn that many had a rugged beginning. Sometimes that involved instability, poverty, isolation, or the ever-present threat, or reality, of violence. These are among the many risk factors—points of vulnerability—that have the potential to impact negatively the life of a child, arresting healthy development and interrupting a smooth journey toward adulthood. Men who batter know this only too well.

There is an expansive literature exploring and assessing what happens in the lives of children when adults in their home are violent and how to respond appropriately to the challenges it raises (Edleson & Williams, 2007; Schechter & Edleson, 1999,3 2000; cf. Renzetti et al., 2011). A much cited article by Jeffrey Edleson and colleagues (2007) reviews the plethora of studies in this area and demonstrates that child exposure to domestic violence is comorbid with emotional and cognitive functioning problems, adjustment difficulties, and behavioral disruptions. Their assessment suggests a strong co-occurrence (>40%) of child maltreatment and adult domestic violence. In their review of 177 articles published between 2002 and 2015 that focused on children who had experienced domestic violence, Callaghan, Alexander, Sixsmith, and Fellin (2015) summarize that 85% of the articles describe children as “exposed” to domestic violence and are framed in policy and the law as “collateral damage.” They discuss the impact of abusive control on the lives of children, indicating that in their view, children are far from passive witnesses to violence. One example of children’s agency is their active intervention to block violent behavior, seek help, and use their knowledge to resist their fathers’ controlling ways (Callaghan et al., 2015).

However, led by the belief—erroneous as it might be—that children fare better with two parents than one, many women are reluctant to leave an abusive home, perceiving that it is in the best interest of their children to remain where they are (Edleson, Ellerton, Seagren, Kirchberg, Schmidt, & Ambrose, 2007). Children can be torn between their fear and desire to protect their mother and their affection and attachment to the one who causes her pain (Israel & Stover, 2009). Young people often describe feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment at the thought of disclosing what happens behind closed doors at home (Stanley, Miller, & Foster, 2012).

Employing data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 2,896), Juan, Washington, and Kurlychek (2017) show that there is a strong direct effect of exposure to IPV on early childhood aggression. In our review of the literature on “fragile families” in an earlier publication, the evidence of the impact of an abusive home environment on children was difficult to overstate (Nason-Clark & Fisher-Townsend, 2015, Chapter 2). However, although most abusers were victimized as children, the majority of children who were abused do not become abusers themselves (Aerán & Raines, 2013), which provides hope and determination for change to organizations (p.23) such as Futures Without Violence and its Fathering After Violence program (see Web-Based Resources).

To be sure, what is in the “best interests of the child” is contested territory, something that legal scholar Linda Neilson (1997) argues is rarely considered by judges or the courts when cases of domestic violence involving the presence of children are adjudicated. A key element in this discourse of children’s best interests is that mothers are primarily responsible for ensuring that it occurs (Edelson et al., 2007). As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that it is often a deep concern for the well-being of their children that prompts women to seek help in the aftermath of abuse at home (Rasool, 2016). Box 1.1 presents an example of a mother’s concern for her child’s well-being. (p.24)


By focusing on issues of vulnerability and resiliency, networking, and diversity, religious congregations and their leaders can be well positioned to harness the strengths within their midst to reach out to assist families in crisis—victims as well as perpetrators. The literature developed among social scientists offers several clues that can assist spiritual communities in offering assistance to those whose lives have been impacted by intimate partner violence. Our discussion of intersectionality and the importance of cultural competency pushes religious congregations to think about the differences among those whom they serve—inside their religious enclaves—and those within the broader communities of which they are a part. We have chosen to highlight the needs of aboriginal families and recently immigrated families. Within the broader secular community, the needs of deeply religious families also require a degree of cultural competency among those secular workers who are called upon to respond to deeply religious women and men, a theme we highlight in the chapters that follow.

We conclude our introduction by reminding readers that they will no doubt find themselves puzzled, surprised, disappointed, encouraged, and challenged as they sift through the various lenses through which to consider the stories of those who act abusively, those who have been victimized, and the various professionals—especially pastors and others within the context of religious life—who have walked alongside them. For sure, it is a story of human vulnerability, of the pain and despair that abuse creates for everyone, of the long and arduous journey toward justice and accountability, and of all the hard work needed to respond to the needs of the abused and abusers. But it is also a story of human resiliency in the face of tremendous obstacles, posed by childhood, the teen years, unwanted pregnancies, contact with the criminal justice system, and intervention services. We spotlight the role of religious professionals as they work alongside victims, or perpetrators, and those occasions when they are part of a collaborative community response.

Responding to the impact of intimate partner violence occurs first as one woman and one man are helped through the pain and despair caused by abuse. Ultimately, reducing and then eliminating controlling, abusive behavior occurs as professionals and then ordinary people and ordinary communities work to change attitudes and alter behavior. Change must be intentional: It will not occur without planning and strategies. Shattering the silence and responding with compassion and best practices within communities of faith is our focus. However, faith communities live within a broader culture. The goal of altering attitudes and behavior that give rise to intimate partner violence and encouraging healthy ways to engage in relationship intimacy will only be achieved when we as a society state that this is a priority.


(1.) Lived religion, the everyday practice of religion by a woman or a man, is of growing interest to sociologists of religion (Ammerman, 2007, 2014; McGuire, 2008).

(2.) In the Canadian context, these would be called summary offenses and criminal offenses, respectively.

(3.) This excellent publication is better known as the “Greenbook”; see Web-Based Resources.

(4.) Permission to prepare this story was given in writing by the mother to Nancy Nason-Clark. After it was prepared, the mother was asked for and gave approval to how it was written.