Presbyterian clergy response to domestic and family violence

Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is a serious and widespread problem in Australia.  It occurs in all communities, including communities of faith.  Victims are predominantly women and children. 

Churches can churches provide trusted relationships and various forms of support – pastoral, material, spiritual – to those who are experiencing violence, or who have previously experienced it.  Clergy, leaders and friends at church may be called on by attenders for help.

Most clergy have experience with domestic and family violence situations.  Results from the 2016 National Church Life Survey show how they have responded. 

 

Many Presbyterian clergy have dealt with DFV situations

 

Most Presbyterian clergy have responded to victims of abuse, with half responding to perpetrators

 

 

Some 89% of clergy dealt with victims of abuse – by counselling them (78%), referring them to specialist services (63%), and/or much less commonly conducting a safety risk assessment (26%).  About half of clergy (52%) either counselled perpetrators or referred perpetrators or did both (44% counselled, 15% referred).

Around a half (56%) provided marriage or couples counselling in relation to DFV situations.  Couples counselling is problematic.  Victims of domestic violence, and services that support them, maintain that couples counselling is ineffective and unsafe as it fails to address the unequal power in an abusive relationship and can place the victim at increased risk. 

Counselling the victim and referring the victim to a service agency and were the responses that were most often undertaken by Presbyterian clergy who reported one or two types of responses; 50% counselled and 40% referred victims.

Responses that were focused on the perpetrator – namely counselling the perpetrator and referring the perpetrator to a service agency – tended not to be reported in isolation, but rather as part of a set of responses.  Very small numbers of clergy who reported one or two responses focused on perpetrators.  In contrast, among those who reported three or more types of responses 65% had counselled perpetrators while 24% had referred perpetrators to a service agency. 

 

Almost no Presbyterian clergy considered themselves to be very familiar with DFV support services 

 

Forming bridges between churches and specialist DFV support services is an important way to equip clergy to better respond to DFV.  Around half (49%) of clergy considered themselves to be somewhat familiar with DFV support services in the local community.  Just 4% considered themselves to be very familiar. 

Note: Results are based on n=53 Presbyterian clergy who participated in the 2016 NCLS.  Data are unweighted. 
Mean age = 49 years, 81% Australian-born, 64% with a postgraduate degree. Staff role:

  • The minister/pastor/priest of the congregation/parish: 45%
  • The senior minister/pastor/priest of ministry team: 19%
  • Minister, pastor or priest in a ministry team (not the senior minister): 32%
  • Interim minister/pastor/priest: 4%

See full paper:

Pepper, Miriam, and Ruth Powell. 2022. "Domestic and Family Violence: Responses and Approaches across the Australian Churches" Religions 13, no. 3: 270. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030270

 

Authors:
Miriam Pepper
Data Sources:

Leader Surveys, 2016 National Church Life Survey, NCLS Research.

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Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is a serious and widespread problem in Australia. It occurs in all communities, including communities of faith. Victims are predominantly women and children.