Preventing family violence is imperative for those who uphold Christian faith. The Old and New Testaments clearly demonstrate God’s intolerance of violence. In Genesis 6, God says to Noah in preparation for the flood, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (Genesis 6:13). God’s opposition to violence against women and rape is articulated in the handing down of the law to Moses, where perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions (Deuteronomy 22:25-30).
The Psalms assure us of the attentiveness of the Lord both to the evil of the perpetrator and the needs of the afflicted. Violence, deceit and threats from the powerful are condemned again and again (Psalm 7:9, 7:16, 11:5, 55:9, 58:2; Proverbs 14:31, 22:16, 28:3). The evildoer is often portrayed as arrogant, believing the wrongdoing will never be exposed:
“His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.” (Psalm 10:7-11)
However, God assures us that he is attentive to the pain of the oppressed, the victim and the survivor.
“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.” (Psalm 10:17-18)
Jesus exemplified a life of peace and the turning aside of violence. When he was taunted, he made no threats (1 Peter 2:23). He identifies with the afflicted, while bringing the peace and hope of God to those who suffer. He teaches us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, 5:38-42), servant-hearted (Mark 10:41-45), to put aside pride, position and power in our relationships (Ephesians 4:2), and to care for those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18).
The ways of Jesus were revolutionary in his time. ‘This new revolution – modelled by Jesus himself – means that the powerful should give up their privilege to the vulnerable, the abuser should stop using violence against those powerless to resist, and the institution should stop ignoring the trauma of the abuse survivor.’
Jesus is a revolution for which the church and our society are desperate. Regrettably, church communities have been ignorant to the plight of those who suffer violence out of public view. And it is acknowledged that many survivors and perpetrators of family violence are active in the Christian community. The recent proliferation of media attention to this issue now renders ignorance inexcusable. ‘Churches begin to be agents of change as they acknowledge and repent of the role they have played as well as become attentive to the ways they may be upholding or perpetuating violence.’ Reflection, repentance, rehabilitation, care, training and education need to extend to all participants in our church communities to ensure peace and justice to those affected by family violence.
In 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelled Australia’s domestic violence rates a ‘national shame’. At the first ever Council of Australian Governments to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, he quoted that in the previous year, ‘more than 100 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner, and 132,500 were subjected to violence by the man who was supposed to love them.’
Eight years earlier, Australia established the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. Its role was ‘to advise on measures to reduce the incidence and impact of violence against women and their children.’ The findings of the Council created a 12-year plan, comprised of four stages, to reduce violence against women and children. The document defined violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, while family violence is a broader term that refers to violence between family members, as well as violence between intimate partners. It involves the same sorts of behaviours as described for domestic violence.’ (Click here for more on gender equality)
Even with this national focus, ‘one woman a week and one man a month were killed by a current or former partner in the two years from 2012–13 to 2013–14.’
It was not until 2015, that family violence received wide societal recognition, with the naming of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year. Rosie’s son, Luke, was murdered in 2014 by his father, an event that launched Rosie into campaigning relentlessly on family violence for the ensuing four years. Over that time, the Luke Batty Foundation was at the forefront of driving change in family law reform, Respectful Relationships education, political advocacy and giving domestic violence victims a voice.
Even with strong campaigning and broad community support, domestic violence in Australia remains a serious gendered issue, where women are ‘nearly three times more likely to have experienced partner violence than men, with approximately one in six women (17% or 1.6 million) and one in sixteen men (6.1% or 547,600) having experienced partner violence since the age of 15.’
In addition, in 2016 women were eight times more likely to experience sexual violence by a partner than men (5.1% or 480,200 women compared to 0.6% or 53,000 men).
Despite 7.2 million Australians experiencing physical or sexual violence in 2016, the prevalence of physical violence across Australian society declined from 2005-2016 for both men and women, falling from 10% in 2005 to 5.4% in 2016. However, there has been a slight increase in the prevalence of both sexual violence and partner violence over this period.
There are four distinct groups that are more vulnerable to family violence:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (The term, ‘family violence’ is the most widely used term to identify the experiences of Indigenous people, because it includes the broad range of marital and kinship relationships in which violence may occur. Indigenous females are 35 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence related assaults than non-indigenous females.) (Click here for more on reconciliation)
- Women with disabilities.
- Pregnant women.
- Women from non-English speaking backgrounds and new migrant women. (Click here for more on asylum seekers)
The impact of family violence extends to approximately 50% of kinship carers and also to children as they witness and intervene in violent incidents. Of all women who had experienced partner violence since the age of 15 years and had children in their care during the relationship, 59 percent reported that the violence had been witnessed by children. This comprised 23 percent of all Australian children in 2005. In that same period, forty-two percent of Indigenous young people reported witnessing violence against their mother or stepmother. Family violence has a strong link with homelessness. Over 100,000 women and children sought homelessness services in 2016-17 due to family/domestic violence.
Family violence is indeed a national shame. Despite 98% of our population deeming domestic violence a crime, it continues to proliferate, control, subdue, injure and kills its victims. Perpetrators are often seen as presentable, affable and responsible people, ‘who recognize as a general principle that violence is wrong.’ However, the concealed nature of violence within the home and the control and silencing that perpetrators command over survivors has allowed this crime to remain largely hidden.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) encourages all signatory nations to ‘to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women and to eliminate prejudices, customary practices and all other practices based on the idea of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes and on stereotyped roles for men and women (Article 4).
With a swell of community support and media attention (see for example here and here), governments are recognising the importance of a community and behavioural change approach in combating this insidious crime. There is an important place for the church community and its leaders in both supporting those who are victims and survivors of violence, and for catalysing attitudinal and behavioural change within the home.
Since 2013, Baptists, both internationally and nationally, have held a strong focus on gender-based violence in advocacy and practical support.
In 2013, the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance adopted a resolution on Gender Equality and Gender-based Violence, acknowledging that ‘gender-based violence, in all its forms, is predominantly violence against women and represents an abuse of power used to establish male dominance and female submission and so perpetuate gender inequality.’ The resolution urges churches to ‘support the survivors of gender-based violence in sensitive and effective ways; and to promote interventions to change behavior among perpetrators of gender-based violence.’ For a full reading of the statement, please click here.
In May 2016, in response to the need to better equip and resource churches to become safe communities dealing appropriately with the varied and complex issues associated with Family Violence, the Baptist Union of Victoria Assembly released a Resolution on Family Violence. The Resolution urges Baptist Churches to ‘shine a light on the issue of family violence,’ and commit to training and education programs for teachers and preachers, the broader congregation and for perpetrators of family violence.
In 2017, Baptist leaders from all around Australia met with federal parliamentarians advocating for a safer and more inclusive world for women, and the need for reform in the family law system to protect family violence survivors and their children. Later that year, the National Council of Australian Baptist Ministries released a Statement on Domestic and Family Violence, acknowledging the church’s historical failure to recognise violence, and to protect those who have suffered. The statement also serves as an apology to those who have had their pain and suffering ignored. It makes a commitment to increase the church’s awareness of domestic and family violence, to change culture within the church, and to provide greater support services and to maintain advocacy around the issue. For the full statement, please click here.
A Just Cause (www.ajustcause.com.au)
“Our mission is to resource churches to exercise a prophetic voice calling for justice for those on the margins of our society.”
Common Grace (www.commongrace.org.au)
“Join the movement of Australian Christians seeking to live, speak and act more graciously, more compassionately, more like Jesus in today’s world.”
Our Watch (www.ourwatch.org.au)
Campaign to “End Violence against Women and their children”
Think Prevent (thinkprevent.com/)
“Think Prevent is a prosocial behaviour/bystander intervention education and leadership training program to prevent family violence and violence against women. The program has been adopted by the Faith Communities Council of Victoria [and] Victorian Council of Churches … The goal of the program is to create, over time, positive change to our cultural and social norms to prevent domestic and sexual violence.”
Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Victoria (www.dvrcv.org.au/)
“The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) is a state-wide resource centre working to prevent and respond to family violence, with a particular focus on men’s violence against women in intimate relationships.”
No place for Violence here (A Just Cause) (https://ajustcause.com.au/no-place-for-violence/)
Australian Churches Responding to Domestic Violence
1. Internal Transformation: Equipping church leaders and church attendees to respond to domestic violence and shaping church cultures that mitigate against violence.
2. Graceful Presence: Churches sharing the grace and love of God in their communities in acts of care for women and children fleeing domestic violence
3. Prophetic Voice: Churches standing alongside people experiencing domestic violence, calling on governments to provide the community resources that are needed.
Common Grace (https://www.commongrace.org.au/16_days_of_prayer_details)
Common Grace has put together 16 Days of educational resources for the church community to use for educating itself and praying regarding domestic and family violence.
Common Grace (https://www.commongrace.org.au/churches_addressing_domestic_family_violence)
Common Grace has guiding prayers for individuals and communities highlighting the issues of domestic and family violence.
Common Grace (www.saferresource.org.au)
SAFER is an online resource produced to help churches support and prioritise victims of domestic and family violence, and know how to deal with perpetrators.
Think Prevent (https://thinkprevent.com/bystander-scenarios/)
A myriad bystander scenarios where disrespect, threat or abuse may be present. These scenarios offer suggestions for potential actions. This is a helpful resource for the whole congregation and for leaders.
Think Prevent (https://thinkprevent.com/apply-to-be-a-trainer/)
Think Prevent are making their Bystander Workshops more broadly available and are looking for trained workshop facilitators.
Discovery Studies (http://discoveryseries.org/discovery-series/when-anger-burns/)
This series offers help through the wisdom of Scripture to those who are struggling with issues of anger.
International Women’s Day, 8 March annually
International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October annually
 ‘What the Bible Says about Domestic Violence’, SAFER, accessed 21 May 2018, https://www.saferresource.org.au/the_bible_on_domestic_family_violence.
 ‘Abuser-Friendly Church Cultures – SAFER’, accessed 22 May 2018, https://www.saferresource.org.au/abuser_friendly_church_cultures.
 Daniela Ritorto, ‘Turnbull Calls Australia’s Domestic Violence “a Disgrace”’, SBS News, 28 October 2016, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/turnbull-calls-australia-s-domestic-violence-a-disgrace.
 ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children’ (Council of Australian Governments, May 2012), 1, https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/05_2012/national_plan.pdf.
 ‘Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (A/RES/48/104)’, United Nations, 20 December 1993, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm.
 ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children’, 2.
 ‘Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia, 2018’, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 28 February 2018, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-sexual-violence-in-australia-2018/contents/table-of-contents.
 Rosie Batty, ‘A Message From Rosie: Some Time Out Of The Public Eye – Luke Batty Foundation’, 16 February 2018, https://lukebattyfoundation.org.au/a-message-from-rosie-some-time-out-of-the-public-eye/.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Personal Safety, Australia 2016’, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 8 November 2017, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics.
 ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children’, 2.
 ‘Fast Facts – Indigenous Family Violence’ (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety), accessed 17 May 2018, https://anrows.org.au/sites/default/files/Fast-Facts—Indigenous-family-violence.pdf.
 ‘Domestic Violence Guide for Churches’ (NSW and ACT Baptist Churches, Public Engagement, August 2016), 3, http://nswactbaptists.org.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2016/10/Domestic-Violence-Guide-for-Churches.pdf.
 ‘Family Violence in Kinship Care: It’s Been an Absolute Nightmare’, Baptist Union of Victoria, 12 September 2017, https://www.buv.com.au/news/family-violence-in-kinship-care-its-been-an-absolute-nightmare.
 Kelly Richards, ‘Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence in Australia’, Australian Institute of Criminology, 3 November 2017, https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi419.
 ‘Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia, 2018’.
 ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children’, 1.
 Jane Mugford, ‘Domestic Violence’, Australian Institute of Criminology, April 1989, https://aic.gov.au/publications/vt/vt02.
 ‘Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (A/RES/48/104)’.
 ‘Resolutions Adopted by the BWA General Council, Ocho Rios, Jamaica’, 1 July 2013, https://www.bwanet.org/images/pdf/Resolutions/2013Resolutions.pdf.
 Baptist Union of Victoria, ‘Delegates Pack: Consultation and Discernment among Victorian Baptists – Family Violence’ (Baptist Union of Victoria, October 2015), https://www.buv.com.au/documents/item/378.
 ‘Resolution on Family Violence’ (Baptist Union of Victoria, May 2016), https://www.buv.com.au/documents/item/376.
 ‘Baptist Leaders Call for Greater Action on Violence against Women’, ABM (blog), 27 March 2017, https://www.baptist.org.au/greater-action-on-voilence-against-women/.
 Marcia Balzer, ‘Baptist Care Australia – Messengers and Messages – Reflections on Converge 2017’, accessed 22 April 2018, http://www.baptistcareaustralia.org.au/.