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 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 Baptist clergy have experience with domestic and family violence situations. Results from the 2016 National Church Life Survey show how they have responded.
Most Baptist clergy have dealt with DFV situations
Baptist clergy have mainly responded to victims of abuse, rather than to perpetrators
Some 94% of clergy dealt with victims of abuse – by referring them to specialist services (74%), counselling them (72%), and/or much less commonly conducting a safety risk assessment (23%). A large minority of clergy (44%) either counselled perpetrators or referred perpetrators or did both (32% counselled, 30% referred).
Around four in 10 (41%) 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.
Referring the victim to a service agency and counselling the victim were the responses that were most often reported in isolation; 42% and 35% respectively of Baptist clergy who reported only one type of response had done so. A similar pattern was observed for clergy who reported one or two types of responses; 59% referred victims to service agencies and 46% counselled them. Almost all of those who reported three or more types of response had counselled victims (95%), while 88% referred victims to service agencies.
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 56% had counselled perpetrators while 49% had referred perpetrators to a service agency.
Baptist clergy aged under 40 were significantly less likely than those aged 40 and over to have dealt with DFV situations (38% vs 69%). Among those who had dealt with DFV situations, those aged under 40 were significantly less likely to have counselled perpetrators and to have used couples counselling than those aged 40 and over. Female clergy were significantly less likely than male clergy to have counselled perpetrators, counselled couples and referred perpetrators to specialist services, and were more likely than male clergy to report using other non-specified responses.
Some 15% of Baptist 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. While two-thirds of clergy considered themselves to be familiar with local DFV support services at least to some degree (somewhat or very familiar), just 15% considered themselves to be very familiar. Familiarity did not vary significantly by clergy age or gender.
Note: Results are based on n=258 Baptist clergy who participated in the 2016 NCLS. Data are unweighted.
Mean age = 47 years, 86% male, 70% Australian-born, 43% with a postgraduate degree. Staff role:
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
Leader Surveys, 2016 National Church Life Survey, NCLS Research.
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Two thirds of clergy have dealt with DFV situations