On Tuesday 29 March 2016, Australia’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence tabled its findings with a 1900 page report which includes 227 recommendations. The report includes a ten-page section on ‘Faith Communities’, highlighting the important role faith-based communities and organisations can play in the lives of Victorians affected by family violence.
The report notes it is important that faith-based communities address barriers to the disclosure, prevention of, or recovery from family violence. There are multiple ways in which faith-based communities can respond to issues relating to family violence:
- Ability to reach and engage people who might not approach formal service providers in the family violence sector
- Places of worship can be accessed by those finding solace, meaning, comfort and support and they can create supportive social networks for members affected by family violence
- Educate members about family violence
- Faith leaders, in their status of leaders, can influence the behaviour of community members
- Faith leaders can sensitively introduce ways of seeing the roles of men and women in society to members without being seen as outsiders’ influence
The report acknowledges that family violence is a problem facing all faith communities and also recognizes the initiatives taken by number of faith communities, such as:
- Anglicans Helping to Prevent Violence against Women
- The CHALLENGE Family Violence Project
- The Northern Interfaith Respectful Relationships project
- The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence
- Islamic Council of Victoria – assignment of Imam to visit a different mosque each week
However, the findings also report that faith based communities are often led predominantly or exclusively by men, and for many women the response to their issues is inadequate and in some cases “patriarchy” is enforced.
Gender equality (or inequality) and social isolation are amongst the main barriers faced by women from faith communities, and the following problems emerge:
- Lack of knowledge about their rights and about the service system as a whole
- Reluctance to seek help outside their community
- A belief that mainstream services are not sensitive to their needs
- A belief that refuge and crisis accommodation will not provide support of their cultural and/or religious practices
These barriers can force women to feel that they must choose between their safety and their faith.
Three recommendations have been put forward by the Royal Commission:
The Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Multifaith Advisory Group and the Victorian Multicultural Commission, in partnership with expert family violence practitioners, develop training packages on family violence and sexual assault for faith leaders and communities [within three years]. These packages should build on existing work, reflect leading practice in responding to family violence, and include information about referral pathways for victims and perpetrators. The training should be suitable for inclusion as prat of the pre-servicing learning in various faith training institutes, as well as the ongoing professional development of faith leaders.
The Department of Health and Human Services consult with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Multifaith Advisory Group, the Victorian Multicultural Commission and women from faith communities as part of its review of standards for specialist family violence service providers (including men’s behaviour change programs), to ensure that these standards and the associated services take account of the needs of people in faith communities who experience family violence [within two years].
Faith leaders and communities establish processes for examining the ways in which they currently respond to family violence in their communities and whether any of their practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour.
The full report tabled by the Royal Commission into Family Violence can be viewed at this link: http://www.rcfv.com.au/Report-Recommendations
The pages relevant to Faith Communities are available here.
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