Religious scholars and community bodies have called for faith to play a greater role in confronting the problem of domestic violence, saying religion is sometimes unfairly stigmatised as the underlying problem. Multi-faith leaders from around Australia are gathering in Adelaide to discuss an action plan with faith-based recommendations to support families experiencing violence at home.
Service providers from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities will attend a full-day symposium at the University of South Australia and hope to produce a publication to influence governments and agencies to consider a faith-based approach to the problem.
Domestic violence expert at the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, Dr Nada Ibrahim, said the approach towards addressing domestic violence has neglected faith. “Generally people tend to stay away from religion at the political setting,” she said. Dr Ibrahim said discussions with policy-makers and governments have often taken a top-down approach that has ignored the needs and experiences of religious leaders.
“It’s been very tokenistic, ‘Yeah, you come and we’ll tell you what to do’. It’s not like, ‘Tell us what you, as the community need’,” she said. At the same time, Dr Ibrahim said, there are few concrete policies addressing faith in relation to domestic violence concerns, despite religion playing a major role in many people’s lives. “For a victim or perpetrator, faith is an important part of their life,” Dr Ibrahim said. “If faith-based leaders don’t have a space where they are recognised as crucial part of the solution, it’s not wholistic.”
Sikh community representative Jatinder Kaur said 20 per cent of hotline calls to Sikh Helpline Australia are women seeking help from abusive relationships. But she, like other faith communities at the symposium, said she believed patriarchal values needed to be challenged from a faith-based perspective.
Victims trapped because of incorrect interpretations
“A lot of the traditional values are around the men being the main authority figure and we have to shift that thinking,” Jatinder Kaur said. “Women need to have some sort of narrative that just because the culture is this way, it contradicts with the religious values.”
Dr Ibrahim and other experts are lobbying for a compliance certificate to be required of religious leaders, so they would have to undertake training to become qualified to support victims of domestic violence. She said without it, community leaders will not receive sufficient training to support victims.
Dr Ibrahim’s said her research on domestic violence had found police responses, particularly within Muslim communities, did not always produce the best outcomes.
“As frontline officers, if they aren’t aware of people’s religious or cultural needs, it’s not going to work,” she said.
“Out of the two days of training they may do on domestic violence, even less is dedicated to culture and faith-specific issues.”
She said victims could be left with little support and go back to reoccurring experiences of abuse that perpetrators attempt to justify, based on incorrect faith practices.
Jewish Care Victoria family support manager Marilyn Kraner said solutions need to be embedded in cultural and religious traditions.
“It is kind of naive to think strategies to address and impact what is required around family violence, [like] attitude and behavioural change, [will happen] by not engaging religious leaders,” she said.
Ms Kraner said while there is support given to broader multicultural organisations and there was cultural competence training, each community had its own cultural nuances.
She said programs need to be tailormade for each, and come from their own faith leaders.
“Knowing the concepts in the religion can help you have connection that would make it more appealing for someone to engage than someone who doesn’t understand any of that,” Ms Kraner said.
Dr Nada Ibrahim said faith is often assumed to be an underlying factor in domestic violence.