Many ministries go to great lengths to protect their people from physical harm. One specific area that demands renewed focus is the potential for harm as a result of domestic violence that spills over into the church.
A staggering 20 percent of women in the U.S. have endured severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.1 While many churches seek to help domestic abuse victims emotionally through ministry programs, it’s also important to consider the physical safety of victims and the broader church body during ministry activities.
Domestic violence takes many forms, but physical violence is among the most common. Physical violence affects 1 in 5 women1 and results in more than 1,500 deaths annually in the U.S.2 What’s more, violence in the home can result in violence at church. One of the deadliest examples is the Sutherland Springs tragedy, where the suspect’s second wife and mother-in-law attended.2
Domestic violence affects about 1 in 3 women in the U.S., making it possible that someone in your congregation is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence.3 While caring for abuse victims emotionally may be a ministry priority, it’s also important to protect their physical safety and the safety of your congregation. This is one area especially suited for a safety and security team.
Ministries can help protect their people by sharing critical information with leaders and members of the safety and security team. It’s especially important for your team to know of any current domestic violence situations. This helps your team protect victims and potentially their children by enabling them to recognize perpetrators, especially those who may have temporary or permanent loss of custody. It is beneficial to obtain the victim’s permission before sharing sensitive information regarding a domestic situation with individuals who need to know, such as ministry leaders and security team members.
Additionally, if your church has a ministry for victims of abuse, closely coordinating with your safety and security team can enable them to be onsite to provide security during any mid-week classes or counseling sessions. Having people present who are trained in de-escalation techniques can help minimize the potential for violence. If your ministry doesn’t have a team, read the article Develop a Volunteer Safety and Security Team in our Safety Library.
Don’t forget about the impact technology abuse can have on victims. From using GPS trackers to following website behavior or stalking social media, abusers can find out where victims are and when they’re there, including your church. One report found that 97 percent of victim abuse services reported that abusers used technology to stalk, harass, and monitor victims.4 It may be beneficial to offer victims some tips to protect their online privacy. You can find resources from techsafety.org, which is part of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
If your ministry doesn’t currently offer any support for domestic abuse victims, there are many organizations that specialize in domestic violence training for staff and offer support for victims. One ministry helping abuse victims is Focus Ministries. They offer support for victims and training opportunities for pastors and staff. Learn more at www.focusministries1.org/. Connecting victims with specialized advocates can help protect them from further harm.
Preventing Intimate Partner Violence. CDC Factsheet. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv/IPV-factsheet_2020_508.pdf Accessed December 18, 2020.
Shellnut, Kate. A Top Reason for Church Shootings: Domestic Abuse. Christianity Today. November 7, 2017. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/november/top-reason-church-shooting-domestic-violence-texas.html Accessed January 18, 2021.
Huecker, Martin R. and Smock, William. Domestic Violence. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499891/ Accessed December 18, 2020.
A Glimpse from the Field: How Abusers are Misusing Technology. Technology Safety. https://www.techsafety.org/blog/2015/2/17/a-glimpse-from-the-field-how-abusers-are-misusing-technology. Accessed December 29, 2020.
Posted February 11, 2021
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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