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Church workers say Christians families not immune to domestic violence ‘pandemic’

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Shocking developments: “Because people are isolated more it’s a perfect storm for people who already have control over a victim.”

SURGING domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 crisis is a pandemic within a pandemic, according to Church workers on the frontline of domestic violence education and prevention.

They say Church communities “provided no immunity” to the domestic violence scourge.

Months of restrictions have created “a perfect storm” of conditions with stay-at-home orders, school closures, and many workers laid off or told to work from home.

“Because people are isolated more it’s a perfect storm for people who already have control over a victim,” Evangelisation Brisbane project officer Carole Danby, who is a member of the Joint Churches Domestic Violence Prevention Project (JCDVPP), said.

“It just means they are isolated more from family support people.”

Aware of the current domestic violence crisis, the JCDVPP has launched a series of webinars aimed at increasing the awareness of clergy, church leaders and pastoral carers of domestic family violence.

Mrs Danby said Christian families were as prone as anyone else to domestic violence in all its forms – physical violence, economic abuse and coercive behaviour.

“The whole COVID-19 isolation has exacerbated the situation,” she said.

“We’re saying it happens as much in Christian families and households as it does in the mainstream.”

Mrs Danby said the JCDVPP approach was to press for change in combating domestic violence, and that included challenging traditional notions such as “the man is the head of the house and the woman submits to that”.

“I do know that (some) ministers of religion would use the Bible to send people back (into a domestic violence situation),” she said.

“We tackle those (Bible) texts … we break it open to let people know what is really the meaning of that, and how we have to be careful of context.”

JCDVPP chair Felicity Bailey confirmed that belonging to a Church community had “provided no immunity” to domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“You can’t escape your home situation. And then if you add financial pressures, increased alcohol and potentially drug consumption and lack of work it’s a perfect melting pot for domestic and family violence,” Ms Bailey said.

As an Anglican Church member of the JCDVPP, Ms Bailey said some church leaders had “the best of intentions” but exacerbated the DV scourge.

“(It can be) a misunderstanding or misuse of Scripture that has unfortunately reinforced bad behaviour,” she said.

“Obviously marriage and family are sacrosanct and that covenant is so important, but unfortunately if the covenant has been broken by one or more members of that marriage it takes both to repair that damage.

“And unfortunately the onus has often been put on the woman or the victim in that situation to fix it. And that approach is often not very helpful.”

To boost its campaign against domestic violence, the JCDVPP is preparing an updated training handbook entitled The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Questions Women Ask About Domestic and Family Violence and Christian Beliefs.

It will soon be available in print and as an e-document, and is aimed at clergy, faith leaders, and interested lay people who take on responsibility in their parish or faith community.

“It is designed as a resource for every church and faith community, that can enable practical information and help,” Ms Bailey said.

A Senate inquiry into the federal pandemic support last month heard grave warnings of a second domestic violence wave because of the impending reduction in wage subsidies and unemployment payments.

“We predict there is going to be a significant increase in demand for our services when financial support and restrictions currently in place are currently removed,” Women’s Legal Services Australia’s Helen Matthews told the inquiry.

Women’s Legal Services Australia has already seen soaring levels of demand, with 50 per cent of calls in Queensland going unanswered in May when the state exited lockdown.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has spoken out strongly against domestic violence, signed up to wider community programs and four years ago introduced special leave if needed for the archdiocese’s thousands of employees across its parishes and agencies.

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