“I’ve always believed in God, but during this turmoil, it was like God had abandoned me. And I come to find out, I come to realize God didn’t abandon me, I walked away from him. So it took from my pastor, the support from my family, to help me get where I am. I still have a ways to go, and I’m not going to stop ‘til I get there.” – Survivor
Faith and spirituality can be instrumental in supporting the healing processes of domestic violence survivors. Research and practice alike have shed light on the ways in which faith and spirituality may help survivors rise above their suffering and/or view their trauma and life purpose in a new light. This may be particularly true for survivors from traditionally marginalized communities. African American survivors, for instance, have often emphasized the centrality of spirituality in their lives and the role it plays in helping them overcome and cope with abuse and violence. Many survivors report finding hope and healing in the spiritual practices of their ancestors. While religion can be a critical resource – being a lens through which survivors understand the abuse, identify options and make safety decisions – it is also known to be, for various reasons, a roadblock to help-seeking and safety. Therefore, the role of faith leaders and faith communities in responding to survivors of abuse and supporting long-term change for those who abuse must not be underestimated. This also means that nonspiritual advocates at domestic violence agencies are often working with survivors who, regardless of faith or religious affiliation, may wish to mobilize resources rooted in their belief systems in their journey towards safety and healing.
Because “survivors of abuse deserve the best of what both faith leaders and advocates bring to the table” (Rev. Dr. Anne Marie Hunter), it’s imperative that faith leaders and advocates engage in ongoing cross-training and partnership building so that survivors can benefit from holistic, faith-sensitive and culturally relevant services and support.
“Many faith leaders (like many people in the wider community) have been taken in by an abuser’s charm and likability. Faith leaders say, ‘He said he was sorry, so I told her to go back home and get the family back together.’ Or, ‘He’s the nicest guy whenever I’m around; I’m sure he wouldn’t hurt anyone.’ With little to no training or resources about abuse, faith leaders can be, as one said to me, ‘suckers for a good confession.’ As a result, well-meaning faith leaders may minimize the violence, silence or blame the victim, and suggest unsafe options.” – Rev. Dr. Anne Marie Hunter
When considering the provision of faith- and culturally affirming services for survivors of abuse, it is also critical to examine – through an intersectional lens – how race/ethnicity, gender, and religion play a role in shaping survivors’ help-seeking experiences. White supremacy practices within domestic violence agencies, coupled with Anti-Blackness, Islamophobia and hostility towards immigrants and refugees, have historically left many survivors, especially Black women, isolated, discredited and fearful for their safety – not only in their abusive relationship but also when accessing services from domestic violence agencies.
This Technical Assistance (TA) Bundle includes TA Questions (TAQs) and other resources from NRCDV to help advocates and faith leaders deepen their knowledge and analysis of how religion can be a resource or a barrier for survivors seeking safety and healing from abuse. Promising practices are shared throughout the resources to support domestic violence agencies and other service providers in developing holistic, faith- and culturally affirming services to survivors. Ultimately, this TA Bundle is intended to inspire advocates and faith leaders to forge meaningful collaborations and to think more critically about how race/ethnicity, gender, and religion intersect and compound the trauma experiences, help-seeking patterns and healing needs of domestic violence survivors, especially those most marginalized.