Leicester criminologist uncovers experiences of domestic abuse among churchgoers

One in four Cumbria churchgoers who took part in recent research by Coventry and Leicester universities say they have experienced abuse in their current relationship.

Churches in Cumbria were invited to participate in a ground-breaking study of domestic abuse, published this week.

According to Dr Kristin Aune of Coventry University, who led the research, the findings were compelling: "Domestic abuse happens in churches too," she said. "A quarter of the people we heard from told us they had, for example, been physically hurt by their partners, sexually assaulted, emotionally manipulated, or had money withheld from them. This includes twelve women who have experienced between ten and twenty abusive behaviours and six women who are currently in relationships where they fear for their lives.”

Co-author Dr Rebecca Barnes from the Department of Criminology, added: "More broadly, 42% of the people we heard from had experienced in a current or previous relationship at least one of the abusive behaviours we asked about."

438 churchgoers from a range of churches completed the survey, and 109 of them said they had experienced abusive behaviours in their current relationship. People aged over 60 were less likely to say they had experienced domestic abuse than younger adults were, and women more likely to say they had experienced serious forms of abuse than men.

"The church is a vital resource for any community and, at its best, is both a refuge and a place where deep transformation happens," says Mandy Marshall, Co-Director of Restored, the organisation founded to help churches around the world to tackle violence against women.

"Talking in church about domestic abuse is the most important first step, whether that's mentioning it in sermons or being open in pastoral conversations to respond to disclosures. This vital research is the wake-up call we need to help us understand that this happens in churches too."