How Are We Addressing Sexual and Domestic Abuse in the Church?

LifeWay Research: Three-quarters of pastors (77 percent) say they speak about domestic violence at least once a year.

LifeWay Research recently asked Protestant pastors a series of detailed questions about how they handle the topics of sexual and domestic abuse.

Three-quarters (77 percent) say they speak about domestic violence at least once a year. That includes 26 percent who speak about it once a year and 51 percent who speak about it more than once a year.

By contrast, only 34 percent of Protestant senior pastors spoke about domestic violence more than once a year in a similar study in 2014.

Many pastors (75 percent) who address sexual or domestic violence at least once a year or more say they do so because they have seen the impact of such violence firsthand. Eighty-seven percent say sexual or domestic violence is an issue in their community. Ninety-six percent know of resources to help victims.

Only 1 in 5 (18 percent) say they address domestic or sexual violence because it is an issue in their congregation. Almost half (46 percent) speak about it because they have been trained in domestic violence issues.

Almost half (46 percent) of pastors who don’t address sexual or domestic violence say it is not an issue in their congregation. Twenty-nine percent say other topics are more important. Nineteen percent say they don’t know the issue well enough. Nineteen percent also say it is not an issue in their community. Sixteen percent say it is not appropriate to address domestic or sexual violence publicly.

LifeWay Research found that pastors often take action when they learn about cases of domestic and sexual violence.

Pastors believe victims need help from outside of their families when abuse occurs in the home. Eighty percent say in cases of domestic or sexual violence that occur in the home—including physical violence, child abuse, or marital rape—outside intervention is needed. Nine percent say such violence should be resolved primarily within the family. Eleven percent don’t know.

In cases of domestic violence, 82 percent of Protestant senior pastors say they would counsel a victim to seek support from a domestic abuse expert. Eight percent say they would tell a victim to try and improve the relationship with their spouse. Ten percent don’t know what they would counsel a victim to do.

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Sixty-four percent of pastors agree that sexual or domestic violence occurs in the lives of people in their congregation—including 24 percent who strongly agree. Thirty percent disagree—including 13 percent who strongly disagree.

Sixty-two percent say their church has taken action against domestic or sexual abuse at least once a year.

Ninety-six percent of pastors say they have a responsibility to ask church members about possible abuse if they see signs of domestic or sexual violence. Three percent disagree.

When responding to a case of domestic or sexual violence, 81 percent of pastors say they have provided a referral to an agency that assists victims. Seventy percent have provided marriage or couple’s counseling. Forty-six percent provided counseling for the abuser. Forty percent did a safety risk assessment for the victim.

Despite their willingness to help, many pastors still feel ill-prepared according to the study.

Only about half (55 percent) of pastors say they are familiar or very familiar with domestic violence resources in their community. And half say they don’t have sufficient training to address sexual or domestic abuse.

“We know caring faith communities respond to need. But in responding to abuse and harassment, we have much work left to do,” said Rick Santos, president and CEO of IMA World Health. “Our next generation of faith leaders need to be prepared to preach about prevention from the pulpit, create a safe space within their churches and lend their voices to the movement for lasting change in our society.”

For more information, visit LifewayResearch.com.