29 June 2006

A University of Queensland researcher has shed light on how religion can be a help or a hindrance to women who are victims of domestic abuse.

Dr Lynne Baker studied the coping strategies of Christian women who not only have to deal with domestic abuse, but sometimes also a lack of assistance from their own church.

“Christian women, particularly those from more fundamentalist denominations, can suffer more because of their faith,” Dr Baker said.

“They may experience exactly the same issues as secular women, but have the added pressure of Christian faith, which when handled correctly can be a help, but can often serve as an extra burden.”

She said while talking to women for her study, she heard tales of church leaders telling them to respect their husbands and forgive them for their abusive actions.

“Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation, and some of these women were forced to endure abuse for years because they were told leaving their husbands would be a greater sin,” Dr Baker said.

“This is where the scripture is taken out of context and can lead to very destructive situations.”

Dr Baker said while this contradiction of Christian mores sometimes drove women from the church and their faiths, many still turned to their beliefs for strength.

“One of the major findings was the desire of Christian women to retain their faith through crisis and to continue to live and function according to their beliefs,” she said.

Dr Baker said the personal advice provided by the Christian women in her study would help both victims of domestic abuse and members of the clergy who may be called up on to assist them.

She said this research would foster a greater understanding of the specific needs of Christian women in domestic abuse situations and would provide counsellors with the opportunity to incorporate the positive aspects of Christian faith into intervention programs.

Dr Baker studied under Associate Professor Robyn Gillies from UQ’s School of Education.

Media inquiries: Andrew Dunne from UQ Communications (07 3365 2802 or 0433 364 181).