4 Tips for Leveraging Communities of Faith to Support Victims of Domestic Violence

A beautiful sunset.

As a trainer working to end domestic violence in Muslim communities, Salma Abugideiri has worked closely with Islamic religious leaders in Virginia and beyond to educate them about family violence.

Such partnerships give those leaders, known as imams, the tools to identify and prevent violence among members of their congregation, she says, and to counsel victims in a way that prioritizes their safety. An imam who understands the role of power and control among abusers, for example, can help abused spouses understand their rights under Islamic law and share information about local shelters and service providers.

“It’s almost like being given permission to explore options…like leaving or making a police report,” Abugideiri says. “When an imam responds [in a way that validates victims’ needs], then they [feel they] are given permission to find solutions and to prioritize their own well-being.”

[Discover three guides that can help you serve children who witness domestic violence.]

Building Support for Victims and Survivors

Thousands of miles away in Seattle, the FaithTrust Institute works to provide faith communities and advocates with the tools they need to address religious and cultural issues related to abuse. The organization acknowledges the important role that faith leaders play in their communities, says Executive Director Jane Fredricksen, and the need to align religious teachings and values with a commitment to dignity and safety for all.

Similarly, Fredricksen encourages anti-violence programs to view religious communities as resources in their own work, whether partnering with faith leaders or encouraging survivors to embrace spirituality as a source of support. We talked to Abugideiri and Fredricksen about four ways for anti-violence organizations to put that advice into practice.

1. Plan an outreach strategy. Find out which faith communities and leaders are already talking about domestic violence and healthy relationships, Fredricksen says, and may be open to building their knowledge. Finding motivated partners can help your agency build a foundation of local allies, she says, and to make inroads with community members who don’t have the issue on their radar.

2. Be culturally competent. Be aware of faith-based gender roles that might influence a survivor’s perspective on her circumstances, such as the belief that a man should be in control of household income, Fredricksen says. Shelters should also take steps to understand and meet the needs of survivors with an active spiritual practice. This may include offering kosher or halal menu items to meet survivors’ dietary needs, or allowing residents to wear garments or head coverings in keeping with their religion’s emphasis on modesty.

[Review a checklist for evaluating your organization’s cultural proficiency.]

3. Educate staff about policy. Faith and spirituality can be sources of strength in times of stress, but some staffers may worry about discussing religion with victims while on the job. Remind program staff that it’s ok to talk about victims’ personal beliefs as a potential resource, Abugideiri says, and show them any organizational policies that support this distinction.

4. Reflect on your own experiences with religion. Anti-violence advocates should also explore their own feelings around faith and spirituality, Abugideiri and Fredricksen say, before discussing those topics with victims or seeking out partners in communities of faith. Work with supervisors to set up activities and discussions that promote this exploration or that help staff members honor viewpoints that differ from their own.

Learn more about Abugideiri’s work at the Peaceful Families Project, or check out these archived training webinars at the FaithTrust Institute.

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