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Sydney Diocese tackles domestic violence

Posted on: November 4, 2016 3:10 PM
Archdeacon Kara Hartley speaking about domestic violence to the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney.
Photo Credit: Diocese of Sydney

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Ministers in the Australian diocese of Sydney receive compulsory training in domestic violence (DV) as part of the diocese’s attempt to provide the best pastoral care for victims of DV. Last year the diocese convened a Domestic Violence Task Force, which has now produced its first report to the Synod, in which they explain the prevalence of domestic violence and the state of training.

The task force includes a psychologist, doctor and counsellors as well as senior ministers, including the Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry, Kara Hartley. Its remit is to develop a diocesan response to the issue encompassing research, pastoral guidance, education and training.

The task force surveyed diocesan clergy about their contact with domestic violence cases, surveyed training institutions and schools about their educational programs, and spoke directly to DV victims.

DV is often associated with physical violence committed in the home within relationships; but the task force has adopted the definition from the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and Children, which recognises that “a central element of domestic violence is that of an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling one’s partner through fear”.

The task force says that DV includes emotional, verbal, social, economic, psychological, spiritual and sexual abuse as well as physical assault.

“There was anecdotal evidence that family violence is causing increasing concern amongst faith communities and their leaders,” task force chairman, the Revd Canon Sandy Grant, said. “The report acknowledges the importance of faith communities in interacting with people affected by family violence, to educate, influence, respond, support and make referrals. Faith communities are described as ‘vital settings’ for dealing with family violence.”

The 148 clergy who responded to the task force’s survey had encountered 333 cases of DV in the previous five years, the report says. And church-based pastoral care was provided in 223 of those cases. The survey concluded that there should be “greater awareness, training and education about the problem”, according to a diocesan statement.

Diocesan schools were found to vary in their approach to educating students. Only about a quarter of the surveyed schools covered DV. This will rise next year when the issue is incorporated into a new Personal Development, Health and Physical Education syllabus

In an address to the Synod, Canon Grant urged clergy and church workers to preach and speak against DV, rejecting the twisting of Scripture to justify abuse of any kind; and Archdeacon Hartley said there was still more work to be done to develop pastoral guidelines.

A motion passed by the Synod encourages ministers – whenever they receive an allegation of domestic abuse – to consider contacting the PSU for advice on the best practices for pastoral care; and it urged the task force to continue its work, with a focus on developing guidelines for a pastoral response to the problem of domestic abuse.