Many pastors (75%) 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%) say they address domestic or sexual violence because it is an issue in their congregation. Almost half (46%) speak about it because they have been trained in domestic violence issues.
Almost half (46%) 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.
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.
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.
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.
Only about half (55%) 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.
Domestic violence experts, for example, say providing safety for victims should come first. Yet, less than half of pastors have done an assessment. And many pastors provide couples counseling in response to violence, something experts say can put victims at risk, said McConnell.
“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.”
The phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted June 19-July 2, 2018. The study was sponsored by IMA World Health and Sojourners. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.