Those who are the victims of family violence - the abuse of power exercised by partners or parents - face many challenges when considering or making the decision to leave the abusive situation. While escaping family violence is difficult for anyone, it can be (for both spiritual and practical reasons) much more so for those who were victimized in the context of religious beliefs or practices.
The complicating factors in these cases include:
- The process of isolation often works differently in religious domestic abuse from cases that do not have a religious basis. In cases that are not religiously-based, while the victim may have been isolated from ongoing contact with "unapproved" friends or relatives, it is less likely that the victim's entire social background and context is one that wholeheartedly holds beliefs compatible with domestic violence or child abuse. In a religiously-abusive context, everyone from extended family to church leadership may approve of some forms of family violence, and an adult victim may have been raised since childhood with these beliefs.
- Children, especially daughters, raised in coercive religious groups often have significant gaps in their education. They may have been "homeschooled" in such a way as to have learned as little as possible about the world outside their particular coercive group - and what they have been taught is probably inaccurate. These knowledge gaps can persist into adulthood, further contributing to social isolation in addition to presenting difficulties with finding employment. (
- In addition, it is possible that a particular "knowledge gap" contributing to isolation may be present. A young adult daughter or a wife living in a coercive religious household may not have been permitted to learn to drive, and may be living in an isolated rural area.
- Because of the "quiverfull" or "radical pro-life" philosophy held by many coercive religious groups, many women will have particular difficulties walking away from an abusive spouse with all of their children. They may need to consider the safety of five, ten, or even more children, some of whom may have special medical needs. They may have serious difficulties finding safe and adequate housing for a large family.
- Also, because of the specifically spiritual nature of the abuse, many women who consider leaving believe themselves to be in a state of sin for the thought having even entered their heads. They may sincerely believe that they are putting their souls, and the souls of their children, at risk.
- In addition, the (actual or perceived) attitudes of many secular liberals who work for social services/child protection/domestic violence service agencies may be seen as mocking of their sincerely held beliefs on such topics as modest dress, which can create a further barrier to separating from abuse.
Having said all of this, I would like to make people aware of a new charitable organization: The Take Heart Project.
It was founded by women who were involved in abusive marriages in the context of the Quiverfull movement, and seeks to provide both practical and emotional support to other women (and their children) who wish to leave the lifestyle, especially when abuse has occurred or is occurring. I believe a group with the expertise to address the specialized needs of this particular population will help many families create new beginnings for themselves.