Australians of faith are less likely to recognise domestic violence in their own religious communities despite an awareness of the issue at a national level, a new Australian National University study has revealed.
ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods Professor Naomi Priest, who led the study, said the findings demonstrated links between religious involvement and determinants of domestic violence.
"People who are highly religious, who attend services regularly and identify as religious as part of their identity are less likely to recognise it in their own faith community," Professor Priest said.
The study, which surveyed a representative sample of 1200 Australians, also found the more religious someone was, the more likely they were to hold patriarchal gender attitudes.
Professor Priest said religious beliefs could foster views around gender roles and male authority, which could lead to domestic violence.
"There's an inequity that's set up with the view that men's authority is higher and that women need to be more subservient, and that can absolutely drive dominating and harmful treatment of women.
"But also when it occurs it's less likely to be responded to appropriately because of the ways in which women are less likely to be believed."
The exact rates of family violence within Australian religious communities are unclear, but Professor Priest said the prominence of patriarchal views in religious communities meant there was bound to be high rates of abuse.
"We've got no reason to think that it's not just as prevalent, if not more prevalent, than wider Australia," she said.
Professor Priest said while religious leaders play an essential role in guiding the health and wellbeing of individuals, they can also have a negative influence.
"We know faith communities have a really important role in community well being and providing a lot of support for communities. Often faith leaders are very powerful within communities," she said.
"But that also means there's potential for harm as well because of the level of influence they can have. Which is why we need to work with faith leaders and communities to make sure there's that awareness and the skills to respond to these issues."
Professor Priest said religious teachings, which promote forgiveness and patience, can be "twisted" as a way to silence women.
"Some women are told to endure, they're told to submit, to pray and so on, rather than actually recognising and addressing it as an issue."
Professor Priest believed the study acted as a reminder of the importance of prioritising religious and faith communities as a key setting when creating strategies to tackle family violence.
"It sounds like we still need to break down some myths, that it's not an issue within faith communities. And I think often there's a bit of a belief that 'we're good Christians, or we're good religious people' this sort of thing wouldn't happen in our community," she said.
"Unfortunately, domestic violence is an issue everywhere. We need to be working with these communities to really understand and raise this awareness that, yes, this is happening. And, ask some of these hard questions about these really high level, patriarchal gender attitudes, and start to unpack them."
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