'A wake up call': One in four churchgoers are suffering from domestic abuse

One in four churchgoers are in abusive relationships, a new survey is suggesting, with a bishop calling on the church to re-examine its attitude to domestic abuse.

The research, carried out in churches across Cumbria as a pilot, found that of 438 worshippers questioned, 109 said they had experienced abuse in their current relationship. However only 2 in 7 felt their church would handle allegations of abuse well, according to the In Churches Too report out on Wednesday.

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Researchers at Coventry University and the University of Leicester found that people aged over 60 were less likely to say they had experienced domestic abuse than younger adults were, and women more likely to say they had experienced serious forms of abuse than men.

'Domestic abuse happens in churches too,' said lead researcher Dr Kristin Aune of Coventry University. 'A quarter of the people we heard from told us they had, for example, been physically hurt by their partners, sexually assaulted, emotionally manipulated, or had money withheld from them. This includes twelve women who have experienced between ten and twenty abusive behaviours and six women who are currently in relationships where they fear for their lives.'

Co-author Dr Rebecca Barnes, of the University of Leicester, added: 'More broadly, 42 per cent of the people we heard from had experienced in a current or previous relationship at least one of the abusive behaviours we asked about.'

James Newcome, the bishop of Carlisle, said churches 'clearly have a lot of work to do'.

He said: 'Churches in Cumbria have been taking this very seriously for many years, which is why we wanted to take part in the research. Many churches have taken part in training, promote helplines and liaise with local support services and we have come a long way in understanding that this is a vital part of our ministry to the community.

'It's time to recognise that we must also examine ourselves.'

Mandy Marshall, co-director of Restored, an organisation designed to help churches around the world to tackle violence against women, said the research was a 'wake-up call'.

'The church is a vital resource for any community and, at its best, is both a refuge and a place where deep transformation happens,' she said.

'Talking in church about domestic abuse is the most important first step, whether that's mentioning it in sermons or being open in pastoral conversations to respond to disclosures. This vital research is the wake-up call we need to help us understand that this happens in churches too.'