How far do faith communities facilitate justice for victims of domestic violence?

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Dr Natasha Mulvihill, a lecturer in Criminology and a researcher at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, discussed the use of religious community mechanisms as a means of securing justice for victims of domestic violence.

For women (and men) who practice a faith, the imam, rabbi or priest may be among the first contacts in seeking support for domestic violence and abuse (DVA). Faith communities also have the power to annul a religious marriage or grant a religious divorce through religious tribunals, councils or courts. The experience of domestic abuse victims who use these religious mechanisms has received minimal academic attention in England and Wales.

The Justice Project

Since October 2015, members of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, in partnership with University of the West of England (UWE), Cardiff University and Women’s Aid, have been working on an Economic and Social Research Council funded project looking at how ‘justice’ is understood, sought and experienced by victim-survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). Interviews were conducted with 251 victim-survivors and over 40 practitioners working to support them. The research team was particularly interested in exploring how different social identities and inequalities intersect with the perceptions and experiences of justice – including the influence of faith.

At the Justice Project findings conference at the University of Bristol on 15 May 2018, Dr Nadia Aghtaie, Dr Hilary Abrahams and I presented our respective analysis on how far Muslim Sharia Councils, the Jewish Battei Din and Catholic Matrimonial Tribunals afford ‘justice’ to victims of DVA. I highlight here some findings from interviews with Catholic practitioners, including Diocesan safeguarding officers, an NGO worker and a Canon Lawyer (Canon law is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the Catholic Church; it is not civilly binding in England and Wales).

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This article was first published on the LSE blog on 25 June 2018.