Violence against women

Information for local churches

The Church of Scotland is committed to addressing issues of violence against women. Violence against women is an umbrella term which includes (but is not limited to) rape, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and domestic abuse. By domestic abuse we mean a course of controlling behaviour that can include physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse.

There are many working definitions for domestic abuse used by different organisations for the purposes of determining how policies will be developed. For the purpose of our work we use the definition provided by the Scottish Government, which is as follows:

"Domestic Abuse (as gender-based abuse) can be perpetrated by partners or ex-partners and can include physical abuse (assault and physical attack involving a range of behaviour), sexual abuse (acts which degrade and humiliate women and are perpetrated against their will, including rape) and mental and emotional abuse (such as threats, verbal abuse, racial abuse, withholding money and other types of controlling behaviour such as isolation from family and friends)"

Violence against women is an issue not only for society but within the Church itself. In our reports to the General Assembly in 2003, 2011 and 2012, the Church is facing up to the reality of violence against women, and more specifically the issue of domestic abuse, and the fact that this takes place in Christian homes and in church congregations.

Domestic abuse: Together we can stop it

10 things you can do to stop domestic abuse

The following action points have been suggested by Scottish Women's Aid and are a useful starting point for congregations, kirk sessions and presbyteries to consider what action they might take.

  • Develop a statement for your congregation which highlights that domestic abuse is contrary to the teachings of your religion and promote this on posters, in leaflets and faith community newsletters
  • Ask those with responsibility for leading prayers in your church to pray for those experiencing domestic abuse and to help them understand that it is not their fault but the responsibility of the perpetrator
  • Check whether your kirk session has a domestic abuse policy that links to its child protection and adult support and protection policies. If so, encourage those with responsibility to receive training on domestic abuse
  • Ask for, or organise, domestic abuse awareness event for your kirk session, presbytery or other group
  • Make links with other faith communities working on this issue and arrange an ecumenical or inter faith event as part of the 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women (25 November – 8 December each year)
  • Write letters and articles about domestic abuse, the Scottish Women's Aid 'Together we can stop it' campaign and any other initiatives you are involved in for your church newsletter or website
  • If you think someone you know in the church might be experiencing domestic abuse, make it possible for her to tell you or someone else. You can get advice about how to go about this from your local Women's Aid group or the Domestic Abuse helpline 0800 027 1234
  • If you think someone might be perpetrating domestic abuse or condoning it, challenge this. You can get advice about how to go about this from the White Ribbon in Scotland campaign
  • Promote helpline numbers around your church building, including displaying leaflets (available from Scottish Women's Aid), in newsletters, posters (maybe in female toilets) and websites
  • Contact your local Women's Aid group to find out how you can support it

The White Ribbon Campaign

We have also given our backing to the work of the White Ribbon campaign, which is for men working to end violence against women. The Church of Scotland General Assembly as well as the Church's National Youth Assembly have encouraged men in the Church to sign the White Ribbon pledge which you can do on their website.

A gender issue

The United Nations recognises violence against women as a form of gender based violence. Culturally held gender norms and values shape the behaviour of men and women in Scottish society, and results in certain expectations about men and women's respective places in society, and how they should behave within the gender status quo. In other words, gender based violence is violence directed at women specifically because they are women and linked to society's expectations of women. The relationship between gender and violence is complex. While male on male violence is the most common form of violence, there are a number of abusive behaviours and acts of violence that are perpetrated mostly by men and affect women and children disproportionately, such as domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a direct manifestation of the continuing inequalities between men and women, and socially we often see these inequalities continuing to oppress victims even after they have escaped the perpetrator – evident in low conviction rates, victim blaming, and the cultural habit of 'turning a blind eye' to what happens 'behind closed doors'.

The Church is committed to opening these doors, to assist the women behind them, and to educate our society as a whole. It recognises that violence against women needs to be targeted specifically as gender-based violence, and demands a dedicated response which recognises the difference between this and other forms of violence.

Men and domestic abuse

While we know that men make up the minority of those experiencing violence in the form of domestic abuse, it is important that appropriate services are available for those men affected. Indeed, such services do exist. Men experiencing domestic abuse, whether from male partners in same sex relationships or from female partners, are entitled to the range of legal protections and supports that women are. Taking a gender sensitive approach to work with men will factor in issues such as specific shame and embarrassment that might occur by feeling 'unmanly' at experiencing abuse from a partner. Acknowledging the significance of gender means that all victims of violence are able to receive a safe and effective response to their experiences.

For more information please visit the Men's Advice Line.