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Compassion and Accountability: Guidelines for Faith Leaders Responding to Those Who Abuse

By: Rev. Dr. Anne Marie Hunter and Alyson Morse Katzman, MPA, Co-Directors, Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse

People who abuse use many things to maintain their power and control in an intimate relationship. Unfortunately, even faith leaders are sometimes manipulated into encouraging a survivor to stay in the relationship, justifying the abuse, or appearing in court as a character witness for someone who is abusive. Having received little to no training or resources about intimate partner violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, or elder abuse, faith leaders can be, as one said to us, “suckers for a good confession.” As a result, well-meaning faith leaders may minimize the violence, silence or blame the victim, and suggest unsafe options.


While Safe Havens’ first priority is safety and support for survivors of abuse and their children, we also know that faith leaders bear responsibility to care for everyone in their congregations, including those who abuse. This means that, with training and partnerships with service providers, faith leaders could help to hold those who abuse accountable. But where are the needed training and resources?


In 2020, Safe Havens collaborated with Dr. David Adams of EMERGE to develop a resource specifically for faith leaders titled: Between Compassion and Accountability: Guidelines for Faith Leaders Responding to Those Who Abuse Intimate Partners. This resource provides first-of-its-kind guidance to faith leaders on avoiding manipulation and helping to hold those who abuse accountable. Dr. Adams provides in-depth descriptions of the common traits and excuses of abusers and explores how to avoid manipulation, recognize and promote stages of accountability, discourage superficial changes and quick fixes, and prioritize safety for the survivor.


In addition, Safe Havens and Dr. Adams are currently working on an online training for faith leaders on how to help hold abusers accountable. The pilot training went well, and we hope to begin providing this training in 2024. For service providers and advocates who are reaching out to and partnering with local faith leaders, Between Compassion and Accountability: Guidelines for Faith Leaders Responding to Those Who Abuse Intimate Partners and the accompanying training opportunity can be the beginning of an important conversation.


For questions or more information, please contact Safe Havens at amkatzman@interfaithpartners.org or amhunter@interfaithpartners.org.


Safe Havens is grateful for support from the Office on Violence Against Women, which allows us to provide resources and training to support safety for survivors and accountability for those who abuse (OVW Grant 15JOVW-21-GK-02219-MUMU).


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