In the spring of 2014, IMA World Health, on behalf of We Will Speak Out U.S., and Sojourners commissioned a survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors in the U.S. to gauge their understanding of and response to sexual and domestic violence.
The results were released in a special report entitled “Broken Silence: A Call for Churches to Speak Out.”
The survey found that an overwhelming majority of the pastors surveyed (75%) underestimate the level of violence experienced within their congregations. Additionally, two out of three (66%) pastors speak once a year or less about the issue — and when they do speak out, the poll shows they may be providing support that does more harm than good.
And though 81% of pastors said they would take appropriate action to reduce sexual and domestic violence if they had the training and resources to do so, the “Broken Silence” report generated from this research highlights—at best—a significant blind spot within our churches in recognizing, responding to, and preventing sexual and gender-based violence.
We Will Speak Out U.S. is proud to be part of this groundbreaking research with the hopes of raising awareness of the issue among faith leaders, building relationships between faith communities and support resources, and ending the silence around sexual and domestic violence.
Interrogating the Silence
Building off of the quantitative findings of the “Broken Silence” report, another survey was conducted through the partnership of IMA World Health with the Harvard Divinity School that presents a qualitative perspective on the attitudes of faith leaders towards sexual and gender based violence.
Released October 2015, the report is the culmination of a year-long qualitative study of seven Boston-area congregations and three chaplains from two local universities. According to the report, its purpose is to “shine a theoretical light on the untapped potential, challenges, and opportunities of faith communities” to prevent and respond to this violence.
Among many findings, “Interrogating the Silence” reinforces the “Broken Silence” finding that religious leaders do not have adequate training or support to deal with SGBV. The report also indicated that the faith community is not considered by congregants to be a safe space for conversations around gender violence. Congregation members found their faith community environments to be non-affirming and unwelcoming around these issues, causing many to be reluctant to approach their religious leaders for help and support.