Faith as a Resource in Addressing Intimate Partner Violence: A South African Perspective

Elizabeth Petersen | CEHD International Speaker Series
Co-sponsored with the School of Social Work

South African women live in one of the most violent, yet most religious societies in the world. Whilst around 90% of its population ascribe to religious practice, it is estimated that every 26 seconds a woman is raped and that one in four women finds herself in an abusive relationship (Jewkes & Abrahams, 2002). The legacy of an institutionalized violent apartheid and colonialism is flagged as a key contributing factor for the violent nature of the South African society where women and children live in constant fear of being assaulted or raped.

Research also points out that many victims / survivors use faith as a coping mechanism and they often approach their religious leaders and faith communities for help. On the other hand, perpetrators often use easily misinterpreted scriptures, religious teachings and cultural practices to support abusive behavior. In some countries like the USA, domestic violence training programs and various resources are available to equip clergy and their faith communities. This is not yet fully the case in South Africa. The South African Faith and Family Institute, a multi-faith non-profit organization mobilizes and capacitates faith communities in the quest to prevent and intervene with individuals and families who are afflicted by or vulnerable to domestic violence.

Elizabeth Petersen

Elizabeth Petersen

Elizabeth Petersen MSW, Founder and Executive Director of the South African Faith and Family Institute, (SAFFI) is working with Dr. Oliver Williams in the School of Social Work. Currently she is a PhD candidate at the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape where she also holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work (2006).

Her quest for addressing root causes of violence against women led her to establish the South African Faith and Family Institute (SAFFI) in 2008. In July 2009 she completed a Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship program at the University of Minnesota in the USA, which afforded her the opportunity to establish critical partnerships with colleagues in the States to advance the work in South Africa. Elizabeth comes with 25 years experience in working with women domestic violence survivors in shelters; with men who abuse their intimate partners and with religious leaders from diverse denominations and religions. Her research interests include the role of faith during interventions with men who abuse their intimate partners.

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