On 7 August 2011, Mr Benny Bong, a Family and Marital Therapist, and a speaker at No To Rape’s 2009 seminar, facilitated a seminar on “The Church’s Response to Violence in the Home”. This seminar was held at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, which Mr Bong is a member of. Dr Ngiam Tee Liang, a Professor in the NUS Department of Social Work, moderated the session.
Mr Bong presented statistics from the Society Against Family Violence – National University of Singapore (SAFV-NUS) study on the prevalence of Violence Against Women, which, in 2009, surveyed a random sample of women in Singapore. 9.2% of survey respondents indicated that they had been a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. There was no overrepresentation of family violence by race or religion, although anecdotal data suggested that Indian victims of family violence are more likely to seek help compared to victims of other races, thus giving the impression that family violence is a bigger problem in the Indian community. Interestingly enough, a disproportionate number of victims had university and post-graduate qualifications, which goes against the notion that better educated women are less prone to experience partner abuse.
Mr Bong stated that spousal violence is, without exception, against Christian values. He then showed some statistics on responses that pastors in the US gave to their members about how they counselled wives of abusive husbands. In this example, 26% of respondents said they would tell the victims to continue to submit to their husbands, 25% of respondents implied that abuse was the victim’s fault, and 50% said the victim should be willing to tolerate some level of violence because it is better than divorce. Mr Bong said that these responses place victims at great risk and discouraged them from seeking help. He emphasised that the safety of the victim should take precedence over all other concerns; people who are currently propagating unhelpful views about domestic violence should stop the three traditional responses of denial, minimization and blame, and support victims’ rights instead.
He also discussed the difficulty of identifying victims in the first place, especially victims of psychological violence without physical violence, and suggested that the best way to get them to come forward is to proactively reach out to women in the community, for instance by handing out pamphlets on domestic violence, so that victims will realise that help is available.
Regarding the issue of pre-marital counselling as a way to reduce incidence of violence in marriages, Mr Bong said that the Syariah Court mandates pre-marriage classes for couples who intend to enter Muslim marriages, and the syllabus includes how to have better communication and conflict resolution. However, for civil marriages, pre-marital counselling is not compulsory. Thus, the only organisations which can require couples to attend pre-marital counselling are religious organisations. Mr Bong mentioned that many churches require their members to go through pre-marriage classes if they want to get married by the pastor in the church, but these classes often do not deal with domestic violence.
Mr Bong concluded by saying that the Church should provide protection to domestic violence victims by telling victims that they do not deserve to be badly treated and admonishing perpetrators to stop using violence. There should also be provision for the practical needs of victims by working with community agencies such as police and shelters. Finally, more work needs to be done to reach out to victims in some churches who may face lack of support from their church leaders and congregation.
If you or someone you know are at risk of, or are experiencing domestic violence, help is available. The AWARE website contains resources (including details of a helpline and support service) for those facing abusive relationships and/or rape and sexual assault. Information on free legal clinics in Singapore is available here.
No To Rape would like to thank Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for inviting the team to the seminar.
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