Whittlesea CALD Communities Family Violence Research Report 2012 - Page 44

43 The advice and involvement community/religious leaders were willing to offer was also dependent upon their perception of their own role and expertise in dealing with family violence. Some community/religious leaders were more comfortable defining their role narrowly to providing ‘spiritual guidance’ to the individual or couple and making referrals where other assistance was needed. Referrals might be made to external counsellors or psychologists with a preference expressed for referrals made to members of the faith or the immediate community where possible. Other community/religious leaders felt comfortable giving advice on a range of issues and were less willing to refer except in extreme cases. Some community/religious leaders felt that it was better to refer parties where there was a possibility that they might separate or divorce because they wanted to avoid the perception that they had a hand in the breakdown of the relationship. Community/religious leaders also sometimes directly experienced anger from perpetrators, including physical violence. The leaders consulted also spoke of walking a fine line in terms of the community’s perception of their role; on the one hand they wanted to assist female victims of family violence but on the other hand they were keen to avoid being seen as too proactive for fear of losing the trust of their community. Generally there was observed to be a greater willingness on the part of religious leaders to intervene where they felt there was a chance to reconcile the parties. The religious/community leaders’ own emphasis was on preserving the marriage and whilst it was stated that the prevention of future occurrences of family violence was important ‘success’ in resolving a situation was often described as moving the parties away from divorce or separation. Despite the different backgrounds from which the religious/community leaders were drawn there was a common approach that favoured avoidance of divorce and separation. There was a general preference expressed by community/religious leaders for resolving family violence issues within the faith or community if possible and not through the legal system if it can be avoided and resort to legal action was often actively discouraged or a case of last resort. Most religious leaders also saw themselves as having a role in the prevention of family violence through raising awareness in their communities via sermons and religious teachings as well as counselling couples entering into marriage. One religious leader’s common practice was to send a strong message that violence is unacceptable by offering all women entering into marriage an information sheet, in front of their future husband, with contact details for family violence services. Knowledge and perception of services Most community/religious leaders were aware that victims of family violence could seek assistance from the police and through the courts as well as specialist family violence services and some had made referrals to these agencies but not all community/religious leaders had a detailed understanding of the specialist and non-specialist family violence agencies in their area and the services they provided. Two religious leaders commented that there was a negative perception within the community that family violence services focus too much on women to the detriment of men and encourage the separation and break-up of the family.