Uncovering and Preventing Domestic Violence in Australian Churches

October 5, 2018

The annual STOP Domestic Violence Conference will be held at QT, Gold Coast on Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 December 2018 with optional workshops on Wednesday 5 December.  

The objective of the conference is to provide a platform for a unified voice to share, network and collaborate on the challenges and successes of behaviour change.  Our human basic needs of comfort and security are violated when violence is common, impacting home life, the work place and the community.

Joining us at the conference is Dr Michelle Mulvihill, Co-founder And Director of Advocacy at Dignity Ltd. who will present on Uncovering and Preventing Domestic Violence in Australian Churches’.


The recent spotlight on church personnel’s abuse of children in their care has attracted much media and Government attention in recent years in Australia. More recently, attention has been directed towards how those in authority may have assisted sexual abuse within churches to remain undiscovered for long periods of time. What still remains hidden within churches is the domestic violence which continues to occur inside convents, presbyteries, rectories, monasteries and other such institutions, which belong to churches. Calling on research over the past ten years in Australia and New Zealand, along with case studies, this paper focuses on the abuse of both men and women who belong to religious institutions, or who are employed by church entities to provide various services. Following Strategies to recognise, uncover and prevent domestic violence towards adults, are introduced.

Within Australia there are thousands of church ministers, priests, nuns and brothers, of each and every denomination, who are victims of domestic violence. They are (or have been) abused on a regular basis, either indirectly through systemic abuse, or directly, by targeted, individual violence. This is often omitted from domestic violence literature and awareness. This violence includes financial, emotional and psychological abuse of adults, intimidation, spiritual and financial abuse. Domestic violence under the guise of the vow of ‘obedience’ to another person within the church appears to weaken any capacity to protest.

Strategies need to be employed to ensure that systemic abuse inside churches is recognised and understood.

A special kind of resilience is necessary to work in this dramatic environment where deep seated practices and protocols are enacted daily, and often unconsciously, with little or no understanding that such practices constitute domestic violence. Education programs uncovering such behaviour and offering alternatives are imperative for the uncovering and prevention of domestic violence inside church groups.


Michelle Mulvihill spent fourteen years as a Catholic nun in Australia. Finally leaving the convent, Michelle educated herself in psychology and adult education and now practices as both an endorsed counselling and organisational psychologist. Her career has included spending ten years as an academic, and ten years working with victims of church sexual and other abuses. Michelle recently co-founded Dignity, a Registered Charity which supports people experiencing homelessness. Dignity now has 25 emergency accommodation centres in NSW. She has been a consultant to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child sexual assault, and advocates for the prevention of homelessness.

For further information on the 2018 STOP Domestic Violence Conference please visit www.stopdomesticviolence.com.au

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