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News 3 investigates how perpetrators use religion and spirituality as a form of abuse

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Posted at 12:00 AM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:19:47-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Abuse comes in many different forms, as News 3 has been exploring all this week in our series on domestic abuse.

In the third part of our series, we look at how religion plays a role in domestic abuse.

Jazmine Smith said she is a survivor of religious abuse.

She said for five years, her partner used religion to control her. She said she wanted so much to be part of a religious community.

“It led to him controlling in all kinds of ways. It started off as the way that I dress,” said Smith.

She said he would tell her not to wear colorful nail polish or restricted certain outfits. She said at first, she followed his requests.

“I could wear my natural hair. I could wear less makeup - it started off like that,” said Smith. “Over the years, the restrictions got worse and worse.”

She said she was emotionally, financially and eventually physically abused towards the end of the relationship.

She said she wanted to be part of his religious community. She said she witnessed spiritual abuse from him and others.

“You're abusing your power. You're abusing knowledge. You're abusing the words in the religious texts, and you're manipulating those words to work in your favor to justify this behavior and in the end to control those who you say you love,” said Smith. “I was struggling with my individuality. I was struggling with who I was and wanting to be deeply connected to something.”

Neisha Himes is the founder of the G.R.O.W. Foundation, a group that works to help domestic violence survivors.

She said there are many different types of ways that religion can be used as a form of manipulation.

“Abuse is about power and control,” said Himes.

She said religion can play a huge role in why victims stay in relationships.

For example, she said an abuser could pull up biblical text or religious text and use it to manipulate a victim to fit their agenda.

“It’s really heartbreaking. I’ve talked to so many women that are like, 'I’m a Christian… I’m supposed to stay,'” said Himes. “They say, 'I’m just going to pray about it.'"

Experts with the National Domestic Violence Hotline say spiritual abuse can happen in any religion or denomination.

They said it can be very difficult to identify because many victims may not recognize they are being abused.

“Abuse is not love,” said Himes.

For Smith, she said it took a while to understand what was going on.

“I read through the facts about religious and spiritual abuse, and I remember sitting in that classroom and crying and I didn't even realize that I was crying in front of everyone,” said Smith.

She and other advocates like Himes want more people to be aware of spiritual abuse.

“It’s all about education and awareness, and I think when we know better, we do better. I think it’s very important for churches to have these conversations, to have survivors come in and have people who specialize in domestic violence and advocacy and awareness to educate their congregation about what domestic violence looks like,” said Himes.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, signs of spiritual abuse between intimate partners include when an abusive partner:

  • Ridicules or insults the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs.
  • Prevents the other partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs.
  • Uses their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them.
  • Forces the children to be raised in a faith that the other partner has not agreed to.
  • Uses religious texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors (such as physical, financial, emotional or sexual abuse/marital rape).

If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, here are some resources:

Click here for more News 3 investigations.