Yesterday I went to the launch of Tearfund's report, Silent No More, calling the church to action on sexual violence.
Sexual violence is common within communities around the world, particularly where there is conflict, and it's an issue that remains shrouded in shame. UN statistics report that in some countries as many as one in three women are beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused, while one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape. Tearfund commissioned this report to explore what the church is doing in communities affected by sexual violence and conflict, and what the church could be doing. What they found is that churches have perpetuated a culture of silence around sexual violence and have largely failed to respond to the crisis; in some situations the church is making things worse by reinforcing the stigma and discrimination experienced by survivors. And yet, people look to the church to take a lead in challenging the prevalence of sexual violence and hope that the church is a place where they will find compassion and support, and the beginning of healing.
The day included moving contributions from the Archbishops of the DRC and Burundi, from Lyn Lusi of HEAL Africa in Congo and Natalie Collins from Restored who suffered domestic violence in her first marriage here in the UK. Some of the stories were heartbreaking, particularly to hear that the church has sometimes compounded the problems, and yet there was also immense hope in the stories of men and women who are taking action.
Tearfund is part of a coalition that includes Christian Aid and Restored which is calling the church to speak out against sexual violence, to be silent no more. You can sign up to the pledge on the website, www.wewillspeakout.org, where you can also download a copy of the report. Please sign the pledge, and get your church talking about it. The stories of rape being used as a weapon of war in places like the DRC and Burundi are horrific. But as Natalie's story shows, women here in the UK also suffer sexual and domestic violence - women in your church, in the Sophia Network, in your family, in your neighbourhood. It's time to speak out.
This is the pledge that Tearfund invites us to sign up to, to end sexual violence together.
'We recognise our failure to respond adequately to sexual violence and our role in marginalising those who have experienced its devastating consequences. We recognise that responding to sexual violence is essential in our work, in our communities and in our world. We commit to addressing sexual violence in our contexts to the best of our ability, aiming to end it in all its forms, together.
- We will speak out.
- We will be silent no more.
- We stand together in solidarity with the most vulnerable.
- We dedicate ourselves to finding lasting solutions; mobilising leadership at all levels.
- We will promote laws that model, protect and promote justice, enable healthy relationships and challenge those that don’t.
- We will work to ensure that these laws are enforced.
- We commit to take action together to see all girls, women, boys and men freed from the threat and impact of sexual violence across the world.'