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Silent No More: The untapped potential of the church in addressing sexual violence

Publication Date: 
March, 2011

This report, Silent No More, calls all churches to account and to action. It paints a painfully honest picture of the way churches have perpetuated a culture of silence around sexual violence and have largely failed to respond to the crisis and may even worsen the impact by reinforcing stigma and discrimination experienced by survivors.

Executive Summary: Prevalent in conflict, sexual violence is common within communities worldwide – but as an issue it remains largely hidden. Women, girls, men and boys are all at risk of sexual violence.

UN statistics find that:1

  • today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes
  • worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime
  • on the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in ten countries, between 55 and 95 per cent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help

Tearfund commissioned a research report to explore the current and potential role of the church within communities affected by sexual violence and conflict. The findings were harsh, detailing stories of deep suffering and often silence from the church. Yet all of these communities looked to the church for that care and comfort, hoping to find that safe place they so needed.

Sexual violence is an immensely challenging issue to tackle, and churches have failed to respond adequately. The silence of the churches on this issue is often the result of fear and their inability to envisage how to engage effectively. If churches could acknowledge their failure to provide the much-needed care, support, safety and leadership that communities are looking for this could be changed. Churches, however, cannot do it alone and need the support of aid agencies, governments and donors in order to walk this path. This is possible, but it needs to happen immediately. Until then, the church will continue to be an untapped resource in the response to sexual violence.

There are church networks stretching across many communities, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. The church is a part of communities that governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) cannot easily reach. The nature and influence of faith in such communities, and the work that the church is doing to reach out to those in poverty, is not often understood by aid agencies, governments or donors. Churches have too often failed to realise their mandate to care and to stand up for people on the margins – particularly those living with and affected by sexual violence. For this reason aid agencies, donors and governments too have failed to recognise the potential of the church to respond to this need.

Tearfund makes the following recommendations based on these findings:
1. Churches need to show leadership to challenge the prevalence of sexual violence that has become endemic in communities today.
2. Churches need to equip themselves to be people who demonstrate compassion and care for those affected by sexual violence.
3. Aid agencies, governments and donors need to recognise the potential of the church and work together to support them in this journey.

This report summarises the findings from Tearfund’s research study across three African countries that have been in or are still facing conflict. It also charts a way forward to build on the potential of churches to support survivors more effectively and to address issues of stigma and discrimination which exacerbate the crisis.

Link to full report: www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/.../20110321_Silent_no_more.pdf

Forms of Violence: