THREE Anglican Primates, attending the launch of a new report at Lambeth Palace on Monday, have reiterated their commitment to speaking out against sexual violence.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishops of Burundi and Congo have written the foreword to a Tearfund document, Silent No More, which calls on Churches across the globe to take a lead in tackling sexual violence and in challenging stigma about it.
The report says that the “largely untapped potential of Churches can be released to help prevent sexual violence and reduce its impact”. It notes the statement made by the Primates at their meeting in Dublin in January, which acknowledged that Churches “must accept responsibility for our own part in perpetuating oppressive attitudes towards women”.
It describes how sexual violence is endemic in many countries, but its scale and impact remain largely hidden. It quotes UN statistics that suggest that, in some parts of the world, as many as one in three women are beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused over their lifetime, while one in five women becomes a victim of rape or attempted rape.
Dr Williams told delegates at the launch that he realised the seriousness of the issue when he saw a presentation on sexual violence at the Conference of African Bishops in Entebbe, Uganda, last year: it was “one of the most shocking things I have ever seen in my life”.
He said it was vital that Churches held “before the world’s eyes the absolute priority for justice and dignity for all”, and equipped people “to become agents of change and agents of hope”.
The Archbishop of Congo, the Most Revd Henry Isingoma, told the conference: “Sexual violence is like a new sort of war or terrorism” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is used as “a weapon to terrorise communities”. Raped women were often rejected by the husbands; unwanted children were killed.
His wife, Musiga Insingoma, described how the Church in the DRC was working with the victims of such violence, offering counselling and support to couples, often with positive results.
The Archbishop of Burundi, the Most Revd Bernard Ntahoturi, said that in the past the Church had remained silent on issues such as HIV and AIDS, but now was the time to provide a safe haven for those affected by sexual violence.
The conference also heard about sexual violence in the UK. Natalie Collins, from the Restored Alliance, told delegates how she was a survivor of sexual abuse by her former husband. She said that there was a rape every 34 minutes in the UK, but only 11 per cent of rapes were reported to the police.
Also addressing the event were speakers from Christian Aid and UNAIDS. The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, whose diocese has links with the DRC, was also present. The actress Tamsin Greig was also present. She recently visited a Tearfund partner in the DRC, Heal Africa, which cares for survivors of sexual violence.