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Sexual violence

11 April 2014

CONTRIBUTORS to our special report on sexual violence this week were keen to emphasise that there is nothing intrinsic in African men that makes them perpetrators of sexual violence. Such a suggestion is as offensive as supposing that African women are natural victims. Sexual violence has been and remains a global issue. What makes sub-Saharan Africa worthy of note at present is the existence of several factors that, together, make sexual violence more prevalent: political instability, the loss of authority figures through HIV/AIDS, the strengthening of tribal identity - and the imperfect understanding of the gospel's implications for the sexes which has plagued Christian culture down the ages. The sexual abuse of women to humiliate a community is one of the most despicable acts of war. Alongside our disturbing report of how widespread this practice is, it is good to be able to report the many efforts that are being developed to combat this crime.

Our focus has been on violence against women, since they are overwhelmingly the victims. But gay people are victims, too, and Archbishop Welby's comments on LBC (News) involved the Church of England in their plight. It is unfair to accuse him, as some have, of allowing the C of E's policy on same-sex marriage to be dictated by evil men. The nearest parallel is with hostage-takers. You do nothing to upset them, all the while resisting the desire to appease them. It is an agonising situation, felt keenly by the Archbishop, despite his ambivalence, to put it no more strongly, on the subject of same-sex relationships.

For all that, it is unlikely that the Church of England's restraint will be matched by the murderous militias in Sudan, the DRC, and elsewhere. It assumes an unlikely degree of patience and sophistication on the part of the gunmen to suppose that they might understand the nature of the Church's relationship with the state, its tolerance of principled dissent among its clergy, and the lack of a juridical bond between the different provinces of the Communion. The assumption that Christianity and Western decadence are cut from the same cloth has long plagued the Church's relationships with its neighbours in Africa, the Middle East, and countries such as China.

Thus it is that engagement and education are the only ways forward, and these take time. Once again, the Churches stand condemned for their slothful avoidance of difficult and contentious matters, allowing ignorance and prejudice to reign unchallenged, with the result that too many victims are scattered through African society or under its soil. But finding global agreement on something as culturally conditioned as sexual behaviour is a fond hope. What hope there is lies in the many cash-strapped organisations in Africa set up to combat the violence and to care for the victims. The Archbishop is right to worry about policies that might hinder their funding; but first let us find that funding.

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