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SYNOD: ‘Stand up and break the silence’

21 February 2014

Gender-based violence


Speaking out: Mandy Marshall from Restored Relationships introduces the subject

Speaking out: Mandy Marshall from Restored Relationships introduces the subject

A DEBATE on gender-based violence, on a motion produced by the Mission and Public Affairs Council, was held early in the Synod's agenda on Monday afternoon.

Before the debate, the Synod heard a presentation from Mandy Marshall, who co-chairs the Restored Relationships organisation, who told the story of Charlotte, a young Christian who had been abused by her boyfriend, Craig.

"What started off as seemingly romantic gestures, such as the need to always be close to Charlotte, gradually escalated into manipulative and controlling behaviour, like limiting the amount of communications she was allowed to have with her family and friends."

This "got worse until he was both emotionally and physically abusing her. Over time, he hit her over the back of the head, then profusely apologised, and promised it would never happen again. But, of course, it did. In fact, the physical abuse, including rape, became so frequent and extreme that when Charlotte finally summoned up the courage and will to leave Craig, she had to undergo five months of intense physiotherapy simply to get her limbs working properly again."

Charlotte's case was "by no means rare", but she struggled to find support from her church. "I just felt that it was too much to try to talk about the abuse," Ms Marshall reported Charlotte as saying, "as I really felt that nobody would understand . . . or would think that I was exaggerating."

The Synod then heard a number of statistics, including a 2007 UN report that said that "many women between the ages of 15-44 are more likely to be maimed or die due to male violence than through war, cancer, malaria or traffic combined."

"The culture of silent complicity needs to be broken," Ms Marshall said. "It takes all of us playing our part. Perhaps we even need to redefine courage: courage is challenging your colleague, your friend, your family, when perhaps it would be easier for us to stay silent."

Opening the debate proper, the chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, Philip Fletcher, said that, as a man, he was uneasy proposing a motion on gender-based violence, "which we know is predominantly perpetuated by men on women".

He continued: "However, it is part of a trend that this motion seeks to encapsulate - the public involvement in and advocacy for an end to gender-based violence by men and boys." It was, he said, "an issue for the whole of humanity".

Dr Paula Gooder (Birmingham) said that she had experienced gender-based violence just once, when she was a student. She described it as "devastating" and said: "I quake with terror when I think about those who live with it on a daily basis."

She said that the Church had to "take very seriously" how its theology and tradition had been used to support gender-based violence, including the "terrible tales of terror" in Judges 19, Ezekiel 16, and the Revelation references to the Whore of Babylon.

"We need very clearly to sit down alongside the stories where God intervenes with gender-based violence," she said, mentioning Hagar in the desert and the woman taken in adultery. "There is much to celebrate as well as much to grieve in our theology."

The Revd Mark Ireland (Lichfield) told the story of his parishioner, Georgia Williams, "a bright and bubbly 17-year-old teenager who was killed by a fellow teenager". She had "unwittingly become the object of his desire". There was no doubt in Mr Ireland's mind that the killer's "addiction to severe sadistic pornography" was key to the murder. "I'm convinced that we as a national Church need to challenge the Government and internet companies to do much more" to tackle the availability of pornography.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) spoke to her proposed amendment that would replace references to"gender-based violence" with "sexual and domestic violence". She said that the "whole Synod will be united in deploring and being saddened by the stories we've heard", but emphasised that it was important not to ignore male victims. "One in six men are victims of domestic violence. That could be some of the men in this room."

Kathy Playle (Chelmsford) spoke to her proposed amendment, which sought to change the words "a defilement" to "an abuse and violation", saying that victims were not defiled by the actions of their attackers. "Can we be clear? The perpetrator may be violent and abusive, but they defile themselves. . . We are not defiled. We are violated."

Peter Hart (Chester) was a member of a congregation in an urban priority area, but, until listening to a speaker from the group Chester Without Abuse, he had "no idea of the scale of gender-based violence". "Violence behind closed doors is easily hidden."

Canon Ruth Crossley (Carlisle) said that her "only reservation is that the motion doesn't go far enough". "All those who work in this area need prayer, support, and above all, money to enable this work to go on."

She chairs the trustees of a charity, Springfield, "providing support and accommodation for women trying to get their life back after abuse". "The women who come to us have lost everything."

Mr Fletcherinvited the Synod to resist Miss Dailey's amendment, saying that the term "gender-based violence" was "an internationally accepted one for a range of behaviours that include domestic and, sexual violence but goes beyond that, including female genital mutilation." It "is a term used throughout the Anglican Communion".

Peter Collard (Derby) supported the amendment. It was "about what we do in our parishes. We're not talking about the global situation. The sort of people who are going to be reading this, the sort of people we want to influence it, will bypass it. Gender-based violence doesn't mean anything."

But Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) urged the Synod to resist the amendment: "We can't isolate what is going on in this country from what is going on around the world." She said three reasons were often given to justify gender-based violence: that "God told us to do it;" that "It's our culture - keep your nose out;" and that "men and women are different."

Quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, she said that the Synod could not sit on the fence: "Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act."

The vice-chair of the House of Laity, Tim Hind (Bath & Wells), quoted a music-hall song about "two lovely black eyes", which were "just for telling a man he's wrong". He said that "men need to stand up to the fact that they are major perpetrators." It was important to keep in the motion words that called on men and boys to speak out.

Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (Ripon & Leeds) spoke about a young man who had sought her advice, having met a woman whom he wanted to marry. As a child, he had seen his mother being the victim of violence in the home. "He was worried that he was like his dad." How could he be sure that he wouldn't hit the woman, he asked.

John Barber (Manchester) supported the amendment. "Domestic Violence is something that women suffer a great deal more than men do, but we are now beginning to acknowledge that men suffer too. We don't need to wait another 100 years to acknowledge this and do something about it."

The Synod rejected Miss Dailey's amendments.

Mrs Playle's amendment was accepted without debate, after Mr Fletcher said that the original wording was "nothing to do with the defilement of the victim; it was a defilement of the image of God." But he could see how it might be misread, and so endorsed the amendment.

When debate resumed on the amended motion, Christina Rees (St Albans) said that there was more that churches could do. She said that the "DV-charger" - ten points contained in the report to the Synod - should be photocopied, distributed, and displayed in churches; that 25 November, White Ribbon Day, should be designated as a day of action by churches; and that prevention training should be taught in schools.

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek (London), was "immensely grateful" that the Synod had taken the time to "name and look at gender-based violence". She asked that the Synod should "spend time together looking at what it means to be human", which was "so important to so much" of what the Synod was doing.

The Synod carried the motion:

That this Synod, believing that all people are made in the image of God and that all forms of violence based on gender represent an abuse and violation of that image:

(a) affirm work already undertaken in dioceses, deaneries, parishes and Church of England schools in raising awareness and caring for survivors of gender-based violence in all our diverse communities;

(b) support measures to bring perpetrators to account and provide support for changed lifestyles;

(c) encourage boys and men to stand against gender-based violence; and

(d) commend the Anglican Consultative Council Resolution 15:7 on preventing and eliminating gender-based violence to dioceses, deaneries and parishes and urge them to seek practical approaches to its implementation.

The Business Committee had "exceptionally" scheduled a period of worship, a service of lament, to follow the debate to enable members to "pray for all those affected by gender-based violence".

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