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Strong candidate for zero tolerance

29 January 2016

Sue Atkinson reflects on the violence done by men to women


Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and overcoming violence against women
Elaine Storkey
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9


THIS book is astonishing. Dr Elaine Storkey writes with insight and compassion, with painstaking detail and careful research, about brutality towards women, their rape and torture, around the world. As President of Tearfund, she has had access to leaders in many countries — and this informed her book.

It is a shocking book to read, as Storkey reveals the evidence the UN holds that violence against women isn’t confined to a specific culture, region, country, or religion. It is all around the globe, in the UK as elsewhere. Why hasn’t the UK ratified the “Istanbul Convention” (the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence)?

Even though all our political parties publicly support the elimination of violence against women, only Scotland has implemented frontline services for victims. Why are we not demonstrating zero tolerance of gender-based violence?

The book has chapters on female genital mutilation, mass infanticide of girls in India, enforced marriage, “honour killings”, violence in the home, trafficking and prostitution, and rape; a devastating chapter is about the rape and violence against women in war regions. A Syrian woman raped isn’t going to get justice. Whom would she report it to? It would just mean more pain for her if she tried to protest. She will just want to escape and hope to find freedom. But rape affects women and their families for the rest of their lives.

The chapter on “power and patriarchy” is a powerful analysis of the part played by feminism and thoughts on how we might change cultural ways of seeing woman as inferior. Gender inequality, misogyny, and patriarchal cultures lie at the base of violence against women. In the UK this applies to us, too — as the chapter about Christianity and gender reveals. Storkey rightly explores the mainly hidden emotional violence of men who believe that their wives must submit to their superior worth in God’s eyes. This coercive control is scarily common in Christian circles.

I always worry about saying that a book is a must-read for the clergy and those in training, because of time constraints on their already busy lives; but this book challenges assumptions about the very foundations of our culture. It calls us to come out of our comfort zone, complacency, and cultural limitations to support initiatives to bring change.

There is a long and helpful bibliography, which, I think, gives starting points for MA and Ph.D. theses — and for more books and projects on this crucial topic.

I hope this book will be read by every Christian on the planet. It is impossible to read it without being changed, and, for me, it could be one of the most influential books of the century.


Sue Atkinson is the author of Struggling to Forgive (Monarch, 2014) and other books.

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