Three days ago, I spoke to about 20 senior Christian male leaders on a zoom call about domestic abuse – and gave a very brief rundown about the scale and impact. 137 women across the globe die every die as a result of violence inflicted by a partner or ex-partner.
Because the zoom call was all men, and I wanted them to know the full extent, I mentioned that men get abused too but mostly in different ways to women. About 15-20% of abuse victims are men.
The only response from the pastors was to snigger when I mentioned that men are victims of abuse – one senior leader said several times, “Oh dear, men get spanked”. Other men on the call seemed to suppress their giggles.
I said nothing! How could I call out a senior leader I did not know, in the middle of a zoom call?
No-one commented on anything else I said.
This coming Thursday the 25th marks Thanksgiving in the States and the start of the whole ‘holiday season’ that many of us like to call Christmas. Like an unwanted relative in the midst of family festivity is another commemoration – not a celebration, more of a tragic reminder – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
I think most of us (apart from those pastors on the call) are aware of domestic abuse because it is one of the terrible side-effects of Covid lockdowns: news outlets, the police and bodies like the UN noticed an upsurge in reporting of domestic abuse as early as April last year; UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to Covid lockdown.
He noticed the terrible juxtaposition of ‘domestic’ and ‘abuse’: “Many women under lockdown face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.”
He urged governments to put women’s safety first as they responded to the pandemic.
As calls to police and helplines rose like the covid cases themselves, positive things did happen. Awareness rose here were posters in my local area signposting safe spaces for women in supermarkets, helpline numbers were easy to find and people talked about the issue sympathetically.
The ‘reporting’ of abuse is crucial because if it is not publicly recognised, and prosecuted, people can downplay the extent or pretend that it only happens to ‘other’ people.
The pastors I spoke to last week need to wake up to the facts and impact of abuse inside churches as well as in the wider community. Numbers are important, but they do not capture the bruises, broken bones, cries, threats and frightened heartbeats that are so common in abusive homes. They do not capture the fear of children caught in the violence.
One man who was also a guest at that zoom meeting, whom I know is a champion of women as Christian leaders, emailed me to say, “There’s a long way to go for leaders to understand the seriousness of abuse and violence.”
Should we have spoken up? I’d love your view.
I plan to write to the co-ordinator of that leaders’ call. I cannot stay silent even though they might protest that their words were just a bit of banter.
This Thursday, why don’t we all mention to our colleagues and friends that it is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Tell them that 137 women across the globe are killed every day by intimate partners or relatives (2018 UN figures that are bound to be an under-estimate since Covid). That translates to about 50,000 wives, mums, girlfriends and daughters a year.
Tell them we need to tackle this sin of abuse.