“We must speak up and do something”
It won’t come as a surprise to anybody that there is a great deal of injustice in the world. But I am frequently surprised at the extent of it and its insidious, all-pervasive nature. For example, I learned today that, according to United Nations statistics, over the last year, 9 million adolescent girls experienced forced sexual abuse1. That is 9 million girls whose names we don’t know – but what of all those who were too scared or too ashamed to tell? Throughout history, in different shapes and colours, in every corner and under every canopy around the globe, we hear of atrocities perpetrated against other human beings in the name of some exclusive cause or another and we are outraged and shrug; but the abuse and atrocities that occur within our own communities, our work-places, even our churches and our own families, these are the ones we somehow are ignorant of, or choose to remain silent about. Often we don’t really know what is happening. We don’t really want to know, because we don’t like violence, fear, abuse and obscenity and we don’t want to think about it or upset anybody. Also we are scared of the obligation to act if we do acknowledge an injustice and we don’t know what we can do. “We don’t want to get involved.”
Over this past year or so, better late than never, society took note and showed outrage at examples of such injustices. The murders of George Floyd and Sarah Everard were two named representations of the wider, collective experience for millions of women and millions of black people. These two have names that we have taken notice of.
There is so much abuse, discrimination and injustice in our ‘civilised’ society, but in this short article I just want to focus briefly on just some aspect of the domestic abuse. More uncomfortable statistics tell us that EVERY DAY 137 women are KILLED by male family members – husbands, fathers, brothers; but again, these are only those who dared to tell. When it happens in my house, I don’t report it because I am ashamed of my weakness and afraid of repercussions if I should tell. And I don’t tell because you keep telling me its my own fault, I brought it on myself; I’m not good enough and got what I deserved and if I tell, I’ll get what I do deserve. I am wrong and if I tell, nobody will believe me and they will also know how bad I am. We don’t tell, can’t tell; we can’t bring shame on family, can’t bring shame on the company, shame on the church, shame on the government… Can we? 1 in 4 women will be subject to domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime. Are you shocked?
Man, I’m sure you are not one of these abusers, but that woman could be your daughter, your wife, your mother? If so, what can we do for her now? Can we make sure that our churches, our homes and our communities are safe places and a refuge for those abused, lonely and scared for their lives? Are we prepared to help?
Woman, if it happened to you, I’m so sorry! And I understand the pain. Tell your story – first tell yourself and then tell somebody you trust. When we find our authentic voice we can speak up and others can listen, comfort and support; and maybe we can educate others, engage in dialogue and pave the way for others to speak out and make the issues visible, because we are not alone.
There are no simple solutions, but we can listen to one another’s experiences (and those that shock us) and we can listen with love and offer support where possible. We hope that an abused person can escape their abuser, but this is often impossible. Domestic abuse and work-place abuse, bullying, racism, sexism, all other ‘isms’ – these are areas that our churches and schools and councils could speak out against. If you want to find out what the church can to to speak into and change culture and you want to join a conversation addressing violence against women, go to eauk.org/bekahlegg
Do what you can, not what you can’t. If we don’t like the litter we can pick it up and teach our children not to drop it. If we see a danger, or issue, or injustice we can do our homework and research solutions to a problem, we can report it, or solve it, or ask for help. We can engage the media, sign petitions, write a letter, join a campaign, we can pray for victims and bullies, even for our enemies, and we can tell our story, tell another’s story, shout about it from the pulpits. Whilst you have a voice, use it for good – to speak out, to comfort, to encourage, to pray, to raise awareness… We can create a culture, create a church and a community that is safe and inclusive and that does not tolerate injustice, but does give second chances, does forgive and does reflect our God of love and mercy. Speak up about injustice happening to you and around you, tell a friend and start a small support team, pray about it and use whatever is in your hand to be an advocate, a voice and a safe refuge and support for someone who needs you.
I’m reminded of an oft-quoted gut-puncher, by Martin Niemoeller2, speaking of the cowardice of silence and of personal responsibility:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
‘First they came…’ 1946