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Fighting Sexual Violence in Religion: The Church

Fighting Sexual Violence in Religion: The Church
October 8, 2017 STER

Sandie Syke

To be clear on the subject matter, sexual violence is a broad term that refers to any unwanted sexual act that is carried out against a person’s will and consent. It is very important to note that any ‘consent’ given under threat to a person or a person’s loved ones and possessions, or any ‘consent’ given by someone who is legally incapable of doing so whether it be due to age, substance ingestion or mental capabilities,  is not consent at all and as such does not count. There are many different types of sexual violence, including but not restricted to: rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage/relationships, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and ritual abuse. Anyone can be the victim of sexual violence regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation.


In Nigeria, the church is a pillar of society.  Being a deeply religious nation, many Nigerians attach a lot of importance to what their religious leaders say. This phenomenon gives the church the power to be an effective agent of change. As such it is especially heinous when sexual violence occurs within the church. These crimes are often committed by persons in authority in the church, and the victims are left feeling confused and ashamed, often hiding away and not reporting said crimes  because of fear of reproach and alienation from the church.  The solution to sexual violence in religion lies with the church itself.  There are various ways the church can help fight sexual violence.  some of which are:

  1. Creating a climate of non tolerance.  Every incident of sexual violence in the church or outside should be publicly condemned.  The church should be a safe haven for victims to share their stories if they choose to and receive the support they need, including but not limited to emotional,  mental and legal support. There should be no place for misplaced judgement or victim blaming
  2. Preaching and sermons on modesty should not be targeted towards women only. Many churches have stringent dress codes for women,  and advertise said dress codes on large billboards and flyers.  While this is their prerogative, men should also be depicted on these boards and flyers. This would show that modesty is a goal that should be striven for by both sexes.
  3. Sexual violence is often about power and control, it is imperative that churches stop teaching that women are somehow less than men. Excessive teachings on subservience and submitting,  especially to abuse of any kind, teaches young women to accept and even expect abuse, like sexual violence. For some men this can lead to thoughts of “taking it by force” . This is very often seen in intimate partner and spousal sexual violence; the perpetrators feel like they own the victim and expect them to serve them whenever they desire.
  4. Showing sympathy and support victims.  Stories that paint victims of sexual violence or any kind of abuse as the the cause are definitely not to be told. In the same vein,  stories that portray a long suffering victim of abuse who eventually prays and gains divine assistance should be kept to a bare minimum. These stories also make perpetrators think “at least I’m not as bad”, these stories do not convict the perpetrators of any wrongdoing. If stories of sexual violence are to be told in church,  every religious leader must watch his words and make sure to portray sexual violence as detestable, while avoiding victim blaming. The church can also organise sensitization programs as well as women empowerment programs in a bid to fight against sexual violence.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ Edmund Burke. Doing nothing is not an option for our churches and religious leaders, they owe it to their congregation to do all in their power to curb sexual violence.

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