Breaking the Silence: Addressing Gender-based Violence

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The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

It’s time for us all to break the silence on gender-based violence. And this goes far beyond the necessary outcry against every misogynistic, sexist, gaslighting utterance from the vile and crass deplorable nominee chosen by the Republican Party.

In a recent video message Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) named that gender-based violence is both hidden and everywhere. It’s often hidden the private life of despair, shame, and disbelief while also everywhere in popular culture, war, and sports. She continues stating that it takes both courage and staying power to address gender-based violence.

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https://www.facebook.com/Lutherans/videos/10154039215818775/

This problem affects all of us and we need to promote awareness and advocate for change in many areas of our culture and society. The ELCA’s Social Message on Gender-based Violence and related Foundational Documentation for this message offer wise counsel for both people of faith and our society at large for addressing the complex challenges posed by this issue.

The Foundational Documentation for a Social Message on Gender-based Violence offers this definition:

Gender-based violence is physical, sexual or emotional harm directed at a person in order to create or maintain power and control. This power and control is linked to gender, sex and sexuality. Some people hurt other people because of biological characteristics, because of perceived or self-identified gender or sexual orientation, or because of their difference from social or religious definitions of masculinity and femininity.

Given the wide-ranging and long lasting effects of this violence, the Social Message rightly calls gender-based violence a public health and safety crisis.

The Social Message calls all people to work together to create change, especially men and boys. As Jason Easley wrote yesterday, “Male silence is what encourages and advances violence against women and rape culture. Men must stand up against the sexism and culture that Trump is trying to mainstream.” This work cannot be left to survivors!

Working for change requires addressing patriarchy and all other ways people are devalued throughout the social systems that are part of our society, as the Social Message states:

The values of a patriarchal social system are readily apparent, for example, in media and gaming portrayals of women and men, the glorification of male sports and athletes, cultural complicity with commercial sexual exploitation and continuing gender-based bias in the legal system.

 

The U.S. social system also functions in ways that devalue people according to age, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status and ethnicity. All of these forms of privilege and oppression play a role in gender-based violence, including who is targeted and how readily a victim feels safe enough to report a crime of gender-based violence.

 

For too long the whole human community has ignored, minimized, covered up, rationalized and justified the destructive effects of gender- based violence.

The silence must be broken. Women, men, and children are being harmed on a daily basis by this public health and safety crisis. The imbedded injustices and prejudices in our social systems must be challenged and rooted out for the healing of individuals and the flourishing of life in our homes, schools, workplaces, communities, country, and world.

Where to begin? The Social Message is clear:

In determining what works and what is needed, the voices of those who are often silenced must be given a preferential hearing. Becoming allies toward change includes, for example, being advocates who seek improved laws and practices, challenging harmful mindsets and insisting on holding perpetrators accountable.

In every aspect “the over-arching goals must be to name, protect, provide care, create accountability, foster education and challenge mindsets.”

It’s time to break the silence. It’s time to give space for survivors to speak and be heard. It’s time to respond with wisdom and compassion through actions and words. It’s time to change policies strengthen laws and challenge systemic factors that create and foster gender-based violence.

The Social Message and Foundational Document offer many specific ways citizens, leaders, groups, and organizations can become allies in addressing gender-based violence by seeking improved laws and social patterns and adopting improved policies.

A final pastoral word.

All too often Scripture has been sinfully misused to legitimize and excuse gender-based violence. Distortions of Scripture have also resulted in the misuse of forgiveness, when Christians demand that survivors forgive perpetrators or bystanders easily and/or quickly.

Additionally, Christian churches and individuals too often have contributed to gender-based violence through denial, resistance and a lack of preparation.

These abuses need to be called out and challenged. Christians must confess a history that contributed to victim-blaming, the failure to hold perpetrators accountable, excuses for violence, and subversion and curtailment of healing.

It must be made emphatically clear by pastors and all people of faith that every survivor is loved and cared for by God. God does not intend people to be hurt. God is with every victim. Scripture speaks of this, from God’s sorrow over Israel’s suffering to Jesus’ pain on the cross.

By the power of the Holy Spirit God’s grace is active in us so that we may see our neighbor’s need and respond to the public health and safety crisis of gender-based violence with courage and staying power, working for change throughout all our social systems.

Gender-based violence is far bigger than the repugnant gaslighting speech of Donald Trump. It is broader than the sexist and misogynistic history of Republican Party policy. However, the spotlight on these travesties may just spark the conversations that need to be had in our homes, communities, and hall of power across the country to address the systemic suffering and injustice caused by gender-based violence.