Churches should be safe places for women

(Photo: Terry Crouch)

A recent conference in Cardiff blew the whistle on one of the church's guilty secrets – violence against women.

Around 90 delegates attended 'One in Three', named after the World Health Organisation's claim that one in three women worldwide are victims of some form of gender-based violence during their lifetime.

A variety of speakers addressed some uncomfortable truths. Mandy Marshall from Restored revealed that 40 per cent of women feel manipulated by men in church. In a powerful presentation, Marshall said the church be a safe place, where the power of love dominates and not the love of power.

In his presentation, Mark Lyndon-Jones from Christian Vision for Men said a real man is one who treats women well. Men cannot stay in the box and remain blind to the sexualisation of culture, turning a blind eye to the insidious ways in which adults and children are being exposed to harmful images and attitudes, he asserted.

Taking her cue from this subject, Karin Cooke, founder of Porn Scars, shared the horrific prevalence and impacts of pornography amongst children, relationships and marriages.

The conference also witnessed a drama used in schools to explore domestic violence issues. 'In Search of a Happy Ending' was introduced by Helen Griffiths, a PhD student whose research focuses on violence against women. The play, performed by the Going Public theatre company, challenged society's attitude to sexual consent, offering young people the opportunity to discuss relationships, sex and abuse.

Later in the day, Teresa Madden, founder of Born to Fly, portrayed the unfortunate web of lies and abuse which many women become entangled in, while bystanders look on perhaps unaware, or baffled at why they cannot leave the relationship. What is often overlooked, she said, is the near inability of some women to see beyond the cloud of lies and confusion. In her seminar, Madden suggested awareness and support were absolutely vital in these situations.

One of the delegates, Emeline Makin, said: "It was impossible to not be wounded by the stories laid out in the spotlight before us. But this is all too necessary for us to experience: it is an evil affecting the lives of those we love, binding both the abusers and victims.

"From this place of sorrow we can be empowered to march forwards as culture shifters and healers.

"This was wonderfully demonstrated to us through the victorious stories of two ladies, both who have overcome a history of abuse. Their stories of survival radiate the capacity for Jesus' powerful love to bring hope and beauty out of terrible pain.

"With His Spirit as our guide we most definitely do not find ourselves amidst a losing battle. We must speak up, seek out practical ways of offering help, and pursue prevention of future abuse."

The Welsh government hopes to introduce a new piece of legislation on this subject later in 2014. Should the Ending Violence against Women and Domestic Abuse Bill come onto the statute books, it will provide groundbreaking rights for women living in the shadow of domestic violence.

In Wales the financial cost of domestic abuse alone is estimated to be £826 million per annum.

Dr Amanda Robinson, a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Cardiff University, and lead author of the Bill's Task and Finish Group Report said: "This Bill has been widely anticipated across the UK, Europe and beyond, both for its symbolic value and its practical content. The Welsh Government is setting a pioneering example in which we can all be proud."