Press Release: Faith leaders first port of call for rape survivors



For immediate release Wednesday 11 June 2014


In the chaos of war, people of faith are often the only ones left to protect vulnerable people, according to survivors of sexual violence, lawyers, politicians and faith leaders.

Leaders from different faiths shared stories at the Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit today, at a debate chaired by UK Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Women the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP. The event was hosted by the We will Speak Out coalition, which is a faith based group of organisations in more than 25 countries working to end sexual violence globally.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Envoy actor Angelina Jolie and the UK’s Foreign Secretary Rt Hon William Hague MP visited the event to thank faith leaders for their work to help people who have survived sexual violence and to change the attitudes and behaviours that cause it.

Reverend Nicolas Guerokoyame-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance in the Central African Republic, spoke of the war that has ravaged his country for the last two years:

‘In our country, the legal system has collapsed and the men have either left or been killed. Life is very dangerous for women and girls and many of them have been raped by soldiers. Faith leaders are the only ones left, and we must protect those who need it.

‘Women and girls who have been raped feel as though they have lost an important part of themselves. We must not abandon them.’

Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, commended the UK Government through a filmed message in which he recounted recent visits to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. He spoke of a culture of brutality in eastern DRC, propagated by rebel groups and exacerbated by corruption in extractive industry operations, and claimed that ‘the churches are the main bulwark against this brutalisation’.

Speaking of churches running projects funded by Christian relief and development agency Tearfund, ​part of the We Will Speak Out coalition, ​he said: ‘They love the women who come to them for help. They show them love and human dignity. That is extraordinary in itself.’

He described specially trained clergy who help women who have survived sexual violence to rebuild their lives: ​

‘They enable them to re-enter society, they counsel them, they show them that they are of unique importance as people, not merely being objects of other people’s lust, rage and disempowerment.’

Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu, a congregational rabbi in London, shared her passion for religious leaders to confront the realities of sexual violence:

‘It is our job as religious leaders to speak out the unspeakable. Where is God when these things happen?

‘Rape is a spiritual attack on the dignity and integrity of a person who is made in the image of God, and we must teach responsibly in order to avoid blaming the person who has been raped.’

The We Will Speak Out event heard from representatives around the world, from current conflicts and post-conflict states.

The panellists were: – Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Women (chair) – Hon Julia Duncan-Cassell, Minister for Gender and Development of the Republic of Liberia – Shahin Ashraf, Muslim chaplain, University of Birmingham – Reverend Nicolas Guerokoyame-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance in the Central Africa – Archbishop Dr Onesphore Rwaje, Anglican Archbishop of Rwanda – Miriam Maluwa, Chief, Office of Security and Humanitarian Affairs, UNAIDS – Shulamit Ambalu, congregational Rabbi in London – Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Describing the role of faith communities as first responders, helping survivors to get to hospital and through the criminal justice processes as well as offering emotional and practical support, panellists called for faith leaders to teach dignity and equality for women and men.

Shahin Ashraf, Muslim chaplain at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘Every faith tradition speaks of the dignity and rights of every human being, yet too often women and girls suffer. Our faith leaders must take their responsibility seriously and engage with these issues, particularly helping men and boys to relate to women. We must also find ways to support those who have been former combatants.’

Miriam Maluwa, Chief, Office of Security and Humanitarian Affairs, UNAIDS, commended the vital role of faith in ending sexual violence, saying: ‘For faith based responses to be more effective, advocacy needs to be much bolder, breaking the wall of silence. Faith leaders should talk more about gender disparities.’ This week’s Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit brings together delegates from 100 countries to call for tough and effective judicial systems that will punish and deter those authorising rape as a weapon of war. Humanitarian agencies are also calling for aid budgets to recognise the prevalence of sexual violence and to allocate funding to serve survivors and help prevent assault.

The role of faith communities has been widely recognised at the summit, with many speakers referencing their personal faith or the contribution that faith leaders have made.

Archbishop of Rwanda, Reverend Dr Onesphore Rwaje, said:

‘We must create a safe space for a woman who has been raped to feel free to talk about her experience and receive help.

‘And we must speak prophetically to warn people of the consequences of ignoring sexual violence. Someone once described the church as a sleeping giant. Let us get up, and speak out.’


For further information and interview requests please call Katie Harrison on (+44) 7949 181414or ​

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s filmed message is at:

We will Speak Out is a faith based group of organisations working to end sexual violence globally. We have 17 members working in more than 25 countries. We Will Speak Out’s primary vision over the next three years is to see:

· Transformed, just and reconciled communities where the lives of men and women, girls and boys are no longer shattered by gender based violence.

· With faith communities and leaders – male and female – proactively working with survivors and others, to address effectively the causes and consequences of sexual violence, including within the church and places of worship.

Image credit and copyright: Geoff Crawford/Tearfund

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