Sexual Violence Against Christian Women Is a Global Calamity

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Christian persecution watchdog organization Open Doors has released the 2020 Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report, which studies global patterns of persecution for Christian men and women across the 50 countries on the organization’s 2020 World Watch List. The data confirms religious persecution is not gender-blind, while reinforcing that it is gender-specific. Men and women are targeted by different means in nearly all countries studied. Most startling is the finding that sexual violence against women is highly reported across all regions, leading Open Doors to declare it a global calamity.

“No demographic is spared from religious persecution,” said Open Doors CEO David Curry. “The research shows that women are specifically targeted by efforts to hijack their faith through forced marriage to a spouse of another faith. Most frequently, however, Christian women are routinely victimized by sexual assault. These egregious abuses are rooted in the belief that a Christian woman is of inherently lesser value than a man or woman of another faith. It’s all in a concentrated effort to take away a woman’s right to make up her own mind.”

The report says that religious persecution faced by Christian men can be characterized as focused, severe and visible, evidenced by the prevalence of violent physical beatings and attacks on homes and businesses. In contrast, religious persecution targeting women is most characterized as complex, violent and hidden.

“Though every abuse for the sake of one’s faith is problematic, women and girls are facing the most difficult circumstances because they are often forced to suffer silently. They are hidden in forced marriages or isolated by the lifelong effects of sexual abuse,” said Curry.

For Christian women and girls who have been forced to marry or divorce, the home is not a place of refuge. Instead, it’s a hidden, inescapable source of pressure and violence applied by families to “correct” their choice of religion. Such forms of persecution are often hidden behind the more visible, physical persecution of men, which is more easily monitored and recorded.

Curry continued, “Sexual violence is reported as a primary tactic against women in 84 percent of countries where religious persecution is already dangerous and widespread. This information surfaces a much larger number of Christian women suffering sexual violence than previously thought. This can have a cataclysmic impact on the global church; tragically damaging the health, well-being, and personal autonomy of millions of women worldwide.”

Sources indicate the frequency of sexual violence is much greater than the total of officially recorded incidents, leading Open Doors to believe the actual numbers are substantially higher than reported.

The 2020 report expanded on previous years’ research by tracking additional categories of violence for the first time. The data show that the top “Pressure Points” experienced by Christian men are physical violence, economic harassment, and incarceration by government, whereas the top Pressure Points experienced by Christian women are sexual violence, forced marriage and physical violence.

Additional key findings include:

Violence is prevalent and gender-specific: 82 percent of countries mentioned physical violence as the top pressure point for men, and 84 percent mentioned sexual violence as the top pressure point for women.
Sexual violence is used against Christian women across every region: countries hostile to Christianity in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa all mentioned sexual violence as the top pressure point used against women.

Conscription into militias or military targets Christian men and boys to counteract Christian values in youth: in 66 percent of countries, targeted conscription into militia or highly restrictive military practices places men in duties and experiences that run deeply counter to their Christian beliefs and values.

The church’s awareness and response could preserve youth for the future: armed with knowledge of the strategies used against them, Christian leaders will be able to take steps to protect their youth, especially from strategies used to permanently estrange the youth from their communities.

Included in the report are Open Doors’ recommendations for how governments, donors, institutions and the global church should respond to the research, including specific action items for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the CEDAW Committee.

“Gender-specific persecution is always designed to wield the greatest possible damage with the least amount of risk to the persecutor,” said Curry. “Armed with this knowledge, we must all do something to advocate for religious minorities who are especially vulnerable to rights abuses because of their faith.”

Released in January, the World Watch List is an annual ranking of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian. To view the full list, the full 2020 Gender-Specific Religious Persecution Report, and associated findings, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.

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