Stand up to end sexual violence

A few nights ago I dreamt that my family and I had been captured by ISIL in Iraq. As is the way of dreams it wasn’t really clear what we were doing in Iraq but the fact that we had been captured was crystal clear, real and frightening. The worst part of the dream was a slave-for-sex auction of the women. One of the women was my wife. Another was my 11 year old daughter. As is also the way of dreams the emotions were as vivid as the actions. I felt the fear, humiliation, confusion and shame of my daughter. This was just as horrific as you are imagining.

The dominant emotion of the dream was fear. Everyone was scared. That fear paralysed everyone into passivity. No one did anything, challenged anyone or tried to resist.

Then one of the characters did resist. And the paralysing fear turned to a desperate determination to gain freedom. The dream continued as dreams do with that strange mix of gritty realism, absurdism and overwhelming emotion.

And then I woke up.

I woke sweating and disturbed and scared. My wife was asleep beside me and I went to check on our daughter. I prayed for our safety and wondered where the dream had come from.

And then I woke up.

What I had dreamt about my family is reality for millions of women and children. One child is trafficked every two minutes into brothels, or sweatshops or servitude.

Thirty children an hour, every hour, of every day.

In the UK, two women are killed every week by a current or former partner, over 400 000 women are sexually assaulted every year and over 85 000 women are raped every year. The tiny insight I experienced into the imagined emotions of my daughter  are the actual vivid reality for those women and children.

The turning point of the dream was when those watching the slave auction decided to act and not give into their fear. This is also the turning point in real life. When those not directly attacked stand with those who are survivors and stand up to the injustice. There is a pandemic of sexual violence against women and girls that we must resist.

That is why I have devoted considerable time over the last few years to these issues. There is the inspirational Not For Sale campaign that Soul Action brought to the UK. Last week I was at a board meeting for the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative of the UK government. Led by William Hague it is an attempt to tackle the issue of sexual violence in conflict throughout the world. It was a privilege to sit in a grand room overlooking Downing Street with a dozen people brainstorming how we could change governments and military attitudes towards sexual violence. It has also been my privilege to work with a group of activists and survivors of sexual violence to develop a global approach to the issue for Tearfund. We are working towards ending sexual violence in 150 communities in 15 countries over the next ten years. We have proven approaches, awesome people and a sense of God’s hand being with us. We have also joined with others- particularly the We Will Speak Out Coalition a collective of faith based approaches to end sexual violence and Restored. Both those sites have practical steps that we can all do today.

All over the world people are standing up to end sexual violence. This video from Australia is a short, sharp rebuke to anyone who wants to stand on the sidelines of this struggle.

I woke up wanting to protect my wife and daughter.

The desire to protect your family is profoundly Christian.

Not to want the same for every family is profoundly unChristian