Years later, Mahoro married hoping that this would bring her peace and stability. However, upon learning that she had lost her virginity when she was raped, her husband started beating her. He called her a prostitute. Mahoro didn’t know what to do and reached out again for help, this time to the church.
The answer she received was both dangerous and unhelpful. Sadly, though, it didn’t surprise me in the least. The minister told Mahoro that she should ‘submit to her husband’ – based presumably on Paul’s instructions in the book of Ephesians.
Finally though, she did find the help and support she desperately needed. It didn’t come from a church leader or an institution though. She found a group of fellow women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. For the first time she found people who were able to listen to her cry for help and offer wise counsel.
Mahoro’s story has some important lessons for us, as Christians and church leaders – how we can better respond to, and support survivors of SGBV:
People still turn to the church for help: be ready! After others had failed to support her, Mahoro went to her church for help. She felt instinctively, that they might offer her some support and stand up for her. Around the world, people still listen when faith leaders stand up for others. However, the way you try to help is vital.
- You need to listen. I know this sounds obvious, but you would be amazed how often Christians and church ministers rush in to offer 'the answer': 'you need to submit to your husband', 'you need to forgive your attacker immediately,' and so on. Survivors of SGBV have powerful stories to share, and until you have allowed them to open their hearts fully (without pushing them to share what they don’t want to), it’s unlikely you’ll have much to offer them in return.