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Violence against women extends to local churches, Synod preacher says

Shocking stories, statistics - and a way forward offered to local churches.

Ms Robyn Boosey told the Synod: ''All forms of abuse and violence go against the gospel's core teachings of love and respect for human dignity... Our attitudes and behaviours are significant when it comes to violence against women.''

PHOTO: Emma Halgren

By Mark Brolly

October 17 2018 

The new manager of the Melbourne diocesan program to prevent violence against women has told the opening service of Melbourne Synod that she had heard “many stories” since taking up her role six months ago of women in the Church here who had experienced violence.

Ms Robyn Boosey, Manager of the Diocesan Prevention of Violence Against Women Program, was preacher at Synod’s opening Choral Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral on 17 October. She said that by the same time the following week, one woman would have been murdered by a partner or former partner.

“And in fact, this year, the figures are much higher than that,” she said.

“One in three women will experience family violence in their lifetime and one in five women will experience sexual violence.

“Did you know that violence is more damaging to the health of Victorian women aged 15 to 44 than any other well-known risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking?

“Violence against women can be physical, but it can also be sexual, financial, emotional, psychological or spiritual.

“It happens to women from all backgrounds.

“Let’s be clear: it happens in our churches too. I have heard many stories since starting my job here in April of women in this Diocese who have experienced violence.”

Ms Boosey told the story of “Sarah”, a 13-year-old whose grandparents, her legal guardians, helped her to understand how much Jesus loved her.

She started to go to youth group and get involved her local church in the Melbourne diocese. But when her grandfather died suddenly, she was grief-stricken and unable to stay in the same house where they had shared many memories. So at 16, she moved away to live with her biological mother.

Her youth leader gave her lifts to help her keep going to youth group but her attendance fell and eventually she stopped coming.

One day, Sarah contacted her youth leader for support: she had fallen pregnant but her partner had forced her to have an abortion. The youth leader supported her through this.

A year later, Sarah was pregnant again and gave birth to a girl. But not long afterwards, through Facebook, the youth leader learned that Sarah’s partner was hitting her.

“She reaches out to Sarah, but Sarah assures her it is no big deal; she announces that she is pregnant again,” Ms Boosey said. “She is excited.

“During her pregnancy, Sarah’s partner hits her so badly that she has to be hospitalised. Her youth leader offers to support her and help find her a safe place to live but Sarah is certain it won’t happen again and declines the offer.

“Four months later, the youth leader gets the message that you never want to get: Sarah has been killed by her boyfriend, leaving a daughter and a three-month-old son without a mother.

“This story is not an isolated incident. Violence against women is widespread in Australia.”

Ms Boosey cited several biblical passages demonstrating God’s love for us and the command to love others as ourselves.

“All forms of abuse and violence go against the gospel’s core teachings of love and respect for human dignity,” she said.

“Could I, could we, be holding attitudes or participating in behaviours that might be harmful to our neighbour – perhaps without even realising it? …Our attitudes and behaviours are significant when it comes to violence against women.”

Ms Boosey said the diocesan program had created a prayer guide for the United Nations’ 16 days of action to address violence against women, starting on 25 November.

“You can do this as individuals or in your church. The guide will help us to reflect and pray about the issue of violence and how you can take action in the everyday to help prevent it.”

She urged Anglicans to do the program training to know how to support women who had experienced violence and ensure their church was a safe space. The program’s resources could help local churches explore this issue and how they could be part of the solution, with Bible studies and reflection guides to be produced.

“You can get the right policies and procedures in place in your church or workplace to cultivate a culture of love and respect,” she said. “We are developing these and will be supporting you to put them in place.

“Why not ask God right here, right now – what would you have me do?

“In recent years, the Church has become painfully aware that we have failed to love our neighbours as ourselves. We have let down children and we have let down women.

“As we go about Synod this year and then return to our parishes, the challenge for us is to ensure that all we do and say reflects the extravagant, unconditional, self-sacrificing love shown to us by Jesus.”

The Eucharist was led by Archbishop Philip Freier and featured a liturgical farewell to retiring assistant Bishop Philip Huggins, who celebrated his 70th birthday the previous day. Bishop Huggins, who remains President of the National Council of Churches in Australia, was later presented with a cheque for $10,277, raised by donations in his honour within the diocese, for the NCCA’s Anti-Slavery Fund. He and his wife Liz received extended applause at the end of the service, with Archbishop Freier handing Bishop Huggins his pastoral staff and inviting him to give the blessing.

Another feature of the service was that the Choir of the Arabic Anglican Church in Coburg and their pastor, the Revd Faraj Hanna, led the Gradual Hymn.

Archbishop Freier delivered his Synod Charge after the Eucharist (see http://tma.melbourneanglican.org.au/news/synod-charge-181018) and the Synod then dealt with procedural and sessional matters before adjourning.