Women forced into wilderness for safety: Bishop Blackwell

Victims and survivors of domestic violence remembered at ecumenical service

By Mark Brolly

December 6 2016Part of the tragedy of domestic violence was that women had to seek safety not in the home but in the wilderness for themselves and their family, Bishop Genieve Blackwell told an ecumenical service remembering victims and survivors of abuse on 4 December.

Preaching at the Holding the Light service at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, Bishop Blackwell – an Assistant Bishop of Melbourne and member of the Preventing Violence Against Women Steering Group – said Psalm 55, several passages of which were read, was “a prayer for help, a prayer of lament, a prayer demanding God listen, a prayer of trust God will hear”.

“The challenge for so many women is how to flee away, how to not just opt out but to break the cycle, how to find shelter for themselves and their families…,” she said.

“The tragedy is that safety is not found in the home but in the wilderness. The tragedy may be the greater when you think that wilderness is not normally associated with refuge, either in the Scriptures or in any other literature.

“I think the message of this Psalm is to talk about it. Name what is happening and what that means for yourself and for others rather than minimising, denying or blaming the victim. Rather naming what is happening in our society, where only one in 10 young women, or less than that, feel they are treated equally by their male counterparts. And name where our Church can be complicit.”

The service was led by retired Anglican priest, the Revd Faith Johnson, and the Vicar of St Peter’s, the Revd Dr Hugh Kempster. Dr Ree Boddé, Program Director of Think Prevent, read a reflection by Naomi Johnson, A 500-year-old life raft, and Mrs Beth Hookey, of the Mothers’ Union, were readers, representing the two main bodies responsible for organising the service.

Victorian Shadow Minister for Families and Children, for Prevention of Family Violence and for Women, Ms Georgie Crozier, and representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities were among about 60 people who attended the service.

Mr Paul Linossier, CEO of the Uniting Church’s community services arm in Victoria and Tasmania and former CEO of Our Watch (a foundation seeking changes to eliminate violence against women and children), said Australia was at a tipping point over the issue, with the changes advocated strongly by survivors and the women’s movement up against forces such as rising sexism and deteriorating attitudes among young people towards women.

“To this we can only attribute the influence of social media, of the games that are played these days on such media and pornography,” Mr Linossier said.

“If we are to end this scourge of violence, manipulation and controlling behaviours, the threats and intimidation that cuts across institution, class, culture, geography and age group, then we must name it for what it is – gender-based violence, violence committed by men against women.

“We must commit to personal change and carefully test what we assume and what we absorb through gender’s lens, and in turn, what we understand must become the generator of how we act…We must also commit to cultural change that draws out misogyny and inequality and replaces it with respect…”