Joy works full time in CAFOD’s London office, and believes passionately in facing and ending gender violence. Her name has been changed to protect her family and friends. Reading the stories and watching the videos from AVEGA east this year, I’ve been so moved by both the honesty and the incredible strength of women who have suffered sexual violence. But I have to say, the account that moved me most was Eileen, who talked about the young woman who approached her in the middle of London, in an art gallery, to talk about her experiences.
Sexual and gender based violence is not something that happens elsewhere, to other people. One in three women worldwide will experience it in their lifetime. But what does that mean? It means if you think of all the women you know, chances are one of them will have experienced some form of sexual violence. It could happen to your sister. It could happen to your best friend. It could happen to you.
It happened to me.
A few years ago I found myself in a violent relationship. I was a bright, intelligent, loving young woman. I studied at one of the best universities, I had (and still have) a supportive and loving family and lots of friends.I was someone who opened her heart (and home) to someone who took advantage of those things. After a while, I found myself doing and saying things I would never have seen myself doing. I became secretive. I started cutting off my family and friends, because I was ashamed of what was happening. I thought it was my fault. I find it hard to recognise myself, looking back on that time. I lost my confidence, I became clinically depressed, something which I still deal with now. It has taken a lot of therapy, prayer, and a very understanding and supportive husband, family and friends, to put things back together.
I thankfully managed to get away from that relationship (if you can call it that) and rebuild my life. It wasn’t easy, and even though I’m now married to a very wonderful, kind, supportive man, my past can still come back and haunt us sometimes.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know that sexual violence is something that happens, every day, in every country in the world. It doesn’t just happen to poor women, or uneducated women, or isolated women, or women who live overseas. It happens to any women, any time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a man hater. As I said, I have an incredible husband. I have wonderful brothers and my dad was an absolute hero. I have lots of friends, male and female who treat everyone with the respect they’re entitled to as human beings. There is a lot of good in the world, and I truly believe that most people are decent and good.
But we can’t let that blind us to people’s suffering. We can’t let the fact that it’s easier to turn a blind eye stop us from seeing the people who have experienced this terrible violence, either at the hands of strangers, or even worse, from family members, friends or partners.
Sexual violence is a particularly pernicious form of violence, because it violates the most private and sacred thing about you. It undermines everything you thought you knew about yourself. My abuse didn’t happen in a forest or a war zone. It wasn’t at the hands of a stranger. But my heart goes out to those women Avega East helps, because I understand a little of what it takes to rebuild yourself from the inside out, to re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about yourself, because in one fell swoop somebody took that from you. I’m praying, from the bottom of my soul for every person, woman, man or child, who has suffered this terrible abuse – at any level.
I’m asking you to join me in making sure 16 days of activism doesn’t just last for 16 days. I’m asking you to join me in giving, acting and praying until we have eradicated this abuse in every country in the world. I’m asking you to stand with people around the world who have to find the strength to put their lives back together after everything that is precious to them has been undermined or taken away.
The donations you make to CAFOD really do enable this vital work. The evidence is there for all to see. By taking the solidarity action, you can show your support for bringing an end to gender based violence, you can make a statement that you will not keep quiet about this issue. And by praying, you can bring hope to the millions who are affected, and ask God to strengthen us as we keep fighting for a solution.
Please don’t stop now. We CAN end this.