R12Two News / 04 MAR 2015 — Say the word ‘Caribbean’ and many people think of wide sandy beaches, palm trees and holidays. But for a growing number of women who live there, life is blighted by domestic violence. That’s why Bible Societies in the region are using the Bible to tackle this increasing scourge, with encouraging results.
*Mary had been trapped in a violent relationship for many years, ending up in hospital several times. She was desperate for help but had no idea what to do. When the Bible Society began equipping churches to assist victims of domestic violence, Mary finally received the help she needed and is turning her life around.
“If only this help had been available earlier, I wouldn’t have spent so many years of my life being victimised,” she says wistfully.
Mary lives in Jamaica but her story is chillingly common across the Caribbean. Although it’s hard to get accurate statistics for each country, the incidence of domestic violence in the region is significant and growing: around 33% of women in Jamaica and 27% of women in Barbados, for instance, are victims of some kind of domestic violence. It accounts for a large percentage of the region’s crime statistics, too – about 25% of all murders are committed in the home. Nearly all the victims are women.
“The rise in violence against women seems unstoppable, despite the efforts of many women’s organisations,” comments Erny Van Axel of the Suriname Bible Society. “As Christians we must stand up and let every man, woman and child know that God condemns violence. We need to help them know what the Bible says – that all people are made in God’s image and have the right to be treated with love, respect and dignity.”
This is what Bible Societies across the Caribbean have started doing in recent years, with a particular focus on equipping churches to do this work.
“Quite often the church is the first port of call for women suffering domestic violence,” comments Rev Courtney Stewart of the Bible Society in the West Indies. “But our church leaders aren’t taught about domestic violence at seminary, so they don’t really know how to deal with it. That’s why so many pastors, Sunday School teachers and community leaders are now requesting the training we and our partners are carrying out.”
Hundreds of people across the Caribbean have already been trained in how to spot the signs of domestic violence and offer effective counselling and advice, using two Bible-based booklets – ‘Stop the Violence’ for adults and ‘I love my body’ for children.
13-year-old Gabbie* in Haiti was sexually abused while living in a tent after the 2010 earthquake. She says that the counselling she received really helped her.
“It helped me understand that if I keep quiet about what happened there is no way to stop the violence,” she said. “I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be ashamed.”
*Names changed to protect identity.