The statistics are shocking: one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner; one in three women report experiencing physical or sexual violence in their life; police are called to more than 400 homes in NSW every day to deal with domestic violence incidents. And the issue is present in the other nations of the South Pacific as well. It's estimated that two-thirds of Fijian, Papua New Guinean and Solomon Islands women have suffered domestic violence.
On November 25, almost 100 staff from the headquarters of the Adventist Church in the South Pacific (SPD), Adventist Media Network, ACA Health and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Australia took a stand to declare their commitment to end violence against women by wearing white ribbons.
“We have chosen to support White Ribbon Day because we believe that justice and respect is a right of all people,” said Dr Trafford Fischer, event co-organiser and SPD Family Ministries director. “We join all Australians in declaring that any form of abuse against any person is wrong. We especially wish to declare our commitment to do all we can to bring an end to any form of violence against women.”
White Ribbon Day is Australia’s only national, male-led campaign to stop violence against women and children. “One of the great things about the White Ribbon movement is that it has been instigated by men,” said Rita Karraz, director of National Programs at ADRA Australia. “Our experience, both in Australia and overseas, is that any work done to eliminate these issues has to be done together.”
Staff from across the offices sent emails of encouragement and support, wanting to add their voices to an often silent, secret problem. “As any Christian male will affirm, there is no excuse for any kind of violence or abuse—be it children, women, men, and also be it physical, mental or emotional,” emailed Pastor Lionel Smith, SPD general secretary, who was at home recovering from a motorcycle accident. “I have had the distasteful role of dealing with abuse and physical violence issues within our Church over the years . . . This is not a nice topic but we live in a real and sinful world and to keep quiet on some of these issues is what perpetrators hope for, for they operate best under a veil of secrecy. If you are aware of abuse or violence of any kind, please let someone know. If they don’t listen go to someone else until somebody does listen and will do something about it.”
Domestic violence occurs in all countries and all cultures, and across all levels of society. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to the issue. “The Bible teaches us to love and respect one another as part of Christ’s body,” said Erna Johnson, co-organiser of the event and SPD Women’s Ministries director. “When we love with the unconditional love of Jesus, domestic violence will disappear from amongst us. 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it' (Ephesians 5:25). Any woman who has a husband who loves her that way will love and respect him right back. Adventist Women’s Ministries in the South Pacific chooses to support any and all efforts to end domestic violence.”
“It would be great if more of our church organisations stood up for causes like White Ribbon Day,” said Ben Ashby, a sales representative for ACA Health. “As believers and church organisations we can’t afford to be bystanders!”
James Standish, SPD Communication and Public Affairs director, agrees. “We have a forum to raise these issues. It’s called church. And we have it every week. I can’t recall ever hearing a sermon about ending domestic abuse. It’s well past time that we stop talking about abstracts and talk about the real issues we as a community struggle with. God has a plan for our Church and it is to be a community that loves each other. That starts with ensuring every Adventist is treated with dignity and respect.”
ADRA Australia is working to eradicate domestic violence. In the past 12 months it provided safety and support through four women's refuges to 138 women and children experiencing domestic violence in Australia. The agency also provided free counselling to more than 300 families and individuals in crisis situations. Overseas, ADRA has numerous projects specifically addressing gender violence, including initiatives in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
White Ribbon Day began in Canada in 1991 and is now active in more than 60 countries.