By Bess Twiston Davies
CATHOLICS are being urged to organise "rituals" in protest at male violence as part of a campaign backed by all
Britain's mainstream denominations.
A leaflet funded by Churches Together in England provides a list of "symbolic actions" which women can carry out to register their disgust at rape, sexual harassment, emotional abuse and forced prostitution.
They include tying red ribbons to trees to symbolise anger, laying wooden sticks on the altar to draw attention to threats and beatings, and building cairns or mounds of stones to commemorate victims of domestic violence.
The leaflet, entitled "Breaking the Silence", was launched last week in the Westminster diocesan offices at Vaughan House. Introducing it, Anne Forbes, the director of the Catholic Agency for Social Concern (CASC) said: "For too long violence has been treated as of low importance. We must make it clear that wife-beating is no longer a matter for a slight shrug of the shoulders."
Suggested steps for local churches include marriage preparation, encouraging priests to preach against domestic violence, and "challenging gender inequality, which gives permission for sexual violence".
The leaflet states that one in five women experience domestic violence and one in four women will be raped or assaulted during their lifetimes. Mirroring the Home Office's growing concern with date rape. the leaflet highlights a 165 per cent rise in reported rapes, and falling levels of conviction.
Miss Forbes quoted Home Office statistics showing that 22.7 per cent of women and 14.9 per cent of men suffer from domestic violence, though many experts agree the real figures for domestic violence against men may be higher.
One speaker at the meeting raised the question of domestic violence against men. But Miss Forbes said that while Christians must condone all violence "there hasn't been the oppression of men there has been of women," She quoted Home Office figures which claim that women who perpetrate violence act largely in selfdefence or retaliation.
The leaflet. produced jointly by Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Nonconformists, is strongly feminist in tone.
A psalm suggested for use in churches talks of "men who do evil", and continues, "they hem me in/ pressing in from either side./ With grasping hands/ they reach out to plunder... Their soft voices/confuse and paralyse....Wily as Foxes/slippery as eels/they seek to slither out/from under justice".
The initiative was inspired by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Councils which declared last June: "Violence against women is a grim fact on which the Churches have been silent for too long."