Tales of sexual victimisation in churches

Phillipa Jaja

Nancy* not her real name knew Pastor X from long way back. Exhibiting signs of Godliness, virtue and charismatic tendencies that was engaging to his church congregants, he inevitably became her confidante.

Nancy recalls that she found it easy to seek spiritual guidance from him time to time. At one time during a melt down in her life, the man of
God called and told her that he had stumbled upon visions which confirmed her predicament and they interceded  about the issue through fasting and she saw changes.

Her faith in him grew to the exclusion of blurring out the red warning flags of sexual abuse inherent in some of his conversations with her. One glaring statement that she recalls casting a blind eye to is that, “my wife believes everything about me, even the lies which is very stupid of her.”

One day, he called having been around neighbourhood in Borrowdale and offered her a lift to town.

What ensured was mayhem and chaos as he tried to rape her in his car.

She escaped scathed and hurt but never told anyone as she was afraid of victimisation by his revering church members and the wife who was a staunch believer of her husband.

Nancy had realised a grim reality ‘no one believes victims.’

In Zimbabwe, a woman is raped every hour and one in three women has faced sexual violence and one in four, physical assault.

Last year, a campaign against gender-based violence (GBV) in Epworth by the Spotlight Initiative in partnership with United Nations (UN) Women reinforced the fact.

“Church leaders are also perpetrators of sexual abuse; especially during prayer sessions,” informal trader Ancicaria Bhara said during the event.

Across Zimbabwe, women are failing to disclose cases of sexual victimisation choosing to suffer in silence.

Churches are also making it worse by being judgemental, overly engrossed and protective to the point of cultic reverence of perpetrators.

And there are no signs of the issue abetting any time soon according to a church pastor who preferred to remain anonymous due to victimisation fears.

“Unlike other countries where communities will rally and offer victim support calling for transparency, Zimbabwe is different.

“Church members rarely stand in solidarity with each other regarding such issues which is to their detriment.

“Women ironically are the main culprits who victimise their counterparts must offer support networks for each other bearing in mind that the same might happen to them.

“An abuser will always remain an abuser. They will not stop until you take the initiative to stop them,” he said.

Churches are generally a place where good is done.

Souls are reclaimed to Jesus, miracles are done and people are comforted.

Yet bad things happen in church, such as sexual abuse, denied and even silenced.

Ignored or sometimes even stigmatised for allowing it to happen.

A family, the ‘Moyos’ faced persecution after daring to accuse the church pastor of making predatory tendencies against their daughter.

“It was weird, the way everyone sided with him. Yet there he was a Pentecostal pastor pursuing my daughter when he was married. I accused him in a Whatsapp church group and congregants started shunning me like the plague right after.

Someone even accused my daughter of leading him on.

“I left in a huff and later heard of numerous tales of him having been a sexual predator towards young college student. I now pray in my house. It is much better than associating with these evil people we call Christians.”

Without a clear scope and mechanism that governs human conduct, church is now an institution that effec- tively masks abuse.

As a peer counsellor in church, Tendai* has dealt with some of them and encouraged victims to speak out.

“Yet institutional protection exists. Twisted theology to mask the abuse. Church really undermines sexual abuse.”

Data to support the argument are is hard to find. Sexual abuse diagnosis remains elusive. Victims, some of who are married suffer in silence.

As Martha*, a married woman confessed, “the day I tell my husband that I was once raped during a prayer intercession to conceive, he will leave.
“Who else believes the rape tales by prophets nowadays.

Moreover my husband once warned me about these fake prophets. Ironically we have not yet conceived up to this day.”

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