Shamiso Gara*, 22, one of the victims of sexual abuse, told The Zimbabwean that after she was sexually abused, she told an elder within the church who confronted the perpetrator.
“He came to me and threatened that he would reveal to the whole world that I was not a virgin and that I had consented,” said Gara. Because of the long winding justice delivery system in the country, she decided not to lay charges against the member of her church who abused her.
“I have followed with keen interest rape cases dismissed by the courts for lack of evidence,” she said, adding that her worst fear was society. “My relatives, friends and even members from the church will judge, label and discriminate against me. Weighing it all, I am better off with my secret,” she said.
Proposals for churches to be affiliated to umbrella bodies as a way of creating room for authorities to regulate their activities and curb abuse of vulnerable groups such as women, children and the disabled, have been tabled before parliament by organisations such as the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD).
The ACCZ believes that regulating church activities is the solution to curbing the high levels of abuse, the majority of which are perpetrated against women and children.
President of the ACCZ, Johannes Ndanga, said government should come up with laws that ensure that churches remained a safe space for congregants to exercise their right to freedom of worship as stipulated in the Constitution.
Abuse is everywhere
“Abuse is everywhere but it becomes a challenge when it is in the church. We have a situation where congregants are no longer safe within the church,” he said. “Regulation is necessary considering that there is no regulatory framework for the church.
“Currently, we are using Canon law to resolve church disputes. For abuse, we engage the law enforcement agents but because there is no law that regulates the church, most abuse cases some of which include child marriages are still occurring under the guise of religion,” he said.
Ndanga urged victims to utilise the existing avenues within their various institutions to report abuse.
“Abuse victims are silent and the majority of them will only speak out if somebody opens up and begins laying charges,” he said.
He urged churches to adopt conflict resolution mechanisms that ensure justice for victims and perpetrators of all forms of violence.
Ndanga said because there were churches that refused to acknowledge the administration of the canon law through organisations such as the ACCZ, it was very difficult to investigate, prosecute and ensure justice for victims of abuse.
“The surprising part is that these churches think that the Zimbabwe Republic Police is the only body that has the mandate to administer the law,” he said.
“We need to engage the courts. Collaboration across all sectors is the solution starting at the family level, to the headman, chief, church leaders and the political leadership,” said Ndanga, revealing that his organisation worked with the ZRP and the courts to ensure that victims find justice through the law.
He said his organisation had established gender desks in all 10 provinces as a way of encouraging victims to report abuse within the church.
“Men are verbally abused by their wives and what we are doing as the church is to make society aware that all forms of abuse are punishable by law,” said Ndanga, adding that his organisation held annual awareness raising workshops with congregants to teach, preach and speak about abuse.
“We want to deviate from that system where Christians suffer in silence under the guise of Christianity. The tendency is that Christians are taught to be silent. We assist people to get protection orders against abusive people – including their spouses,” he said.
“Our plea to the police is that they should arrest people who abuse others verbally because most of the people are not aware that verbal abuse is a crime.”
- Not her real name.