Gender expert Lisa Vetten said devout women were often more at risk because they “tolerated” all kinds of abuse in the belief that things would be resolved through “the power of prayer”.
The report found that the number of sexual offences jumped from 31665 in 2015 / 2016 to 70813 in 2016 / 2017. The report also found that out of 100000 people, 138 women were raped. “This figure is among the highest in the world,” it read.
Vetten said notions like praying for a marriage and relationships to get better were harmful. “They will say things like ‘go home and pray harder’.”
Vetten said victims considered suffering as “divine” and smacking of martyrdom. Citing police statistics, Vetten said Inanda and Umlazi had the most cases of recorded rapes.
From 2012 research she had conducted, Vetten said KwaZulu-Natal had the highest recorded number of child rapes and rapes by relatives.
These statistics questioned the effectiveness of campaigns against violence and abuse, she believed.
According to Vetten, social media campaigns against abuse did not seem to be working and violence was not decreasing.
“We have to ask ourselves, what are we doing?” she said.
Ashwin Trikamjee, president of South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said religious leaders had a key role to play in this regard because they were trusted members of communities.
“There is no such rule in religious scripture that devout women should take abuse. It is a misnomer and misconception,” he said.
Retired Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip said this belief was “taken” from the religious text of St Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:22, which says wives should obey their husbands.
He said women in abusive relationships stayed in them because they believed it was what God expected of them. “The Bible does not condone abuse,” Phillip said.
He said this thinking needed to be challenged.
“I don’t think any woman should accept that situation.”
Phillip, who has been ministering for more than 40 years, said he had come across numerous cases of abuse. He said counselling for the victim and perpetrator was important. If counselling failed, he would provide the woman with advice for her next course of action.
He also blamed churches for not adequately preparing couples for married life.
Archbishop William Slattery, the spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church in South Africa, said prayer alone would not work.
He said prayer and counselling worked together. “Prayer does not solve everything,” he said.
Slattery said abuse was something God was against. He said people focused on St Paul’s teaching that women should respect their husbands, but it also states that men should respect their wives.
Mualima Khadija Patel-Allie, chairperson of the Muslim Judicial Council Women’s Forum, said she concurred with the statistics, but said Vetten should contextualise her statement.
“Mankind turns to prayer to their higher power, in times of difficulty,” said Patel-Allie.
“To state that this is the reason that women in abused relationships stay, is problematic.
“A host of other factors contributes to this decision, financial dependence, emotional attachment and many other factors are at play. Religion is not the primary reason either.
“In Islam, abuse of any kind is discouraged. Women are encouraged to seek help. If women stays in an abusive relationship, sighting religion as their reason for staying, it is oftentimes due to a lack of knowledge of Islam.”
Alana Baranov, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies representative on the Hate Crimes Working Group, said the abuse of women in our country was a shocking epidemic that undermined South Africa’s human rights culture.
“Religious traditions in our country should be a source of empowerment for women and an inspiration to put the universal values shared by all faiths, that of non-violence, dignity, justice and human rights, into action.
“Religious leaders have a particularly important role to play, using their moral authority and platforms to speak out against any form of abuse and to put in place initiatives in their communities to combat this terrible scourge,” Baranov said.