A heart-wrenching new report from Open Doors USA states that in 2020, gender-specific religious persecution (GSRP) rose to the highest level the annual study has ever seen among the 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution.
In many nations, women of religious minorities experience GSRP attacks more frequently and 90 percent of the countries featured in the 2021 World Watch List reported incidents of forced marriage, an increase of six percent from the year prior.
“Sexual violence, trafficking and forced marriage were used even more widely than the previous year—actually weaponizing women’s bodies to inflict harm on their minority Christian communities and limit growth of the church,” the report’s summary stated.
GSRP was observed by World Watch Research to often be based in a deliberate attempt to break up families and communities among religious minorities.
Christian men were also victims of individualized attacks as, the findings explain, “Christian men are often family leaders, financial providers and church leaders, they are often targeted in an attempt to inflict harm on the wider Christian family and community.”
Meanwhile, “Sexual violence and forced marriage are used as tools of shame, coercion and control, primarily against Christian women and girls because of the strong association of sexual purity with the honor of a family or community,” the report explained.
Some 70 percent of the countries that reported sexual violence indicated that sexual assault was “moderately widespread” among persecuted Christian women and girls, as opposed to a small number of isolated cases.
“The data reveals that militants and other extremists (and sometimes community members) rape Christian girls and women, as a way of bringing dishonor and shame upon her and the wider Christian family. In some instances, females are raped in front of their husbands, children, and parents,” the report explains.
A country expert from the Central African Republic explained that sexual violence “is a persecution weapon, a way of making Christian women vulnerable and also traumatizing the community.”
“Muslim men will use relationships to Islamize the non-Muslim women by marrying them and getting them to convert to Islam,” explained a Malaysian country expert. “Divorce ensues, leaving the converted Muslim with no avenue to convert back to her religion. It is by far the most effective way to convert non-Muslim women.”
Esther, who was abducted by Boko Haram in an attack on her Christian village in Nigeria, was shunned upon her return home and calling the baby she’d returned with “Boko.”
“Many girls raped carry the scar and trauma for a very long time, their self-worth is damaged. Very little actually come out of that trauma. Communities don’t usually help—many stigmatize victims of rape.” This shame and stigma are often part of extremists’ wider strategy to spread Islam,” a Nigeria country expert explained.
Christian persecution and human trafficking should be two of the most important issues to the American church—it is particularly grieving to learn of how closely they are connected.
Our sisters in Christ around the world as well as their sons, husbands, and fathers all need our urgent, fervent prayers and attention. Please share this story to help us raise awareness about the severe suffering in the global church.
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