Christians, Jews and Muslims join forces to combat sex

La Croix International [France]

September 20, 2023

By Christophe Henning

Representatives of various religious denominations in France meet to address new data that suggests women of faith are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse

The forms of sexual violence are dramatically diverse: incest, violence by a religious leader, domestic violence, etc.

.And statistics show that women of faith are more exposed to this abuse than others, no matter what religion they belong to. A survey carried out in 2000 showed that 7.8% of women with no religious affiliation were victims of domestic violence, while the figure rose to 9.1% for Catholic or Protestant women, and 17% for Muslim or Jewish women. 

This reality led the Conference of Religious Leaders in France, which was created in 2010, to meet on Tuesday in Paris for its first-ever study day on sexual violence. 

A historic milestone 

“This is a major first. All religious denominations recognize that they are concerned by this scourge, and agree to reflect together,” explained Valérie Duval-Poujol, vice-president of the Protestant Federation of France and co-organizer of the day. 

She pointed out that France’s Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE) and the Catholic Church have paved the way for this mea culpa. “The Sauvé report is a historic milestone in the fight against sexual violence,” Duval-Poujol said in reference to the 2021 report produced by CIASE and its chairman Jean-Marc Sauvé. 

Religions, in their various forms, appear to be “massive weapons of submission” vis-a-vis women, which may be a start towards explaining the “aggravating factor” and greater violence against women of faith. The religious communities want to explore the issue with the French government, which was represented at the study day by Juliette Part, head of the central office for religious denominations at the interior ministry. 

The voices of the victims 

On the basis of the information gathered, the meeting sought to provide an overview of the situation in France with regard to sexual violence in the context of the various religious denominations. It was also an opportunity to discuss the measures taken by the various authorities to combat such violence. The day’s proceedings were opened by attorney general Luc Frémiot, a leading magistrate in the fight against domestic violence. 

Two round-table discussions followed. The first was moderated by journalist Nathalie Leenhardt, who attempted to take stock of the situation in the various religious denominations. She was joined by representatives of the religions involved, as well as victims and those who support them. 

“Here again, CIASE has taught us to place the voices of the victims at the heart of our discussions,” said Duval-Poujol. 

The second round table was moderated by La Croix senior editor Isabelle de Gaulmyn, who summed up the actions that have been taken up to now to reduce sexual violence in the various religions. Representatives of the various faiths were part of that panel. 

Finally, Dominican Sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France (CORREF), which is deeply involved in the fight against sexual assault and spiritual abuse, rounded off the day’s discussions.