Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists took to the streets as activists against abuse in scores of cities throughout South America last Saturday.
The church’s campaign “Breaking the Silence” brought marches and motorcades along avenues, hosted dramatic performances in plazas, and partnered with school districts and public safety agencies to offer educational talks about preventing domestic violence, sexual abuse and cyber bullying.
The initiative was part of the Adventist world church’s Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, which is typically held the fourth Saturday of every August. The campaign was established by the denomination’s Executive Committee in 2001.
World church leaders launched the initiative noting that occurrences of domestic violence and sexual abuse happen in Christian homes at rates similar to the general population. The first steps to fight abuse, they said, are awareness and education.
The campaign has been implemented by the Adventist Church with varying degrees of success, depending on the world region or congregation.
In 2009, Adventist News Network reported that many leaders and local congregations still hadn’t heard of the initiative, while in other regions, top church officials directed each congregation in their administrative territory to hold abuse-prevention campaigns.
“Many world regions have taken the initiative and turned it into one of their most effective days of community outreach,” said Raquel Arrais, associate Women’s Ministries director for the world church.
In recent years, the Adventist Church has also developed similar initiatives. In 2009, the church launched in partnership with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency the “EndItNow” campaign to combat violence against women. Also, Adventist Risk Management last year unveiled the “The Seven Campaign” to help bring awareness and reduce child abuse.
The denomination’s South American Division is one region that has continued to highlight Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day since its 2001 launch, often in a coordinated and large-scale way. Local campaigns are often dramatic and gain the attention of top news agencies.
Local “Breaking the Silence” campaigns this year were reported in more than a dozen cities by media outlets such as Agence France-Presse, Globo TV, and Uruguay’s largest circulation newspaper, El País.
In Montevideo, Uruguay, a TV news station reported live as 500 Adventists stood at traffic intersections with tape over their mouths to represent those who suffer abuse and are afraid to speak up.
South American Division President Erton Köhler said he felt it was important for the Adventist Church to continue talking about the subject even beyond the once-a-year day of emphasis.
“One event per year will not produce many results, but more will happen through a process of ongoing projects, publications and other means of publicity about how terrible abuse is and how it can be avoided,” Köhler said.
Indeed, in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, several “Breaking the Silence” marches were held in April and May.
“The participation of the members is strategic because problems happen not only in families outside the church, but in the church, too,” Köhler said.
This year’s campaigns partnered with top officials in several municipal and federal governments.
Peru’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, Ana Jara Velasquez, joined Adventist Women’s Ministries leaders last week at a campaign.
In Brazil’s state of Goiás, Secretary of Public Safety Renata Cheim said at a campaign, "The violence worries all of us, and as the representative of the Goiás government I am very pleased to know that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a project to prevent violence, which together with the government initiatives helps to discourage the violence.”
In Piraquara, Paraná, Brazil, lectures were held at two schools, drawing approximately 2,500 students.
"We have noticed here in Piraquara many cases of sexual abuse,” said Joslaine Beninca, a teacher at Dr. Gilberto Alves do Nascimento State College. “The lectures helped to identify some cases because we see some reactions of students who need help.”
Adventists distributed thousands of fliers on abuse awareness around plazas, squares and shopping centers. In the city of Aparecida de Goiania, Adventists used live musicians and free, seated massages to draw shoppers to their display, resources and licensed psychologists. After receiving a seated massage, nearby shop owner, Marilda Oliverira, said, “I was being informed what to do if you suffer violence or abuse, and even how to counsel someone who is in this situation.
“I’ve never seen a project like this,” she said.
—with reporting by Fernanda Beatriz, Veronica Korsun, Leonardo Leite, Tatiane Lopes, Bianca Lorini, Francis Matos, Oscar Nuñez, Ansel Oliver, Luzia Paula, Liane Prestes and Márcio Tonetti