Do I Have to Read This?

Elaine Storkey’s Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women SPCK London 2015.

This is a difficult book to review. I would immediately commend it to any reader of Nurturing Justice. However, I could well understand why any reader of this blog who, having linked to this page, and has got this far in reading, might then say to him or herself: “Do I really have to read this?”

Let me try to get at my problem in writing a review in another way. My best and most reliable critic has worked for decades in agencies supporting “at risk” families and in child protection. She reminded me that policy-researchers and workers in this field are inundated with reports and don’t need yet another book that tells them what they have had to deal with day by day, month after month, year by year and decade after decade. This book, to such faithful workers in a seemingly unrewarding field will, in all likelihood, not be needed. And having read Storkey’s masterly overview of the global situation, one cannot but wonder about the toll on those working to support such violated women in these extensive fields of human misery. I read her work and my respect is deepened for those who stave off what seems to me to be an  ever-threatening sense of futility ready to pounce on whatever support such agencies can bring. It seems that public policies are simply not having much impact; and the constant and sometimes upward trends showing the extent of such degrading and dehumanising conduct are evident at home and abroad, in the developed as well as  developing countries.

That perhaps is enough to indicate why, as I write this, I am sympathetic to any reader asking, “Is this a book I need to read?” If you are working in the midst of efforts to counter such human disaster then maybe this book is not for you. But if you are in training because of a professional ambition in health, welfare, law, education, to make a difference then this is probably a book that you should read.

But do so slowly and I am reminded of the words ascribed to William Wilberforce as he takes the opportunity to introduce the supporters of his fellow parliamentarian to the smell of the slave ships moored in the Humber estuary.

Ladies and Gentlemen. This is a slave ship, the Madagascar. It has just returned from the Indies where it delivered 200 men, women and children to Jamaica. When it left Africa, there were 600 on board. The rest died of disease or despair. That smell is the smell of death; slow painful death.  Breathe it in. Breathe it deeply. Take those handkerchiefs away from your noses … There now. Remember that smell … remember the Madagascar, ….

And there was that film Amazing Grace reminding us, through scenes like that, that God made men and women in his image, all men and women, equally in his image.

Well, if someone comes to you and asks whether you know a book that can help  them understand and begin to overcome the atrocities that are perpetrated around the world by violence meted out to women and girls, then this is that kind of book. But say to that person that they have to read the book slowly, even though this book has the smell of death and putrefaction. One cannot read this book and expect to put it down without being impacted by its dreadful message. Readers have to breathe it in, and breathe it deeply. They need to set aside an entire day to read it and to cry and to pray and to share their troubled thoughts about this human disaster with those they love … let me imagine a friend of yours, perhaps in your church, someone who has been required by the courts to only have visits to wife (or former wife) and children under strict supervision. Let’s go further and imagine that he has benefited from an “anger management” course and is “on the way”. If he would come to you and ask:

Do you know of any book that could tell me in some detail the extent of violence against women around the world …?

then, this may well be such a book that could help such a willing student appreciate how his own life has been part of the frightening and alarming picture that Elaine Storkey draws for us in this book of 220 pages in length. But also it is a book that might be just what a person needs to wake them up to an ongoing disaster – it may well be just a few doors up in your street.

And in that regard this is a book for any who would seek deepened appreciation for what is so destructively at work in this world of ours.

To put it another way: I would not suggest that this is a book to give to those who have already been immersed in the kinds of human degradation that this book documents. I’m thinking of those involved in, say, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is not a book to give as a present to those who, in their work, are already preoccupied with the victims of violence. We might have further comment on the final four chapters (10. Why gender-based violence? It’s in our genes: exploring our evolutionary heritage; 11. Why gender-based violence? Power and patriarchy; 12. Religion and women; 13.  Christianity and gender: a fuller picture) in a later post.)

But Elaine Storkey’s description of what she calls a “global pandemic” and the careful identification of the various dimensions of such female focused violence is a shocking chronicle of human depravity.

Here is Elaine’s own introduction to her book from her web-site.

And here, in conclusion, is the table of contents.


That is sufficient for this post. As I say this is a book – as is Elaine’s web-site – that should be read slowly. “Breathe it in. Breathe it deeply.”

BCW 19.4.17



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