Silent and silenced
Even if police aren’t specifically involved, Christian families tell us that officials seldom do anything when they report a suspected kidnapping or file a report. For the most part, police are biased against Christians.
The parents of 16-year-old Hoda Atef Ghali Girgis know this firsthand. Hoda got into a taxi to come home from an Easter party at her church in Imbaba, Egypt. But she never returned home. Her parents filed a report with the police, but officials have taken no real action to recover the young girl. She is still missing.
Maria’s family encountered the same situation: “We rushed to the police station to ask for help,” her father says. “Because we were Christians, the policemen were reluctant to even take a first incident report.”
“The police don’t report it as a kidnap but say the girl ‘went missing,’” Amun explained. “Sometimes they don’t even open up an investigation. This way, they cover up the crimes of those they see as their Muslim brothers.”
However, in both Egypt and the Gulf region, Open Doors ministry partner Hana notes that the majority of families don’t even file reports. The known reputation of local police is one reason, but there is a deeper cause.
“They have been silenced,” Hana says.
Families often receive such harsh threats—sometimes from kidnappers, sometimes by corrupt police—as a warning of what will happen to the rest of their family if they pursue the situation.
Marginalized and devalued
In many ways, what’s happening to Christian women in these countries mirrors the worldwide $150 billion a year sex trafficking industry I’ve written about for the last 15-plus years. In both arenas, kidnappers and traffickers are organized, undergirded by large networks. Tactics like drugs, abduction, shame and romance are employed. And kidnappers often target the most vulnerable—the poor, the uneducated, the depressed. Most important, the surrounding culture is complicit, marginalizing and devaluing women in various ways that open the door for exploitation.
Helene Fisher, global gender persecution specialist for Open Doors International, underscores the part culture plays: “In contexts of severe religious repression, the inequalities and violence which adolescent girls regularly grow up with are also used to endanger the freedom and future of Christian girls because of their faith.” Fisher notes that being a Christian in a Muslim-majority society makes a girl or woman doubly vulnerable to attacks and abduction.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation, making Christian girls and women in these countries even more vulnerable to this unimaginable form of persecution.
“There were fewer people on the street, which meant less protection,” Hana said.
This article is excerpted from appeared in Presence magazine. Visit here to read it in its entirety.