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Guarding against physical and spiritual abuse

04 October 2013


From Mr Simon Bass and Dr Lisa Oakley
Sir, - Susanna Gridley's article (Comment, 27 September) is a timely and helpful reminder that we must not ignore the very real danger of the sexual abuse of adults, too, in Anglican and all other church congregations. We, therefore, welcome the fact that the Church of England, together with other denominations, is already addressing this issue, and Responding Well to Those Who Have Been Sexually Abused (2011) is a very positive step forward.

We must also, however, never assume that "abusers" are only clergy, or those holding similar positions of authority in the Church. Dr Lisa Oakley's (Manchester Metropolitan University) recent research into spiritual abuse indicates that those lower down church hierarchies may abuse, too. This distinction is important, since, if we accept that it is perpetrated only by those in authority, we may create a second tier of "hidden" abuse victims.

Second, something else lies even more deeply buried than sexual abuse. This is spiritual abuse, or psychological and emotional abuse without a sexual or physical element. Its victims suffer from having even less access to intervention and support than have those suffering from sexual abuse.

The Church Experience Survey (2013), a summary of which was published in CCPAS's Caring magazine this summer, found that more than 70 per cent of respondents felt manipulated at their current church at least sometimes, and 74 per cent had felt damaged by a church experience.

The article states that the C of E does not acknowledge that spiritual abuse exists, which is true; but this research points to it as also going unrecognised across other denominations. It is a serious problem, and needs to be tackled urgently.

Susanna argues that "Children are now safer in churches because of formal procedures." This is partly true, but the most important message is that formal procedures alone cannot safeguard children and adults effectively. The ultimate solution is that every church must go far beyond mere box-ticking, and instead develop a holistic culture of safeguarding, recognising that those in positions of authority, indeed all churchgoers, have a responsibly to respect - which includes safeguarding - every single member of their congregations.

Surely this is what real safeguarding is all about?

Programme Leader, Abuse Studies
Manchester Metropolitan University

Chief Executive
PO Box 133, Swanley
Kent BR8 7UQ

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