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Survivors of abuse find fault with new Safe Spaces helpline

16 October 2020

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THE Church of England’s helpline for survivors of sexual abuse in a church context, Safe Spaces, has come in for early criticism from users.

It was launched on 29 September before last week’s publication of the Anglican Church report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) (News, 9 October).

A member of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), Jo Kind, said on Tuesday: “I have been contacted by victims and survivors who, in moments of real need over the last week, have reached out to Safe Spaces but been unable to interact with the service.” It was reported that the phone went unanswered in some instances, and eventually rang off.

“My deepest concern is that the Safes Spaces service is not yet ready or fit for purpose,” Ms Kind said, “and, as such has the potential to harm people who may be feeling utterly vulnerable, rather than to help them.”

Callers were initially met with an automated message that said: “Our project will go live on 28 September 2020.” Victim Support, which runs the service, acknowledged that a dated answerphone message had initially been left for out-of-hours calls. This has now been rectified.

A Church of England spokesperson apologised on Tuesday for any “upset or confusion” caused to any caller to Safe Spaces. They said, however: “In the first two weeks of its operation, it is already working with and offering support to victims and survivors who have come forward to the helpline or via the website.”

MACSAS runs its own helpline service. Its co-ordinator and Ms Kind were due to meet two Victim Support/Safe Spaces staff on Wednesday to discuss their concerns and to offer help. “It is absolutely imperative that the Safe Spaces service is safe enough to access, before it can even begin to offer support and to walk alongside those trying to seek help,” Ms Kind said.

Safe Spaces is open for 48 hours a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The Church of England has said that advocates on the helpline have received specialist training in supporting survivors of sexual violence in church-related contexts. Users can choose to be anonymous.

A correspondent who signs themselves “someone abused by a church leader”, writes: “The day after reading a newspaper article about the Church of England response to the IICSA Report, I struggled with the reality of abuse I experienced. . . I took up NST offers to talk and rang the advertised helpline, but had very poor responses, further exacerbating feeling isolated and alone. . .

“It appears I am looking in the wrong place. Where God has been misrepresented, where the heart of the Church is broken and survivors are left, God’s character of love, of longing to sink into hearts and influence responses, has never changed. . .

Today, I know there is an absence and disconnection for support including spiritual support, yet the truth is the finished work of the cross. So today, please join me in not looking in the wrong places. Get our hearts right with God and love Jesus. He is sufficient . . . enough to heal the brokenness of the Church.”

safespacesenglandandwales.org.uk

Read more on the topic in Andrew Brown’s press column

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