Safeguarding: Responding to Abuse

Jody is the founder and CEO of Jonathan's House Ministries and is passionate about changing the conversation on male abuse.

Churches need to be seen as safe zones for people who have been victims of abuse.  I did some research as I was writing this piece on how churches covered the issue of domestic abuse within their safeguarding policies.  Here is the methodist churches Policy:- 

This was one of the better formulated and put together policies regarding abuse, and how a church should be set up, and as you will see below how they should respond.

4.6.2 Responding well All forms of domestic abuse are intrinsically damaging and […] the safety and protection of those Safeguarding Policy, Procedures and Guidance for the Methodist Church – Updated April 2019 46 involved must be paramount. Those responding to reports of domestic abuse should ensure that they identify whether any of the following circumstances apply: 

children are living in the household. 

children are regular visitors to the household. 

the victim is an adult who lacks capacity. 

the victim is dependent upon their partner for care. Procedures relating to children and adults in the previous section should be followed in all cases. 

The following actions should be taken where domestic abuse is suspected: 

If you suspect someone is experiencing domestic abuse but they have not said anything to you, do not be afraid to ask, but ask gentle, non-direct questions, such as “How are things at home?” 

Reassure the person that it is not their fault. Consider their safety and yours as well as that of colleagues and if possible, prepare a plan of action to protect anyone disclosing abuse […]. 

Do not investigate. 

The response is the most important part of safeguarding.  Safeguarding is a lot more than intensive than just simply ensuring people are signed on to the DBS update service.  We need to have the right understanding of when someone is being abused, what do we do next.  

The answer is not to just take a back seat, watching from far off seeing how it plays out, no it is about doing the right thing and engaging the right people so that the abused person can be brought out of the situation before someone is killed.

For me as a child who grew up in the eighties, when I reported to an adult that something was happening to me, either I was told I was making it up, I was told to shut up, I was hit by the person I was asking for help from, or I was quoted bible verses to justify what was happening to me.  No help was ever given.  Then to make things worse to digest, when I was in my 40s someone who is a senior pastor and in his 60s told me “I knew something was going on, but it wasn’t my place to do anything, so I was powerless to help!”  

I believe I was not the only child to experience that. I believe that now, children are better supported than the experiences I faced.  Then as an adult when I was able to break free from the domestic abuse, when I asked for support from church people, I was told no one could help due to it being between a husband and wife.

Safeguarding is an important policy to get right and to also implement. This is not about being right or wrong in your assumption, it is not a game of guess who or Cluedo it is about doing the right thing and raising the alarm.    These decisions are not about receiving a reward or a prize for guessing right, it is about safeguarding and making sure everyone that comes to your church building is going home to a safe environment.

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This is a copy of one domestic abuse response chart, it is very good.  Unfortunately, some safeguarding officers jump from do not investigate to monitor situation, but nothing else is done.  This is ok if the abuse is physical and easily spotted, but what if it is psychological, or controlling abuse and slips the pastors radar?  What if it falls under this category, a man or woman using scripture to get sex within their marriage without consent? (For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 1 Corinthians 7:4) Does this fall under the safeguarding policy of abuse? It should do.  As misusing scripture out of context as an excuse for rape is a serious issue within the church.  Below I will share an exert taken from a recently written piece in The Premier Christian magazine. Lucinda Van Der Hart writes:

“Domestic violence is prevalent within the UK Church community, with almost a fifth (19%) of adults having experienced their partner refusing to accept no for an answer when he or she wants to have sex, according to an exclusive survey conducted by Christianity magazine. For 6% of the 443 people who completed the survey, which was held in conjunction with domestic abuse charity Restored as part of their ‘In Churches Too’ campaign, this is a frequent experience. 

This report is 10 years old, yet it displays a serious safeguarding issue, which affected 97% of the church goers who took part in this survey.  443 people took part in this survey which means 429 men and women who attended a church here in the UK have experienced rape at the hands of their partner, and they used scripture to do so! What is even more frightening is this point that needs to be made –  not everyone took part in this survey!  

Further on in the article Mandy Marshall who is Restored’s co-director clearly states. ‘This is rape…Sexual violence is in our churches, and we need to be crystal clear in communicating that this is criminal, a sin and destructive,’ she said. 

Lucinda Van Der Hart goes on to say that 97% of the people who took part in this survey were churchgoers, 80% were educated to degree level or higher.  So that alone is worrying, that people who clearly understood what they were reading still misused scripture to get what they wanted.  77% of this survey were women, and 23% were men.

Lucinda Van Der Hart states that Respondents were very aware of the existence of domestic violence within the Christian community, with 95% acknowledging that this does take place within Christian families. The majority of respondents (87%) said that one of the reasons that domestic violence occurred was because a partner needed to have authority and control over a relationship.”I would like to state that this is not domestic abuse.  It is rape. But it does highlight a very disturbing issue, people who attend church do not understand the difference between rape and domestic abuse, and even worse they use scripture to condone the act of rape.  This is very serious safeguarding issue that has gone unchecked.  As I said previously this report was written 10 years ago – I would hope that this was no longer the case.  Unfortunately it is still the case people are still unable to define abuse, and also they are unsure how to deal with the consequences.

Please remember that safeguarding is not about witch hunts, it is about spotting red flags and reporting through the right channels.

Every person man or woman has the right to be safe, and when they come to our churches to know that they are going to be protected when something is going on that is wrong.  It is the churches responsibility to step in and more importantly to act on what they believe is happening. I believe after reading a lot of safeguarding policies today, that when it comes to domestic abuse, it is purely women or children who are assumed to be the victims.  Men are also victims of abuse, and within our safeguarding policies we need to be able to recognise how to respond to these situations. There needs to clear directions on how to respond and to report.  Especially when it comes to cases involving men.  Men need to know their cases are not being swept under the carpet.

We need to take safeguarding seriously. I cannot stress this enough.  No matter who comes into our church buildings, no matter what culture, gender, age, or disability/ability everyone should feel safe, and know that they have entered a safe house, where they will be looked after.

Jonathan’s House Ministries will be offering support to the local church to know what to do in times when there is a safeguarding issue in terms of domestic abuse, knowing who to contact i.e. police and social services, how to confront or how not to, protecting people within the church community, providing support for pastoral teams. It is not about pointing the finger and saying, “you’ve got this wrong,” it is about saying “this is good, how do we improve on this, to better serve our church community?”

If you would like to hear more about Safeguarding training, please email office@jonathanshouse.org.uk for more information.

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