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Survivors of abuse are never the ones to blame

Wednesday 1 October 2014

It is well known that one of the issues we are facing across our society and, most shamefully, in the churches, is the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. I tend to see some of the worst examples of what we have done as a Church over the years. Every time it is as awful and appalling and shameful.

But it gets worse. A little while ago I met one of the survivors of abuse. This person had suffered greatly at the hands of a particular member of the clergy some years previously. But in her local community, which she goes back to from time to time, where her parents live, far away from where she lives now, the general attitude seems to be that she is to blame.

Yes, she courageously made a complaint about her abuse. I wish more people did. Yes, it did cause significant problems for the abuser. That is a very good thing.

As a society we have to get to the point where we realise that abuse is above all an issue of power, the perversion of power not to do good but to do grievous harm, and to meet some terrible need within the abuser. It is never the fault of the person abused, the survivor. They will bear the damage; theirs will be often a sense of guilt which they have to work through with counselling and psychological support for years, sometimes for the rest of their lives. It affects them in all sorts of ways too terrible to describe.

But it is not their fault.

This particular person, courageous and determined, had been approached in the street and criticised for the harm that they had done. The abuser was seen as in some bizarre way the innocent party. These people are not victims but survivors - survivors who should be admired and supported, not condemned and disapproved of.

The time has come when, as a society, we say that those who are abused are never at fault. In the Church of England, the issue is known as ‘the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults’. It is not simply a question of children. Adults who have been the survivors of previous abuse when they were younger, or who are in a vulnerable position because of pastoral need, are no more to blame than anyone else. They are the objects of a terrible wrong. And I pledge that any allegation brought to the Church will be taken seriously and rigorously investigated.

I long for the day when not only in the institutions of the Church, but also among every Christian, we show that we understand that those who have things done to them are never the ones to be blamed.

Author: Justin Welby

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