A survivor of sexual abuse says working with the Methodist church to help improve its safeguarding is part of her own healing process.
Vivien is part of a group helping develop a series of resources and webinars which are aimed at helping churches and individuals be more welcoming in their response to people who come forward with disclosures of abuse.
Vivien, who is a Christian and now in her sixties, suffered abuse as a young girl but was met with a wall of silence over many years when she tried to report the allegations to the Anglican church.
She says the effects of that were devastating and she stopped training for ordination. She transferred to the Methodist Church and is now part of the Methodist Survivors’ Advisory Group which was set up in 2017. Speaking to Premier, she says she’s determined other survivors feel more confident and supported when they come forward.
“I hadn't even heard the word abuse, I knew nothing about anything like that. So it went on for many years and life just became dreadful. As I got older, I tried to build my life back up again, but the Church still wasn't listening. I stopped training for ordination and eventually I talked to my district chair [in the Methodist Church].”
Vivien says she felt her voice was finally being heard and she was invited to join a group of survivors to share their experiences. She found they had all encountered a similar response when they had tried to report their abuse.
“It was like crying in the wilderness, because that's what all those guys felt like, we were there. We were talking, but nobody was listening. We were totally on our own. Suddenly someone was saying, ‘Ok, I'll listen and we want to make it different.’ They listened, they believed us. They wanted to make it different and wanted to make change.”
The group was set up after the Past Cases Review into the Methodist Church in 2015 identified 1,885 past cases, which included sexual, physical, emotional and domestic abuse as well as cases of neglect. In approximately one quarter of these cases, church ministers or lay employees were identified as the perpetrators or alleged perpetrators. The review looked into past cases dating back to 1950 and the Church apologised unreservedly.
As a result measures were put in place to improve safeguarding across the Church.
Vivien believes there is still a long way to go, but the difference now is the Church is listening and making changes.
“I think forgiveness is a very difficult subject, especially for survivors. I think you have to give it to God, it's his responsibility. He takes that responsibility. But I think forgiveness can only come when things change - when people like the people who have abused me acknowledge what they’ve done. But also by saying we do understand and we're trying.
“It has been a privilege to help shape the resources which include a leaflet to give guidance to survivors who have never felt able to share their experience, and to give some pointers regarding what is helpful and more importantly, what is unhelpful.
“When you look and you see doors starting to open, that gives you hope. At the end of the day, that's all we can ask for – hope.”
The free webinar The Church’s Response to Survivors: From Stumbling Block to Stepping Stone is being held on Wednesday 23rd February: https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/news/latest-news/all-news/safeguarding-webinars-trigger-warning-this-post-contains-content-about-abuse/