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Campaign calls for end to use of NDAs in keeping Christians from sharing abuse stories

A campaign has launched calling for an end to non-disclosure agreements used by churches and Christian organisations.

A non-disclosure agreement is a legal contract to keep information a secret. 

#NDAfree has been set up to object to NDAs that have been misused to conceal abuse and preserve secrets. Organisers hope that the campaign will persuade Christian organisations to ditch them altogether.

NDAs were originally used by the tech industry to protect inside secrets. Lee Furney is one of the organisers of #NDAfree and spoke to Premier:

"The campaign's got two angles to it. One is raising awareness. So we're anonymously telling people's stories, so that people are encouraged to know they're not the only one that have been imprisoned under NDAs. And then the second thing is also to provide some resources, one for people to explore ways of getting out of the NDA, but also for the worldwide church to have a discussion about whether we should be using these things at all."

Furney adds that NDAs have caused widespread damage, especially for abuse victims who, once put under an NDA, are unable to tell their story.

"Under the terms of an NDA, abuse victims quite often are unable to legally tell their Christian therapist about their struggles and about what has happened. So, you can imagine they are cut off from even that form of support, but also more widely as well. When they use them for settlement agreements, it is incredibly distressing for people, they will find a great mental strain by not being able to speak about these things or to complain about these things. They sign these things when they're under some distress in the first place and that distress is compounded by the NDA once they start to try to make a recovery."

Lucy Hefford, a graduate student and administrative assistant, says she was raped by her supervisor at a training college. She told Premier she has chosen to publicly break her two NDAs to raise awareness of the "harmful practice" and feels it is right to do so. 

"Since signing it I have felt constantly on edge wondering if in private, in person or electronic conversations I've had with friends or supporters about my abuse will get leaked to the charity and I will get countersued. No one can flourish when living with that over their head all the time. It's oppressive. Because the NDA is life long, I felt like I'd never be able to speak honestly without fear of legal redress, which is unfair and has not aided my healing from the trauma of the sexual and institutional abuse. 

"I am more worried about the implications of me not speaking out," she added. "If no one ever takes this kind of risk, harmful practices such as the use of NDAs to silence victims will stay the norm. I am a theologian and for me this is just ordinary, good Christian theology in practice, speaking out against injustice. It's nothing new. 

"When I fix my eyes on Jesus I am not scared of legal or financial redress. We are called as Christians to fear God, but not man. To fear man-made institutions over God is idolatry. The religious authorities (often male dominated) have never liked it when truth is spoken in a way that challenges the status quo of the powerful. They didn't like Jesus much. I am in good company when I challenge abuse in the name of truth and justice. I am standing with an army, an army of survivors and truth seekers. I am not alone. Even if I were, God promises never to leave me or forsake me, so I trust him."

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