Social and Cultural Change
There’s been a significant social and cultural shift over a relatively short space of time. So for us as churches, we need to consider our approach as these changes have a number of implications for us.
Internet access, mobile technology, social media and all the advances in virtual reality, has opened up new areas of risk and opportunities for perpetrators of abuse. There are many benefits to the use of technology, but these advances have resulted in changes to the patterns of abuse and increased risk. Online grooming, sexting, and radicalisation, creates space for abusers to identify others who have similar inclinations to collaborate in abusive behaviour, technology has played a significant part in these shifting patterns.
Technology has now allowed relationships to be formed and abuse to be perpetrated where there is no “real world” contact between the perpetrator and the victim.
Abuse of a position of trust
Understanding of historic abuse and the abuse of a position of trust has grown significantly over the last few years. This presents many challenges practically and legally. It is important that the learning from past failures continues to inform and shape our practice. Whether it involves celebrities, teachers, social workers, church leaders, volunteers, youth leaders, football clubs, the Army Cadets etc. it has resulted in an increased awareness of safer recruitment practices for staff and volunteers.
Although mandatory reporting has not been introduced, there is still far greater expectation on all members of society protect children, including churches. There are now clear expectations with regard to whistle blowing or responsible reporting which have also been highlighted by historic failures.
There is a clearer understanding that abusers use a culture of secrecy, coercion, manipulation as well as fear, to facilitate their abuse. This has resulted in a far greater expectation and requirement of openness and transparency. It it will not be a surprise to see significant shifts in this aspect of safeguarding over the coming years. This could present significant challenges for churches.
Openness and cooperation
Within society, we’ve seen a shift to a more secularised outlook. Moving away from what’s been traditionally regarded as broadly “Christian values”. The shifts within society should make us think carefully about how we engage with the culture. It also provides us with many opportunities for meaningful gospel conversation. However we must recognise that there is a far greater suspicion of churches than there has ever been.
Our response should not be defensive, but one of openness and transparency. We should, as churches, be seen to be above reproach and to allow our good works to speak for themselves. This requires a genuine openness and cooperation with other agencies. This is so important for the well-being of children, young people and adults at risk of abuse, it is also important for us as churches if we are to overcome the suspicion that can often prevail.
We encourage churches to work through the biblical principles and to adopt an open and transparent position. We firmly believe that such an approach will clearly demonstrate that as churches we are in fact leading the way in valuing, protecting and promoting the well-being of the most vulnerable members of our society.