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Rehabilitating a domestic abuser: how the Church should respond

Last week we learnt that Prince Andrew settled his sexual assault case with Virginia Guiffre. This action does not infer an admission of guilt nor a conviction of guilt - and that fact is not relevant to this blog.

However, some of the arguments of Prince Andrew’s solicitors, before the settlement was made, which he presumably approved, were the worst examples of stereotypical victim blaming - raking over Guiffre’s sexual history, insinuating that her case was just for the payday.

If there was any doubt as to how he would handle the claim, … if [the judge] doesn’t dismiss the claim then Prince Andrew intends to go on the attack.

— Thomas Garner —

Since the settlement and large donation to Guiffre’s charity things have changed and Prince Andrew now states that he will support the “fight against the evils of sex trafficking, and by supporting its victims”.

Labour MP Jess Phillips responded to this suggestion as ‘ridiculous’ and states -

The behaviour that has been displayed throughout the last four years does not speak to somebody who could be an ally to victims of sexual violence.

— Jess Phillips —

She continues to say that it was not the responsibility of campaigners and charities working to end violence against women “to offer any redemption".

Without commenting further on Prince Andrew’s case, this basic scenario is one that is played out over and over again in churches in cases of domestic abuse. The abuser will deny his wrongdoing, insinuate the victim is the crazy, unstable, difficult one and will then volunteer to run an Alpha course, lead worship, or get baptised to ‘rehabilitate’ their reputation in front of the congregation.

Often church leaders will agree to this thinking that this is a good way to support any change or perhaps eventual repentance. The congregation then views this person as being validated by the church leadership, so must be in a 'right relationship' with God, and therefore the victim is the one in the wrong. All further support goes to the perpetrator, and the victim, who has no support whatsoever, ends up leaving the church completely, let down by her Christian community.

This scenario is tragic and the victim/survivor’s faith is challenged not necessarily by the abuse but by the response of their church community.

To understand how to respond well when an abuser is in our congregation please order a copy of our new Church Guide. There you will find:

  • important do’s and don’ts of managing a perpetrator in your church community
  • why couple counselling is not appropriate
  • what repentance and restoration really look like
  • the fact that both pastoral and professional support is needed

and most importantly...

  • that keeping the victim/survivor’s safety, sanity and dignity at the forefront of any actions taken is paramount.

Church Guide

Essential reference guide for every church leader

What's included