In the last week, two stories of sexual abuse have been highlighted in the media: Harvey Weinstein, a titan of Hollywood, was convicted of rape and a criminal sex act, while a posthumous investigation into Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, found that he had sexually abused six women.
On the face of it, these men could not have been more different. One was a powerful movie mogul, who made millions producing successful films and was known to be a bully. The other was a humble, devout Catholic, who spent a large part of his life developing communities for people with learning difficulties to live alongside people without disability as equals.
Both men, however, similarly used their power and position to abuse women.
Weinstein’s conviction and the unreserved condemnation of Vanier’s actions by L’Arche’s current leaders demonstrate that society is starting to understand the subtle use of power, position and inequality by abusers.
According to the Guardian, “The women painted a picture of how Weinstein promised opportunities to read scripts that could lead to big movie roles or the chance to help him produce his work behind the scenes” and BBC online described how “Sexual relations were instigated by Vanier, usually in the context of giving spiritual guidance.”
Both men seemed to groom their victims through various forms of manipulation, using the inequality in their roles and positions to get what they wanted.
'Perpetrators have a target, usually their spouse, and can have a Jekyll and Hyde personality which makes the evil hard to see clearly.'
As Christians we may not find it hard to accept and support the verdict on Weinstein - he seemed a ‘wolf’ in ‘wolf’s’ clothing. But Vanier - he was a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing'. It can be much harder for Christians to know how to deal with evil done by a person who also engaged in so much good.
I see this every day in churches who do not know how to handle domestic abuse in their midst. It can be hard to understand that perpetrators are rarely ‘evil’ all the time and rarely ‘evil’ to everyone. Perpetrators have a target, usually their spouse, and can have a Jekyll and Hyde personality which makes the evil hard to see clearly. So Christians, who don’t want to address difficult situations head-on, will only acknowledge the ‘sheep’ in front of them and not worry about the hidden ‘wolf’ that is only seen behind closed doors. And certainly, there is even less worry about who the ‘wolf’ is choosing to attack behind those closed doors.
As Christians we need to be less naive. We need to understand how the desire for power and control is at the root of all abuse. We need to understand how manipulation and grooming can occur in all spheres. And we need to be alert to the signs, willing to call it out and stand against it, no matter how it is clothed.
What we do
There has never been a more important time for Restored to exist. We raise awareness about domestic abuse in churches, provide training to communities, and support women on their road to recovery.
Marking 10 years
This year marks Restored's 10th birthday as a charity. We have achieved so much in that time with your support - thank you! As we look ahead to the next decade, please consider making even a small donation to help support our future work.