Abusers in the News
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 and 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, known to be a bully, who made millions producing successful films. One 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.
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.
There has never been a more important time for Restored to exist (www.restoreduk.org). We raise awareness about domestic abuse in churches, we educate and train communities about best practice and safeguarding when domestic abuse becomes apparent and we provide resources and support to victims on their road to recovery.
Survivors of domestic abuse can order a free copy of our Handbook by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org We ask for a £10 donation from everyone else so that we can keep providing it free to survivors.
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