I survived the abuse, but I’m struggling with the response
Posted: 15 Jul 2016 @ 00:03
IN JANUARY 2015, I made a complaint using the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) 2003 alleging sexual abuse I had experienced as a young adult. The decision to make the complaint this way was taken reluctantly, and only after the failure of attempts over the previous four years to have my disclosure handled in a way I considered to be fair and thorough.
The CDM was not designed to deal with sexual abuse, but there is no other way to make an official complaint about a member of the clergy in the Church of England. As good as it is in some circumstances, the CDM is just not adequate for dealing with this issue.
As I reflect now, on what has been the most excoriating of processes, I know that my misgivings about making the CDM complaint were not misplaced. Obviously, I have survived — I am writing this — but the cost in time and emotion has been high, and I shudder at the thought of others experiencing the same as I have.
The CDM Code of Practice is incomplete. While the earlier stages of the process have rules about time limits and a clear code about how it is implemented, the middle and later stages are the sole responsibility of the bishop who is dealing with the complaint. She or he is provided with no rule or guidance on time limits for response.
Along with this, the level of investigation is decided upon by that bishop, with support from her or his registrar. Neither has any guidance on how much of this investigation will be shared with either the complainant or the respondent.
As a complainant, I sought and obtained a clear interpretation of the rules and code of practice from the most helpful secretary to the President of Tribunals; but where the rules and code are missing, so is any openness and clarity.
I have spoken to many people who, like me, say that they are left disempowered when making a complaint. There is no ombudsman to appeal to, and, anyway, in order to raise a concern about a CDM complaint, one would have no choice but to use the very same CDM process.
We are left, then, with a complaints process which relies almost completely on the capability and will of an individual bishop to drive it forward, implement it and to pass an impartial judgement, with an incomplete set of rules. In other words, it’s a lottery.
IT WOULD be inappropriate for me to go into detail about my complaint, except that, owing to the points outlined above, I was left waiting for weeks on end, not knowing what was being investigated and not knowing when the process would conclude.
The most alarming discovery that I made during the year-long process was that, if a cleric is disciplined, the rules do not allow the complainant to see the wording used alongside a penalty entered on the Archbishops’ List. The wording is seen and agreed by a respondent, but can be seen only by the archbishops, bishops, and diocesan registrars — not even the safeguarding adviser or a Church House lawyer. The lack of transparency and even-handedness is staggering.
ONE of the most difficult things for survivors of abuse to deal with is the way that their trust has been abused. Perpetrators of abuse use the trust of their victims to control them.
If I, or any other survivor of adult or childhood abuse, begins to feel that there is a lack of transparency, or that the known abuse is being minimalised or diminished, alarm bells ring. Any secrecy and lack of transparency just replicates the abuse of trust, and leads to re-traumatisation.
It is sad to report that I found the CDM process utterly re-traumatising, and at most times disempowering. It tested me more than I thought possible, and I only survived it because I have wonderful people who give me their support.
There has to be a better way to deal with complaints of a sexually abusive nature. At a time when the Church of England is working hard to make its churches as safe as possible, and is seeking to improve its response to those reporting abuse, it is time to admit that there needs to be a completely different procedure to deal with allegations of sexual abuse.
Jo Kind sits on the Church of England National Safeguarding Advisory Panel as a representative of MACSAS, the clerical abuse survivors’ group.