Life after Trauma. Charities who work for peace and the healing of Survivors

By | October 26, 2019

I have recently come across the work of an organisation that seeks to help promote peace, the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.  The names are those of the two boys who lost their lives in the terrorist bombing outrage in Warrington in 1993.  This organisation recognises that working for peace needs to have three parts to be effective.  In the first place it needs to be in the forefront of preventing violence before it happens.  If some sort of conflict does arise, then there is the important work of resolution.  Dialogue between warring parties needs to be established to stop such violence escalating.  Finally, there has to be the readiness to respond when a violent event has occurred.  The task then becomes the care for individuals who have been left wounded and traumatised by the conflict.  

A short booklet produced by this Foundation was handed out at a recent helpful local meeting to discuss the issue of trauma and PTSD.  Present were representatives of the army and local fire services and we listened to various presentations bringing us up to date with the latest ideas about helping those who suffer from the aftermath of trauma.  Apart from interested lay people like myself, there were also medics, social workers and others involved with situations of stress and trauma in society.  Of all the pieces of paper that were handed out to the attendees, the Foundation booklet stood out as being by far the most useful to someone facing the consequences of trauma, either as a victim or a concerned supporter.

Most of us who take an interest in trauma, our own or that of someone close to us, are familiar with the signs and symptoms affecting those who are coming through it.  It is. however, extremely helpful to have these listed, as the booklet does, so that anyone encountering a victim of trauma for the first time, is better prepared for the unexpected ways that the aftermath of trauma may be expressed.  The Foundation booklet lists twenty potential PTSD symptoms suffered by those who have experienced abusive or violent trauma.  These will quite often affect negatively the well-being and happiness of the sufferer.  Take the two examples of anger and hyperactive behaviour.  Neither would make for easy social relationships.  The common reaction of a by-stander is to avoid or walk away from a victim who may exhibit these effects of past trauma.  The task of befriending an abuse survivor is nevertheless always an important calling for all members of the church community.  There is a need to persevere with such friendships even if they can become strained from time to time.   

The booklet that I have been referring to has the title STEPS, standing for Steps towards Empowerment and Positive Survival.  It has the subtitle Life after Trauma.  Although the trauma suffered in Warrington and elsewhere followed a massive case of violence, much in the booklet does in some way relate to the needs of abuse survivors in the Church.  Like the survivors of bomb outrages, many of these abuse survivors have suffered a deep trauma, reaching to the very depths of the personality.  The path to healing can begin when they become aware of the fact that there are other people who do care and will accompany them back to the goal of wholeness. 

The booklet follows up its list of the signs of deep trauma by indicating how to start on the journey toward proper self-care.  Particularly helpful is the list of caring support groups. There are also sentences that are lifted from the Department of Justice Code of Practice concerned with the victims of criminal behaviour.  Even allowing for the fact that some forms of church abuse are not technically criminal acts, it is a matter of sorrow that many Church abuse victims are allowed to think that the treatment they receive from Church authorities is less than caring.  If the Department of Justice can insist on minimum standards of care for victims, then so can the Church.  The DOJ states that all victims must be provided with ‘clear information from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority on eligibility for compensation under the scheme.’  There is also mentioned a ‘right to information about your crime within specified time scales, including the right to be notified of any arrests and court cases.’  We also have a reference to victims ‘receiving services … to the level of service they want’.  One would love to see equivalent contractual promises for abuse survivors set out in a Church document.

Why did this small 8-page booklet make such an impression on me?  The reason is that its approach is calm and realistic.  It takes the existence of trauma and the effect it has on its victims as a fact.  The response to the trauma is then approached compassionately and holistically. From the crime event itself that caused the original trauma, we are taken right through to the care and rehabilitation of the victims.  There is a strong professional feel about the approach.  The people who wrote it really seem to understand the implications of terrible traumatic events on people’s lives and in brief statements they offer realistic practical advice and help. Nowhere in the document are victims of trauma made to feel guilty or patronised. The victims are being offered help and advice by people who really understand about trauma and how this burden needs to managed for the future.

The question now arises.  Why cannot the Church produce a similar document for its own survivors?  Why can we not have a short professional statement of exactly what the Church is ready to do to help the healing of those afflicted by abuse from the past? There could be phone numbers of organisations as well a central number which would allow individuals all over the country to access contact with their local Safeguarding Adviser.  For such a system to work the Church at the centre would have to make sure that there existed resources at the local level to deal with a possible stream of phone calls.   Above all the document would have to show, as the STEPS document does, that the Church at every level really understands, free from condescension, the issues faced by survivors in coping with past abuse events.  If constant pressure has been brought to bear by such survivors on Church officials from the Archbishops down, this is simply the result of structures of care and responsibility not being currently in place.  In the aftermath of terrible events like Warrington 1993 and Manchester 2016 there are many traumatised individuals who require support and help.  It would seem that the secular world, as exemplified by the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation is responding.  Can we not expect the Church to provide the resources, the wisdom and the insight to make the same healing response to the trauma of abuse that hangs so heavily on the Church today?

Reprinted with permission. Original on survivingchurch.org

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