Friday, 21 June 2019

The churches, safeguarding, autism, and the dark spaces

The photograph shows a shadow of a person, against a dim alleyway.  We've all walked in such a space, I expect, in the dim of evening or the dark of night, hearing our footsteps, and listening out for any sign of danger.  Just us, and whatever may lay ahead...or behind us.

"Don't go there alone!", we might have been warned.

Whilst most journeys end well, we are all familiar with the news reports of those that didn't.  We grieve for those whose lives are ended, or shattered. 

What of those forced to live in dark spaces?

I don't just mean physically, though, in this piece of writing.  I mean living in the dark spaces where people pretend we don't exist.  Where people pretend they cannot see us.  Where people pretend they cannot hear us.  Where even in a crowded space, we can walk alone, unacknowledged.  Shunned, Ostracised.  Perhaps others encouraged to fear us for no good reason.

It can seem like a brilliant but false safeguarding idea, just not talking to autistic people, for example.  "Hey, nothing can go wrong if we Just Don't Talk To Them!".  "We won't get into trouble, as we haven't said anything."

But, is that true?

There's good research around how damaging it is for people to be ostracised, socially, or prevented from being with a community of love and support.  That awful feeling that they are shunned from those around them, cut out of support, affirmation, love, friendship, fellowship.

In a very real sense, people can die of loneliness.
That any such thing can happen in a place of God makes it so much worse.

And, such an 'alleyway' of dark aloneness may be a dangerous place indeed.

Those who inhabit such spaces, the spaces of the unseen, unacknowledged person, well, often they are predators.  Watching and waiting to see who is left untended by that group, unloved, afraid, untrusted.  Moving in with a pack of lies and false promises, gaining the desperate trust of that person.  Preying on their vulnerability and their need for contact of some kind.  Perhaps their vulnerability in believing what they're told. 

In particular, predators learn to scapegoat those who might give evidence against them. It doesn't take much to turn a group of people against anyone who is deemed a threat, after all.  Whether a drip-drip of negativity about a marginalised person, or an active campaign, a leader can soon convince others that anyone different is toxic.

Leaving people in the dark, in that loneliness, is a dangerous thing.  It is the exact opposite of good safeguarding, I would say.

We look at safeguarding reports and all they reveal about the vulnerability of some of the victims, the tactics used.  The knowledge that many of those targeted were indeed disabled.  From the IICSA report, about half, in fact. 

Do we choose to be Christ to others?

To offer a hand of friendship?

To show what it means to be a person, a place, where trust can be forged?

Our churches and faith communities are meant to be safe havens, where all can be with God and with one another, in fellowship and friendship.  Let nothing stand in the way of that aim.