Wednesday, 3 December 2008

If you mean "spiritual" abuse (whatever that is meant to be), say so. Calling it just "abuse" seems deliberately misleading

I have always believed, as a critic of the Jesus Army, that if I was to have an impact on JA members they had to be able to recognise the truth in things that I said, even if they might never be able to admit it either to themselves or to me. Recognising the truth would make it possible for them to consider the points I raised, which I felt arose from those mutually accepted facts.

To do that I have attempted over the years not to use vocabulary which puts a negative spin on things that happened in the JA. For instance, I never use the word brainwash or ever claim to have been forced to do anything against my will. I try to avoid casting in a negative light anything which I would, at the time, have accepted as reasonable. Maybe I am lucky in that the objections I have to the fellowship are to things which I militated against as a member; I am fortunate that I did not suffer as badly as some others. I never experienced anything which I did not think was well intentioned, if misguided.

Some however claim to have been abused in the JA, and from what I do know of the JA, I have no doubt that they have indeed been very badly treated, but have taken issue recently with the use of the word abuse, particularly when it has been made clear that they were not harmed physically or sexually. This is an issue which has exercised me recently, as I have been involved in a very public spat with someone who speaks freely of having been abused as a child (pre-JA) and of having subsequently been abused in the JA, though I know from private correspondence that whatever she experienced in the JA was not sexual in nature.

I take issue with people using words like "abuse" when criticising the JA (especially when in the same posts they refer to sexual abuse in her past) because the casual and unqualified use of the word seems calculated to smear the JA, as readers will be left with the impression that child abuse etc is what is implied. What makes me most angry about this is that such people know that readers will automatically assume that they are referring to sexual or physical abuse and they deliberately leave it vague so that the JA will suffer the greatest measure of suspicion as a result.

It is disingenuous of them to say that all abuse is abuse (as if a harsh word is as severe as rape) and that they are not explicitly saying that the abuse is sexual. It is downright misleading if they later concede that the abuse was "spiritual", given that it is on a secular forum and that most people do not recognise the existence of spiritual abuse anyway.....let alone automatically infer it. If they mean bullying, maybe that is the word they should use and not abuse at all.

One has attempted to say that I am in some way defending the abuse which she says goes on in the JA or that I am accusing her of lying. This reminds me of the time that I did indeed defend Noel Stanton from the allegation that he protected paedophiles; that too was an allegation designed to cause the JA maximum damage without being founded on any evidence at all, and that too led to me being accused of defending "abuse" in the JA. It is the kind of unsophisticated sophistry you tend to get from the shrill people on some forums.

Of course I do not support abuse of any kind. And I am not actually defending the JA, as such. I am defending a principle. Describing bullying of adults as being on a par with the abuse of children is foolish and appears to degrade the seriousness of child abuse. Further, misleading language makes it hard to reach people we want to help in the JA.

As I am a member of a profession which has to deal not only with children suffering from real abuse, but also with children and their parents who use the paranoia around abuse to make malicious allegations against teachers, TAs, social workers etc in order to punish them for doing their jobs, I take this kind of thing very seriously. You almost never hear of conscientious children making malicious allegations of abuse; it will almost always be disruptive kids who can't get their own way, who strike back by accusing adults in school of something - because they want to hurt them. This has devastating consequences for these dedicated professionals, many of whose careers are permanently ruined, even the lucky few who are eventually exonerated. So, when I see people using words like abuse, people who know that readers will assume that sexual abuse is implied and readers who have probably never even heard of "spiritual" abuse, it makes my blood boil.

If genuine abuse takes place in the JA, social services and the police need to be brought in immediately. Anyone who talks of abuse in the JA but who has not alerted the authorities must be assumed to be muck-raking in order to cause maximum damage.

Anyone who says they are accusing the JA of abuse in order to help the victims of abuse is just not being honest. The way to stop abuse if you know it is going on is to call in the authorties and really get something done, especially post Baby P, when child services etc will be falling over backwards to be seen to be doing everything possible to protect children.

If however, you are not talking about child sexual abuse, it is morally reprehensible not to make that perfectly clear. Almost nobody has ever heard of spititual abuse, whatever the heck that is, but if that is what this person means, that is what she should say....and as nobody knows what it is, she should spell it out....not leave it entirely vague.

Language is powerful stuff. It must be handled carefully.

Why? Because if we want the members of the JA reading it to feel that someone is arguing their corner (with the possibility that people will be emboldened to leave) they have to be able to recognise what we say as representative. I am pretty confident that most would say that they are having a rough time of it, prehaps even a truly horrendous time, but very much doubt that they will think, "I am being abused".