Over-affectionate or abusive? Can these 2 things really go hand in hand? 

My abuser says he was guilty of being over affectionate.  A CCPAS safeguard lead (A point of reference used by the Jesus Fellowship), said he was a predatory groomer.

This is what I say:

In a household made up predominantly of sisters, I found myself being favouritised by the married senior leader (quite a nice experience until you realise the reasons behind it) but this separated me from the other girls. I was given preferential treatment, bought gifts (purchased by money from the sale of work scrap and not handed into the common purse or business account), allowed to do certain things, go places others weren’t.

But it came at a cost. He began to manipulate situations in order to be alone more and more:  amending the transport list so that there was only the 2 of us on car journeys, particularly after distance meetings, which might require stopping for a break; walks for ‘a catch up’ (quite a regular occurrence for all the sisters); taking my son to bed; leaving meetings early to be home before the rest of the household; picking me up from work; catching me alone in a room.  This precipitated into a physical relationship consisting of cuddling and full lip kissing/snogging. It was a big step up from the regular behaviour he showed in public and was renowned for toward women he liked, a peck on the cheek and a hug (the only leader I have ever known to do this in public with no questions asked).

Could it be that these physical displays of affection towards women in general could nullify the shock of the more intense physicality that began happening to me behind closed doors?

He seemed to like taking risks and would often ‘make a move’ near to the front door, in the lounge or by kneeling down in the open door of a car as I was about to drive away from the community house car park. It didn’t seem to bother him that someone might walk in or by. Despite being caught in compromised positions on numerous occasions, I do not ever recall anyone saying anything.  It wasn’t worth their while.  A friend did dare express her concern to the leader but was told she was jealous,  paranoid,  imagining things. It also came to my attention years later that an anonymous person had written a letter to the leaders wife, warning her of what was going on. I can only assume that the anonymous sender was also told that they were wrong because that letter certainly didn’t change any of the behaviour.

And so blind eyes were turned. I was isolated, totally dependant on him and always defensive of his behaviour. This physical/sexual activity was part of my life on a weekly, often daily basis for the entirety of my 4 years in the community house. It’s strange how people used to make off hand jokes about me being his 2nd wife. Why would they make those comments but not challenge the man in question? Did they really think that what they saw was acceptable?

I was  interested in getting married, and wanted the opportunity at least, to ‘relate ‘ to someone I felt there was a mutual connection with.  However, my abuser made sure that nothing along those lines could be pursued. Reasons given, you’re too young, it would be good for you to stay single to grow in spiritual maturity, you should consider celibacy, that’s the highest calling, the young man in question is considering celibacy (at 20), he’s not interested in you. Ok. Fairly reasonable suggestions and worthy of consideration? Not if the motive behind it is control.  The “You can’t have another man in your life because you’ve got me and I need you” kind of control

As someone who excelled at emotional control, he blew hot and cold and I and others could go for weeks with him not speaking to us because we might have done something he didn’t approve of. If he so much as thought that I had been flirting (this might consist of looking at someone across a meeting hall/waiting to give a sneaky wave to someone from behind a window) , I would be punished (ignored, deprived from visiting friends or family, spoken of in a household meeting). I couldnt get my head around the fact that I wasnt allowed to have a relationship with someone my own age but he, a husband, senior leader and pastor of women, was able to behave in the way he did toward me. It was utterly confusing and brought about great feelings of guilt, worthlessness and at times desperation that I was trapped in something that I knew was wrong, felt powerless to change and couldn’t escape from.

2 years into this part of my life, I did summon up the strength to speak to a  senior leader outside of the household.  I wasnt taken seriously, indeed, the other household elder, told me words I’ll never forget “you’ve got it wrong”. I wondered how I could possibly get something that was happening to me personally ‘wrong’ ! and realised I was still stuck in a situation with no escape.  No voice,  no money. Life continued like this for a further 2 years. To this day, I have no idea if the other household leader remembers what he says. He has not approached me with an apology so, on a good day,  my assumption is he has forgotten and has no idea of the impact his comment has had on me.  On other days, I assume that he still believes I got it wrong, the behaviour of his fellow leader was perfectly acceptable and there was no abuse.

Eventually,  I had an emotional breakdown, and  went back to stay with my parents for a few weeks. I didnt divulge to them what had been happening, the confusion, the abhorrence I felt. Whilst they had always been supportive of me, I just didnt know how they would take it.  I decided I had no option but to take a deep breath and leave the household I was part of and move out. This filled me with utter dread and anxiety as all I had known was a controlled community lifestyle, but I knew I had no option. To be honest, this process wasn’t too difficult as I found a house fairly quickly and no one stood in my way. Maybe the leader in question realised that if he stood in the way of my departure, I might divulge some of his secret behaviour. The Trust agreed to pay 2 months rent, gave me £100 and by borrowing and friends generosity, I managed to start off a life outside of the JA community bubble.  I never spoke to anyone regarding my reasons for leaving other than by stating that my relationship with the leader wasn’t good. To say anything else seemed futile. No one would really be able to understand, believe or accept my story.

Unfortunately, despite leaving the community house, despite wanting to escape,  I was still ensnared, trapped, beguiled, confused, dependant on him, and he still continued to visit me at my home, late night visits, and of course, the abuse continued. Requests for massages, hugs and kissing. I was stuck in a cycle of knowing that what was happening was completely wrong, an abuse of position on his part but unable to break away. This was all a symptom of Stockholm syndrome and afflicted me in many differing forms  for many many more years.

Eventually through a change of circumstances, our interaction became less and less and so began a slow organic distancing, at least in a physical sense. Emotionally, mentally,  he was still ‘with ‘ me. Again,  part of the Stockholm syndrome.  Although not a part of my life, I still felt I needed his approval.

I lived with the secret of this abuse for more than 20 years, enduring years of guilt, anxiety, stress, panic attacks and depression. I struggled to understand spiritual concepts because I had been victim to them being twisted and perverted. I carried a heavy burden, unable to release it for fear that if I shared it and the truth came out, I would be called at best, a trouble maker. I worried about the impact the truth would have on my family (neither my parents, my husband of 11 years nor my grown up son knew what had happened) and the fall out in the church. A couple of close friends knew the barest minimum that I had dared to drip feed over the years. But no-one knew the whole story. No one knew the truth.

I was still a member (albeit very much on the fringes) of the Jesus Fellowship when an announcement was made in 2013 I think it was, that they wanted people to come forward if they had any knowledge or personal accounts of abuse that had taken place during their time in the church. My immediate response was a manifestation of butterflies in my stomach, nausea, trembling and a racing heart. That announcement began a small panic attack. I knew without doubt, that I had to speak out about what had happened to me 20 years earlier.

But it wasn’t that easy. Due to what I now understand as the complexity and symptoms of the type of abuse that took place, I was still in touch with this leader. We were still ‘friends’ of a sort. He was still someone who’s approval I wanted in my life. How could anyone possibly believe that I could make allegations of past abuse against this person when they still saw us talking? It made little sense to me.  How would it make sense to anyone else.

And so I procrastinated. 2 years after the request for disclosures,  I was still considering my options, thinking over and over of the consequences and scenarios that might follow. I could continue to live with the burden that I’d carried for so long, that had affected my mental health, my self-confidence, my self-belief, my faith, my relationships, my trust in men. Or, I could speak out.

The thing was, I was sure I wasn’t the only woman that had been affected by this man and so I decided to wait until someone else was brave enough to tell their story first. But that didn’t seem to be happening. I could only surmise that they had asked themselves the same questions I had:

How will the church cope with the revelation? It will be like a bombshell. What about my marriage? What about my family? Big questions that only served to suggest that the matter should just be buried again. There was just going to be too much fall out.

And fall out there was!

2 years ago (after 2 years wondering whether or not it would be the right thing to do), I submitted my disclosure to the safeguarding team and a series of events that can, from my side of the fence, can only be seen as a catalogue of further abuse, took place. This is not a reflection on the safeguarding team but on the senior leadership team that handled it.

I have been asked on numerous occasions why, as an adult (the abuse was on going from the age of 20),  I let this happen.  I must have been okay with it. I must have been secretly in love with him. I  spent years asking myself the same question and hating myself for allowing it to happen. Feeling absolutely nauseated at the fact that I could allow someone to behave this way with me. Angry at myself, self-loathing, wondering if there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t say no. Except that I did say no on many occasions. But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t strong enough.

The issue is that although I was an adult,  I was a vulnerable adult, groomed, manipulated and controlled to an extent I was unable to speak about it until I was in my 40s, such was the strength of it. It was a secret I hid from my husband for 11 years. It has affected my ability to trust and means I have huge reactions if I feel someone is trying to control me in any way.  During those 4 years particularly, I learned to disassociate myself,  my emotions, from what was going on.

You may question ‘vulnerable adult. This is a tricky psychological package to unravel, but put simply, if you were brought up in the controlling environment I, along with many others were, (which, at that time, without question, bore all the trademarks of a cult), you were programmed to ‘accept a lot of things as ‘right’ and without question, even if your gut told you they were wrong. This was only exacerbated by being female in a male dominated culture. Again, the background detail is far too extensive and complicated to explain here.  Not questioning a leaders behaviour was part of the psyche.

Being treated favourably does not mean abuse has not taken place!

I have been asked by people who I had considered ‘spiritual’ and ‘insightful’ why I made a disclosure. That it was destructive. It was suggested that maybe I could have gone about things in a less disruptive way. That my actions meant that the church had lost a valuable leader. Their ignorance at both the need for truth and that a deceitful man could be part of a leadership team has utterly shocked me. Before I made the disclosure, I tried several times to speak to my abuser 1 to 1, to request that he come forward of his own volition. Each time I was unsuccessful, because after a couple of sentences into the conversation he would decide there was somewhere else he needed to be. I also tried to make discrete enquiries to the senior leadership team as to whether they knew of any of the things that had happened. But after waiting 6 weeks for a response, concluded they didn’t think the matter important.

I did what I could to try and alleviate the fallout.

I did what was right at great cost to myself,  because the fact is, truth sets us free. That means you and that means me.

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