Was it just a few bad apples?

The following has been compiled by Erin Woodger from the JFSA and all numbers are to the best of his knowledge and understanding following 18 months of listening to the abused and investigating.

Many people believe that the abuse within the Jesus Fellowship (JF) was just a few bad apples and the majority of leaders were holy christians, this is just wrong.

Here are the numbers:

There have been 10 convictions of members of the JF for child abuse.

At its peak there were approx 3000 members at one time.

There are now approx 250 members.

We estimate there to have been over 6000 people connected to the JF over the years.

9 of the senior leaders have had allegations of serious sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual behaviour against them.

Noel Stanton has had multiple allegations against him including sexual, financial and psychological abuse.

We know of the the following accounts of abuse;

Sexual abuse: 64

Physical abuse: 94

Number of alledged perpetrators: 43

We have never documented psychological, financial and spiritual abuse, but everyone who has contacted us has been abused in one of these ways.

We know that there will have been lots of abuse that we do not know of, we might not be in touch with the victim or they might just not be ready to talk about what happened, we estimate there to be in total over 400 instances of sexual and physical abuse and thousands of instances of psychological, financial and spiritual abuse.

How has this abuse affected peoples lives?

Many were innocent children when their abuse happened.

The beloved culture of the JF has been one of the most abusive damaging environments to bring up children and has all the hallmarks of a cult.

This abuse has been horrific and the cover-ups have and still compound the affects on our lives.

The affects on peoples lives has been devastating and the following is just a small sample of what some still suffer due to the JF’s willful neglect.

  • Anxiety and panic attacks, Feeling like nowhere is safe, I panic in crowds and start seeing my abuser around me.
  • I was on medication for anxiety and depression for 15 years. I self-medicated with alcohol, smoking and other addictive behaviours to the point of becoming unwell with autoimmune conditions affecting my hormones and leading to infertility.
  • I suffer from PTSD
  • Extreme alertness and hyper vigilance e.g. 25 years after leaving I still jump when a door bangs or when the door bell rings.  I cannot be near any confrontation and run from a mild argument.  Even a raised voice makes me feel physically sick and causes sweating and trembling.
  • Insecurity, I live afraid of rejection and over compensate to ensure that people like me. I need validation and have an Inability to value myself.
  • I never feel good enough. Constantly putting myself down, I expect perfection from myself so always set myself up for a fall.
  • I hate my personality because I’m not loud/extrovert/charismatic/ I’m shy and prefer quiet and I’m not always being surrounded by people.
  • I over-apologise for my existence.
  • I have complete self-hatred for my body because of being told it stumbles others.
  • I learnt to hate myself when I was good at something (natural talent), I am ashamed of things I do well.
  • I have a negative imprint from childhood which has altered the neural pathways in my brain resulting in depression, self doubt, self loathing, constant ‘fight or flight’ reactions. I have an Inability to take up career opportunities because of this. 
  • A 30-year delay in succeeding at my chosen career due to lack of interest in my education growing up and being told my chosen career wasn’t suitable for me.  There was no option for me to attend university whilst in the Jesus Army so I had to start my education again years later whilst trying to raise my young family.  This has had a massive negative impact on my career progression and potential earnings.
  • I felt scared and lost on leaving and was completely unprepared for the ‘real world’.
  • I am vulnerable to abusive relationships in adulthood, as i tended to fall for flattery from narcissists/needy contact-type people, naively believing that i could help them, then finding myself completely out of my depth, extremely vulnerable and often in danger. I ended up having to flee domestic violence whilst heavily pregnant and ended up homeless and unemployed and having to restart from scratch.
  • I am completely unable to take compliments.
  • I have little or no understanding of social etiquette.
  • I believed men have rights over woman, allowing myself to be shut up because I’m a woman and not able to ‘be heard’ when I said things were wrong.
  • I have had a major resentment to being pushed into gender-specific roles/ told what to do by my husband! Years of ingrained ‘sister’ lectures on how to behave/ being pushed into responsibilities of doing the domestic work etc now make me resent having to do all the domestic work at home, with no appreciation, even now.
  • I desperately worry that my hang-ups/anxieties/insecurities/behaviors will be passed on to my kids, as they are already over-apologetic like me.
  • I am a people pleaser, Unable to say no without feeling guilty.
  • The physical impact of learning how to do things like challenging or standing up for yourself/beliefs etc when you were taught it was selfish and ungodly and you could be disciplined for doing so.
  • Fighting within a relationship gives me diarrhea each time due to the stress and anxiety. I start to panic about my finances and how I’m going to manage, and I’ve no one I can talk to about it. I’m too embarrassed to talk to my parents.
  • I feel complete isolation.
  • As a young person I had no real understanding of what love is. I fell for my soon to become husband, because he showed me what I assumed to be love (and probably was on his part) because he was caring towards me and wanted me.I have only just realised that I assumed I was in love, but that I was in love with the idea of what I thought was love, not what real love is.
  • Not knowing and not being able to have relationships as a teenager has meant I didn’t get the chance to discover what’s good/not good and to understand about the opposite sex and how to work through having relationships. Having had none of that, I was totally ill equipped to judge or be able to work out whether this relationship was right for me in the long term. I’d been brought up to believe lots of very strange and wrong things about marriage and relationships – ultimately it is only now that I’ve been able to understand the effects of my childhood experience, that I understand why my marriage failed.  It’s been a huge burden of guilt for me that I couldn’t carry on with it and make it work-because it required too much sacrifice for me as a person. But with two young children this has been extremely tough indeed.
  • I drifted as a teenager and have struggled to form trusting relationships. I have and continue to find sexual intimacy very difficult and in the past would sabotage my relationships or choose the wrong relationships because I felt little or no worth as a woman. I went through a period of promiscuousness and in the extreme even now can also be cold and unloving. I hate being stroked or touched and I am not overtly cuddly or tactile. I am what I would call a high functioning depressive (situational depression) and I suffer with anxiety. I fight every day to be of worth, to make something of my life that I can be proud of because the alternative is to give up. Last year after the court case I felt suicidal. I didn’t tell anyone. I have all my life felt so alone, lonely, but I can’t trust people. 
  • I have an Inability to see and accept anything good.
  • I find it incredibly hard to rest/relax/ look after myself.
  • I have a fear of God’s judgment and being sent to Hell, I still think God will judge me if I do things wrong. 
  • I have not been listened to ‘re my abusive marriage – because my husband is so well respected in the church.
  • I have spent years self harming
  • I have a distorted view of ‘family’ and very little connection with my family.
  • I have attachment disorder.
  • I feel incredible rage/anger.
  • I have addictions such as alcohol, substance abuse, sex, gambling which I use to cope/control.
  • I have suffered from Bulimia/Anorexia.
  • I live with psychological issues including schizophrenia.
  • I am very bad at money management/budgeting and often get into serious debt.
  • I am compulsive in an extreme way and will do things without thinking them through.
  • I suffer from depression.
  • I believe Noel destroyed my father and he distorted others because of it.
  • I suffer from a severe lack of sleep and a sense of never being at peace.  I do not believe I have ever slept a full night.  I have never woken up refreshed or awake.  For the first 10 years after leaving the Jesus Army my husband tells me I regularly used to scream, cry and shout in my sleep.
  • I have bad dreams and sleep disturbance. For years after leaving the Jesus Army I suffered with regular recurring nightmares – at least once a week – about control and confrontation. They usually took the form of a medieval battle or of being taken captive and sent to a Nazi concentration camp. They were vivid, disturbing and difficult to shake off. I still have them, though less frequently.
  • I have a mistrust of everyone.
  • At times I am overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and grief.
  • I have difficulty making friends due to mistrust and my experience of growing up with friends who left the Jesus Army before me – I was banned from having any contact with them and some I have never seen again.  These were the only few people who could have protected me and kept me safe from my abusers; however I grew up believing that I wasn’t good enough and that ‘everyone leaves’.  I still believe this today.
  • I have difficulty bonding with and parenting my own child due to my own lack of responsive and sensitive parenting, and I have an inability to play with or enjoy my children.
  • As a female I was viewed as inferior to men, which translated into God seeing me as inferior (even sub-human) too. My own Father was mostly absent due to grueling church commitments most evenings and weekends. Even my communication with God was not mine but was undertaken though Elders and Shepherds, giving no encouragement for a ‘personal relationship with God/Jesus’. The entire direction of my existence (love, life, education, career, food, sleep) came from men within the church nominated by the church as having dominion over me.
  • To leave the church was to leave God. It’s a simple teaching but with far from simple repercussions and so began 15 years of turmoil, fear, shame, guilt and confusion. We lived with a member of the Senior Leadership Team for my time in the church and he has heard my struggles and confusion ever since I left, offering no help or support, only the arrogance that is the luxury of the empowered and their dismissive platitudes that ‘God would cover it’. No remorse or sorrow shown.
  • My experience of growing up in the Jesus Army and the extreme spiritual abuse endured therein has damaged any relationship or faith I may have had in a God and made me very hardened and cynical towards religion.
  • I have suffered mental health issues as a consequence of the sexual abuse and my upbringing in the care of the Jesus Army. 
  • I have learned that I can be at risk of neglecting my own physical and wellbeing needs as I don’t feel I am worth it or I put time and effort into doing a good job at every aspect of my life as I want to please everyone. I start sentences with a sorry as if I am apologising for my existence.
  • I lived with the secret of my 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 troublemaker. 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.
  • Lack of self-esteem. There was relentless teaching and preaching about the need to repent of our faults: hours and hours of being shouted at and told you were “falling short”. We were mistakenly taught that our identity was found in our sin. Little surprise then, perhaps, that it was difficult to be confident and believe in myself. Add to this the way women/girls were treated – always as the underdog with no rights of redress – being confident remains a challenge for me and has added to the stress I’ve faced in the work place, and even in simple things like accessing public transport, going shopping and generally interacting with the world at large.
  • I have had very poor attendance records in all my places of work. During my first job I was so ill (provoked by no self-confidence – despite achieving outstanding results at secretarial college – and having male bosses) that I had to attend hospital for a number of tests in order to come to a diagnosis of what was really the problem – stress. In total, I had five weeks straight off work. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of a poor attendance pattern. When I worked for a community business I was informed that, had I been in a “worldly” job, I would have been sacked for taking so much time off ill. This is why I registered as self-employed, even though I have often failed to earn any money – at least this way I only have myself to answer to.
  • Breakdown of my marriage. In 1996 I married someone who had also spent a long time in the Jesus Army. He has always been very loving and caring, but because of my experience growing up sexual intimacy has proved very hard to achieve. Sadly, in February this year we separated. We are still living in the same property, however, as we have never financially recovered from having to pool all our early resources into the Jesus Army and do not, therefore, have the means to find separate accommodation.
  • I suffer from mental health issues. In addition to my poor work attendance due to stress, I have suffered severe depression and have been taking anti-depressant medication almost continuously since I left the Jesus Army. I have lived for years feeling suicidal – saved often only by the fact that I became a mother and had my children to care for. I tried several times, unsuccessfully, to work things out via counselling, and even attended an assertiveness course in the hope that it would help me shake off the poor self-esteem I had. The leaders of the course told me I was very capable but was “like a caged bird that needed permission to be set free”. I have never given up the pursuit of that freedom and am currently working with a counsellor who specialises in helping cult survivors. I am finding this a hugely positive and empowering experience.
  • Reduced earning potential. Both my school and I wanted me to go to university, but I was told I had to settle for a secretarial course at a nearby college. However, after my marriage I had the opportunity to study again and prove that I was capable of something more. I studied Psychology of Human Communication at De Montfort University, came out with a 1st class Honours Degree and an invitation to study for a PhD. My academic abilities were intact, but sadly my confidence still was not and I, therefore, failed to reap the full benefits this level of education might have afforded me.
  • After being sexually abused by an elder at the church, I do not trust men, especially older men in a position of power. I always think they have an ulterior motive.
  • I get scared that if someone looks at me, they know ‘what I’ve done’ and are judging me.
  • 7 years on from my sexual abuse and I still feel dirty, and that like I was told, God is angry with me because of this.
  • My mum also feels incredible guilt over it, as she believes she didn’t protect me, and blames herself. This strains our relationship at times.