02 September 2022, The Tablet

Churches to continue support service for abuse victims

More than 300 victims of church-related abuse have used the Safe Spaces scheme during its two-year trial period.

Churches to continue support service for abuse victims

The Bishop of the Forces, Paul Mason, at his installation in 2012. He is the lead on safeguarding for the Catholic bishops' conference, and sits on the board of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency.
Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales/Mazur

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has announced that it will continue the Safe Spaces service, provided jointly with the Church of England, to support victims of church-based abuse. This follows a successful two-year trial of the scheme.

The service, run through its pilot period by the charity Victim Support, offers a confidential helpline and personal support to those who have suffered abuse through their relationship with the Church. It is staffed by a team of trained support advocates, who have undergone specialist training in supporting survivors of sexual violence, and specific training on church abuse cases.

More than 300 victims have used the service since it began in September 2020.

An independent assessment found the pilot a success, and the Churches will now begin a tendering process to find a long-term provider to take over from Victim Support in January. The charity said it would be “working closely with the Churches to ensure a smooth transition and extending our support for victims currently in our service in the meantime”.

Victim Support confirmed to The Tablet that it had not expected to run the service beyond the pilot.

The lead on safeguarding for the Catholic bishops’ conference is the Bishop of the Forces, Paul Mason, who is also on the board of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency. He said it was “vital that victims and survivors of church-related abuse get the support they need, when they need it, from an independent specialist source”.

Although Safe Spaces is funded by the Churches, it is run independently.

Bishop Mason continued: “Whether you have used the Safe Spaces service previously, are currently receiving support, or may in the future, we will do everything we can to make sure there is always this free, confidential service available to you.”

The Anglican Bishop of Southampton, Debbie Sellin, is a trustee of Safe Spaces. She said that the two years of the pilot scheme demonstrated how it “provides a vital support service to those who have experienced church-related abuse and I am encouraged that we are now moving to establish it on a longer term footing”.

She confirmed that existing users will remain in contact with the current team from Victim Support, while those contacting Safe Spaces from 23 September would be supported by a team from the Splitz Support Service, which will cover the scheme until January.

Safe Spaces was welcomed by campaigners when it was launched in 2020, but both Catholic and Anglican Church authorities were criticised for their slow progress in starting the initiative, which had taken six years.

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