Bullying is another form of abuse, and it can be verbal or physical. Bullying doesn’t just happen to children, often adults can be victims too. There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is usually defined as a repeated pattern of behaviour intended to cause emotional or physical harm to another person, or exert power over them. The effect of bullying on the victim can be profound, both emotionally and physically, regardless of their age, ability or status.
It is important to recognise that bullying happens within churches, and it is not isolated to the children and young people. Anyone in the church can be a victim of bullying, just as anyone in the church can be the bully, including those in leadership.
Some examples of bullying that could arise in the church context are:
- Being verbally or physically abusive towards another person
- Isolating or deliberately ignoring someone, or excluding them from group activities
- Spreading rumours and malicious untruths about another person in the church
- Use of email, phone or social media to publicly challenge or undermine someone
- Name calling and personal insults
- Making false accusations
- Sending abusive messages or degrading images via phone, email or social media
Bullying will always cause a great deal of pain and harm for those on the receiving end. Many people affected by bullying, both children and adults, believe they have nowhere to turn. They are scared to speak out and often blame themselves. They can become fearful and reclusive. It is important that churches are able to recognise when bullying is occurring and are prepared to take action to resolve the situation.
Some signs that can indicate a person is being bullied are as follows:
- Withdrawal from group or church activities; appearing anxious, tearful or more reticent than usual, particularly in a certain context; development of mental health difficulties, such as depression or anxiety disorders; drop in performance relating to any church roles; physical injuries.
In order to help prevent bullying, the following procedures will be adopted within the church:
- The children and young people will be involved in agreeing a code of behaviour for their groups, which makes it clear that bullying is unacceptable. This should then be displayed somewhere visible to the whole church.
- The church will display signs stating the importance of valuing and respecting each other even in disagreements and this will be practically embedded into the leadership approach to others.
- Everyone in the church, whether children or adults, should know how they can report any incidents of bullying.
- All allegations of bullying will be treated seriously and details will be carefully checked before action is taken.
- The bullying behaviour will be investigated and bullying will be stopped as quickly as possible.
- An attempt will be made to help bullies change their behaviour.
- All allegations and incidents of bullying will be recorded, together with the actions that are taken.
- Where an allegation of bullying is made against a church or group leader, advice will be sought from the local Baptist Association Safeguarding Contact as this should be addressed.
- Incidents of bullying may be reported to the statutory authorities in line with the church safeguarding procedures.
It is important to distinguish bullying from other behaviour, such as respectfully challenging or disagreeing with someone else’s beliefs or behaviours, setting reasonable expectations with regard to work deadlines and activities or taking legitimate disciplinary action.
Working with Alleged or Known Offenders
When someone attending the church is known to have abused children or adults at risk, or a serious allegation has been made, the church safeguarding team will supervise the individual concerned and offer pastoral care, but in its commitment to protect vulnerable groups, will set boundaries for that person which they shall be expected to keep. These will be set out in what is known as a Safeguarding Contract.
When it is known that a person who has been convicted of abusing children, young people or adults is attending our church, it is important that their behaviour within the church community is properly managed and that a contract is put in place. There are also times when it will be appropriate to take such measures with a person who has faced allegations of abuse, but hasn’t been convicted.
In determining the details of the contract:
- The DPS will inform and take advice from the local Baptist Association Safeguarding Contact.
- A risk assessment will be undertaken with the help of the local Baptist Association Safeguarding Contact to determine the contents of the Safeguarding Contract.
- There will be a discussion about who should be informed about the nature of the offence and the details of the contract.
- The rights of the offender to re-build their life without people knowing the details of their past offence should be balanced against the need to protect children, young people and adults at risk.
- The members of the church Safeguarding Team will always be informed.
- The DPS should determine whether the person is subject to supervision or is on the Sex Offenders’ Register. If so, the DPS should contact the offender’s specialist probation officer (SPO) who will inform the church of any relevant information or restrictions that they should be aware of.
An open discussion will be held with the person concerned which will contribute to the risk assessment and in which clear boundaries are established for their involvement in the life of the church. A written contract will be drawn up which identifies appropriate behaviour. The person will be required to sign the contract and it will be monitored and enforced. If the contract is broken certain sanctions will be discussed and considered with the local Baptist Association Safeguarding Contact.
Alleged or known offenders who are themselves adults at risk
A risk assessment and formal contract may be quite a daunting process for someone with learning difficulties or a young person yet having safeguards in place is still necessary. Therefore, an alternative may be to arrange a meeting with the individual in question where they can be taken though the main elements of a formal contract in a way that is non-threatening and easy to understand. Notes would be taken and the individual would need to verbally agree to the requirements laid out in the meeting.
Rather than signing a formal ’contract’, the individual would instead sign to say that they agree with the minutes or meeting notes, and that they will stick to what has been agreed during the meeting. This will result in the same outcome as a contract but is a more informal and appropriate approach for an adult at risk. The agreed requirements will need to be reviewed regularly to make sure that the individual is complying, exactly as a formal contract would be. The church will work with the Association Safeguarding Contact throughout this process.