Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Amidst the horrors of Ukraine, the fallout from Partygate and the Rwandan asylum seeker plan, another news story caught my eye. Sir Bradley Wiggins has disclosed in an interview for Men’s Health magazine that he was sexually groomed by his cycling coach when he was 13. No further details were supplied, but he testified to its impact into adulthood.
Sir Bradley has already spoken about his difficult relationship with his father, and suffering this newly reported abuse meant that, at the time, he felt there was no-one at home with whom he could share this. This double burden must have made his situation almost unbearable. As is well known, since then, he has been able to achieve so much in his chosen sport.
Our safeguarding training encourages us to consider why survivors of abuse can often find it hard to tell their story. Sir Bradley’s own account reminds us that fear of not being believed, and not having a safe place to share what has happened, remain major blockages to disclosure, which can then become the first gingerly taken step of a healing process. Disclosure may also lead to the perpetrator being held to account. Without a safe and trusting environment in which to talk about adverse childhood experiences, or breaches of trust in adult relationships, individual emotional wellbeing is likely to continue to suffer. The perpetrator may also believe they have got away with it if their behaviour is never challenged. They can try again elsewhere.
It’s not clear why Sir Bradley chose this interview, this month, to disclose what had happened to him. Research tells us that disclosure may coincide with a simple news report that jogs a memory, the impact of a campaign such as #MeToo, a significant personally affecting life event, or simply a sudden realisation that something locked away needs to be released.
Whatever prompts disclosure, our churches need to be ready to offer safe places for assured listeners to hear what’s being said. This is one reason why our training programme is entitled ‘Creating Safer Space’.