I used to be the manager of an emergency hostel for young homeless people in Soho, central London for the charity Centrepoint. Day after day, young people came to us highly damaged by drugs, self-harm, prostitution, violence, low self-esteem and poverty. However, underpinning all of these issues was so often the issue of family breakdown which was like an underlying trigger for so many young people’s downward descent into homelessness.
Again, since the rioting and looting which rocked the country in August, many people have been debating what the key issues were which created the conditions for the chaos we saw unleashed. Almost all commentators had to admit that breakdown of the family was one of the key factors.
As a social worker and someone whose political opinions are generally on the left, I know all too well that even talking about family breakdown makes many people nervous. No one wants to sound judgmental or old fashioned or look like they are blaming others. And of course, it is true that highlighting the problem is the easy part – its far more tricky to think can be done to help people stay together and support families under pressure. This is where many churches are on the front line– running parent and toddlers groups, marriage preparation courses and a whole host of community groups which create solidarity and support for families.
The real scandal
The scandalous aspect of this big issue is that there are powerful corporations who are actually making money through websites which encourage and facilitate people to have affairs and be unfaithful to their partners. Global Personals is one such company. Based in Windsor and run by CEO Ross Williams, Global Personals run a wide range of on-line dating websites. Most of their work is great and to be applauded. However, they also choose to run sites like Marital Affair and Affairs Dating which are aimed specifically to encourage married people to have affairs. What is even worse, these websites are advertised on high street billboards. Global Personals’ websites therefore encourage and profit from people being unfaithful. I believe this aspect of their work is toxic to the well being of our communities and ultimately to the rest of their business.
Miroslav Volf has written ‘Much of the power of evil lies in the perverse truth it tells about the warped well-being it creates’ (Exclusion and Embrace, p 89). His quote has never been more true than in this case, where these websites promote the idea of an affair as being healthy and something beneficial to someone when affairs actually lead to misery and suffering, especially for the children affected.
But what can be done?
In January 2010, I saw a huge advert for one of their websites Marital Affair close to where I live and I complained to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) about it. They rejected my complaint, saying it “did not offend against widely held moral or cultural standards”. So I set up a Facebook group about it. Over the course of 4 days, over 4000 people got involved in the campaign and the pressure we put on the company led to the advert’s withdrawal. However, Global Personals have continued to run the websites.
Just last week, more adverts for another affairs website, made the news because they used a photo of Boris Johnson on their billboards. Make no mistake, these websites are on the rise and they love to court publicity through their controversial adverts – they want concerned people to make a noise about them to give them extra publicity.
So instead of focusing on the adverts and giving them publicity, we need to focus on the companies that lie behind the brand. Often, these companies have a very wide range of business and will not want to be closely associated with websites which encourage people to have affairs. They know the work is toxic and just want to quietly make money from what it does without being too connected.
‘Going upstream’ for justice
As Desmond Tutu has said ‘We shouldn’t just be pulling people out of the river. We should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in’. We should be helping people in communities but we also need to act against those who are undermining society. We should be merciful and compassionate but we also need to work for justice. This is what led campaigners in previous generations to change the laws around child-labour in mines and factories and expose the corporate greed that lay behind such injustices. The same is true today – we should not be nervous about exposes and challenging the corporate money-making that lies behind such toxic websites.
This issue brings together a wide range of people – from different faiths and none and across the political spectrum. We need the ‘conservative’ defence of family values but we also need the ‘liberal’ concern about corporate irresponsibility. Both can be united in standing up against people who are intent on making money through breaking up people’s relationships.
This unity lies at the heart of the Faithfulness Matters movement. We believe faithfulness matters to everyone – for families, for children, for the vulnerable and especially to our society. We need to make a stand against people who are intent on undermining relationships in the name of money-making. If you are interested in joining please see our statement and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s not debate the issues in abstract, let’s get involved and make a stand to show that faithfulness matters. Let’s show the vibrancy and commitment of this movement in making a stand against those who seem happy to help break up relationships simply to make money.
Jon Kuhrt lives in Streatham with his wife Nikki and their three young children