How to Report Abuse
- As Barbara Blaine of the SNAP says: ‘Acknowledge your courage. It takes courage to acknowledge that we’ve been abused and it is not easy to even admit it to ourselves. Just looking at this web site is a big step.’ She also says to remember that ‘you are not alone.’ If criminal activity of any kind (i.e.: threat of violence and physical assault, sexual assault, rape, sex with minors, etc.) is involved, you must go directly to the civil authorities. Do not go to your church officials first. Note that criminal charges do not necessarily result in de-frocking or removal of a priest, so you may write to the church officials later — in that case, follow the instructions below.
- In the case of non-criminal conduct, you may write an official letter to the bishop which details the charges. Use specific names, incidents, places and times. Include documentation if you have it (e.g.: phone records, letters, photographs, witness reports, etc.). Some victims worry that their stories might be too sexually explicit or too violent to write about in detail, however specifics are important and give your letter credibility. If you need help, let us know. We are very experienced in letter writing of this sort. You may wish to consult a lawyer who is experienced in church abuse cases.
- State what you expect from the bishop (e.g.: you may wish to demand that the perpetrator is de-frocked; perhaps you need money for therapy costs or financial loss after abuse, maybe you want a formal apology, etc. These requests depend on the individual). We recommend that you do not sign a gag order, secrecy clause, or confidentiality agreement, despite the pressure they may put on you to do so. Your experience is your truth. Don’t let church officials take that away from you. If you wish to share your story with your friends, family, or the public or the media, that is your prerogative. Your story may help others later on. Note that if your perpetrator is your bishop, you may have to direct your grievances to a higher authority or to the lay-people in your community.
- Keep copies of everything you send, including all documents, court records and evidence.
- Courtesy copy your letters to Cappy Larson — Pokrov.org, Post Office Box 170654, San Francisco, CA 94117. For your protection, we urge you to courtesy copy Pokrov.org on all of your correspondence with the church. These letters would still remain confidential, but would allow us to maintain accurate records of dates and incidents of abuse. Your permission would be needed for us to use your letters for any other reason than keeping confidential files in our office. Also, seeing that Pokrov.org knows about your complaint may give the officials more of a push to act more swiftly in your case. Currently we have many such documents in our files. We may be able to put you in touch with another victim of your abuser.
- If you do not receive adequate response from your hierarch, or your bishop is the perpetrator, write to his peers or superior. If that does not achieve the desired response, you can try other options. Some of our readers have courtesy copied the entire SCOBA list or their entire parish. Some have gone to their local journalists or TV stations, some have sent letters to members of their parish and diocese. Others have prepared documents for Pokrov and we have published them on our site.
- Be prepared for what may happen. We have not heard of one case where the church has responded appropriately after hearing from a victim. Also, your family and community may shun you, blame you or not believe you. You may be demonized and told you are hurting the church. You may be told that you are gossiping and judgmental or crazy. Every victim, including us that work at Pokrov.org, has experienced the pain of the community’s anger. Do not meet with the church officials or your abuser alone! You will need support. we can help you find an advocate. There are also plenty of good reasons not to contact the church [Read Barbara Blaine’s Article here]. Please let us at Pokrov know if you need one of us as an advocate. You can also check out other resources such as SNAP.
- Learn your legal rights. Many people we learn about were quietly paid by the church to keep silent. For most victims it’s not about the money. An apology, outrage at what happened to them, public acknowledgement and justice and disclosure of the truth would be enough for most people. Often victims didn’t turn to the law-enforcement authorities in order to ‘protect the church.’ They assumed the church would do the right thing, but found their abusers were sent to other parishes where they were repeated their crimes. By the time they feel ready to come forward, the statute of limitations has passed. Barbara Blaine of SNAP says: “Many SNAP members ignored learning about our legal rights because we assumed we didn’t need to learn them because the church leaders would do the right thing. By the time we figured out that the church leaders were not going to do the right thing it was too late for many of us to exercise our legal rights. We have noticed that frequently the church leaders string victims along until the statute of limitations has run, or in layman’s terms, the opportunity we had to file a claim was over before we knew it. By the time many of us realized it was too late to do anything. That experience was so painful to many survivors because it was another moment of helplessness and powerlessness at the hands of our perpetrator or his supervisors.”
- Take care of yourself. You are a unique and precious person. What happened to you will affect the rest of your life. Find a therapist, or counselor and/or a support group. Let your family and friends know what you are going through and talk about it with them if you can. Many victims turn to self-destructive behaviors after what happened to them. Some turn to addictions such as drugs or alcohol, some struggle with mental health issues such as depression or suicidal tendencies. Your health and well being come first. Find help and remember that you are not alone and it is not your fault. Read through our articles for more information.