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Child sexual abuse is alarmingly common. Roughly one in ten children are sexually abused at some point. This umbrella term includes both physical and verbal abuse. Both are equally harmful. Generally, sexual abuse is any act which degrades the victim in any way, and gratifies the abuser’s sexual appetites in any way.
After hundreds of years of denials (verified cases of clergy child sexual abuse go back to at least the 1390s), the Catholic Church has finally enacted binding, written policies which prohibit this practice. As a result, clergy and priest abuse attorneys are now well-positioned to help survivors obtain compensation in these cases.
When we meet with sexual abuse survivors, we try to keep the following seven principles in mind. We encourage other people to do the same when they talk to people who have been sexually mistreated by Catholic clergy, or in a similar situation.
In this context, listening means more than waiting for your turn to speak. Listening means allowing the speakers to unburden themselves of the baggage they have carried. Listening also means making these individuals feel less isolated and alone.
Finally, listening is not easy. The survivor may share graphic memories that are difficult to hear.
Much like listening, validation is a delicate matter. Sometimes, the victim’s memories may not completely make sense. But there is a big difference between “validation” and things like judging or assessing. Validation basically means acknowledging that something inappropriate happened and the victim could not have done anything to prevent it. Some common validation phrases, which do not take sides and are not judgmental, include:
The bottom line is that validation is not about measuring credibility or assessing blame. Someone else can fill these roles. Validation is about caring for the person and loving that person.
Many people who listen to sexual abuse victims try to push them into certain responses. These efforts may be well-intentioned, but they are not productive. The victim may feel powerless and helpless.
Instead of urging people to take steps they are not ready to take, go slow and ask how else you can help. Even something as simple as preparing a meal or taking their kids out for pizza may go a long way.
Many organizations are dedicated to clergy sexual abuse survivors. These people can find solace and support at places like:
These organizations offer professional counsellors who can make a big difference in the life of a clergy sexual abuse survivor.
Just like the sexual abuse process often does not happen overnight, the healing process often takes time as well. There will be other conversations, and you will have additional opportunities to provide assistance.
Recall that the healing process, at least initially, is all about letting survivors tell their stories in safe places. The healing process does not require listeners and people who care about survivors to pick up their baggage and carry it. However, it is very tempting to do so.
Counsellors often refer to this phenomenon as vicarious trauma, and it can be as bad as the initial trauma. So, know your limits.
Listeners must protect the victims’ privacy and respect their wishes as to reporting the abuse. But this move is usually a good idea, especially since there are usually anonymous reporting portals which do not make any names or information public.
Reporting the alleged incident brings the situation into the light, and most sexual predators thrive in darkness. Additionally, a report begins a paper trail, which could be necessary in a different context at a later date.