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I wrote a blog post in February, 2013 titled “Is there a Survivors’ Community” in which I was looking for answers from survivors about our community, our way forward and who speaks for us. In May,2013 I expressed my frustration in another post, “Crickets, Silence on the net…” that I did not hear from anyone in the survivor’s community. According to the analytics I see on this blog, plenty of people read the original but no one offered their thoughts.
Here we are again and I am wondering why we can’t move forward. I am wondering what the factors are in keeping us separated, unorganized and losing ground in efforts to change legislation and have society take the problem of sexual abuse and rape of children and vulnerable adults seriously.
A reporter contacted me a while back on a story concerning a priest accused of molesting a young boy. He had already published the story but wanted my feedback. He had used a quote from SNAP for the article, the same inane drivel that the National Director of that organization generically applies to any and all cases of abuse on which he is queried. It made me wonder.
What is it going to take? What would it take to get a coherent message from the survivor community to articulate the message that children and vulnerable adults are at risk from predators who enjoy a certain level of top cover from institutions who are more concerned with a risk management strategy than with the protection of those who need it most? Is there a way that the message can be successfully crafted and articulated? Can it be molded into a strategy that allows for the development of stronger laws to protect victims and enable the predators and their protectors to be held accountable both criminally and civilly? Can we develop a voice that is institutionally agnostic and not narrowly focused on the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of American, Penn State or any other notorious institution with a history of child sexual crimes?
The other side of this argument is well-organized and well-funded. Despite the fact that organizations like the Catholic League are notorious for spewing lies and portraying victims as predators or being responsible for the abuse inflicted upon them, we have no credible organization, at the national level, that can present a coherent case for the need for change in legislation, education, institutional culture, and society in dealing with predators who prey on children. We have no credible counters on Fox News to the Bill Donohues of the world.
We don’t need shrill fundraisers who only seem to hang around looking for the next donation to pay the salary or travel expenses for the next hit and run media opportunity. (It must be convention time again.) We need serious people who can step up and credibly do the work. We need to actually network the survivors of child sexual abuse, their supporters, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the legislatures in all the states to move in the direction of making the punishment so vile for crimes of this nature for both the predator and the institution that protects the predator that there is no where for the predator to find a safe haven.
As with many stories, the public eventually gets weary and loses interest. That is what institutions like the Catholic Church want. They want everything to blow over, go away, disappear. The predators want that as well so that they may return to the business of grooming their next victim. Perhaps it is time to find our national voice, our national strategy, our universal calling to actually effect a long-lasting change. The shrill voices from Chicago and St. Louis have proven that they are not up to the task. Who will step up?
Are you still out there?
The SNAP Conference is coming up this weekend in Northern Virginia. Beginning Friday evening at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, just south of Washington, D.C., SNAP members from all over the country and perhaps from around the world will come together to listen to speakers, mix and exchange stories and try to draw some comfort and strength from other victims of sexual crimes committed by clergy.
I attended the conference a few years ago when after I went public with my own story of abuse. The weekend was eye-opening. There were people in the room who had made great strides towards recovery while others were still on their personal journeys.
At the conference I sought out some of the leaders of SNAP and talked to them about really networking the membership, setting up a blog roll for the people blogging on the topic of sexual crimes committed by clergy and lay employees of religious organizations and finding a way to use social media to bring this group together. There was lots of enthusiasm, but no action.
I withdrew my support for SNAP after I started seeing a pattern of odd behavior and an effort by the National Director to stifle any kind of initiative to do new things or come up with a more coherent strategy to lobby for changes in the laws of states that have not extended statutes of limitation to allow for more time to protect the rights of children or vulnerable adults who have been the victims of crimes committed by clergy.
There are some people who have contended that SNAP is controlled by the church while others say it is an organization that funnels clients to attorneys who make a lot of money suing the church. I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I also think that the current leadership is rehashing a strategy that is not working. If you look at the schedule of events for the upcoming conference you do not see any sessions in the main room, or as breakouts, about how to actually network the community through social media or to encourage blogging or other modern methods of harnessing the power of the community. You don’t see sessions on enabling survivors to work on local and state lawmakers to lobby for changes in existing laws.
You also do not see an open discussion of the organization’s budget, the decision-making process of National Leaders or the selection of board members out of the people who allegedly make up the membership of this organization.
You do see a lot of diverse groups talking about victimization and you will most likely hear a request for donations. What we have is not activism, it is passive submission to an agenda set by a very few, with those few having a direct financial stake in the agenda.
I would attend a SNAP Conference where the state of the organization to include a detailed discussion of budget and financial issues is encouraged. I would like to see an organization that would see the election of board members out of the membership in good standing. I would like to see National Leaders held accountable for their methods, tools and strategies. If they fail to meet goals agreed to by the membership, it should be the right of the members to demand a change in leadership.
There are many questions that don’t seem to be answered. There are many who would like to ask questions without fear of retribution from the National Leaders and their more zealous disciples.
I find it ironic that many of the tactics that the Catholic Church has used to control and isolate victims are part of the SNAP leadership strategy to remain firmly in place, collecting a paycheck and controlling a dialogue that is not really theirs to control.
Have a dialogue with all Survivors, encourage a conversation and realize that there is value in differing opinions. Take time to discuss the business of SNAP and establish procedures that will encourage confidence in those who donate to non-profit organizations that comply with established standards and best practices. Make this organization a true network and you will see results.
Finally, stop wasting everyone’s time changing the church. It is never going to happen. This fight will not be won in the pulpit or the pews, it has to be fought and won in the state legislatures and the courtroom. I have said it before and will continue to say it. There will be no profound change in the way the Catholic Church deals with pedophile priests until the church, as an institution, has to pay a price set by civil society that is so terrible that it has no choice but to change as an institution or perish. SNAP can be on the leading edge of that change or remain a self licking ice cream cone that does little more than offer a paycheck to a select few who may not really know where to lead the organization.
We will see what happens in northern Virginia over the weekend. Unfortunately, I do not hold out hope for any new direction!