Even as more sexual abuse cases by Catholic Church clergy members are revealed, many victims and survivors remain silent because they fear repercussions. They are not alone; many of their advocates say they have also been persecuted for speaking out about the abuse.
An August 2018 report by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown detailed the abuse of over a thousand children in Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. It stated that the children’s stories were not always believed, and their reputations were often attacked. Over 300 priests were named in the grand jury report. Many claim these priests were allowed to take advantage of the children without any penalties.
It seems as though the survivors and their families were the ones that were penalized. One former student at an Allentown Catholic school reported abuse to her principal around 1964, and was then expelled. Forty years later, when she filed a lawsuit against the Allentown Diocese, she became the subject of the investigation. The grand jury reported that the diocese looked into the accusations, but claimed that the priest denied the abuse.
Representatives for the diocese claim that the survivor had been sexually promiscuous in school, had sexual relations with a school coach, and had worked as a striper. They attempted to discredit her and tarnish her reputation. Adding insult to injury, the group also went after her husband, who belonged to the Christian Motorcyclists Association. It was implied that the husband belonged to a group of outlaw bikers. These attempts to damage the survivor’s case fell flat though, and the City Council eventually fired the diocese’s attorney.
Research conducted by a criminology professor at the University of Chicago suggests that up to 80 percent of sexual abuse victims feel blamed in some way for what happened. She explained that many of those accused are well-respected community members, including priests. When others learn of the abuse, they may be more likely to believe the person holding the power rather than the accuser.
This can lead to investigating the victim and questioning their motives. When other make comments like, “you are way too sensitive,” or “he would never do something like that!” and “if you did not dress that way, it never would have happened” shift the blame to the innocent person. Questions about why the victim did not speak up or fight back may also be voiced.
Research indicates that only around 50 to 66 percent of sexual assault survivors ever share their traumatic experiences with others. This can lead to long-term trauma, including mental and physical health disorders.
Sexual abuse survivors who have remained silent should know that they do have choices. The first step is to find a trusted confidante. This person should understand the gravity of the situation and protect the survivor when the time comes to share their story.
If you or someone you love was sexually abused by a clergy member, we can help. Contact a compassionate, highly experienced Allentown clergy abuse lawyer at Williams Cedar to discuss your rights and legal options. We are dedicated to fighting for you and protecting your family. To arrange a free consultation at our Philadelphia offices or our Haddonfield, New Jersey offices, call 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777 today or contact us online. We proudly represent clients in Philadelphia, Allentown, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Johnstown, Eerie, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and nationwide.