On reporting abuse

“Many survivors [from faith communities] 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 out, 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 has been so painful to many survivors because it was another moment of helplessness and powerlessness at the hands of our perpetrator or his supervisors.”

Barbara Blaine, 1956-2017

Founder, SNAP

Acknowledge your courage

It takes courage to tell another that we’ve been abused and it is not easy to even admit it to ourselves. Just looking at this website is a big step. Remember that you are not alone.

If you suspect criminal activity

If suspected criminal activity of any kind is involved, you must go directly to the civil authorities. Criminal activity includes stalking, threat of violence, physical assault, sexual assault, sexual activity with minors, sexual activity of any kind with minors, and rape, which is any vaginal or anal penetration or partial penetration with an object or body part. Without special training we are not able to determine whether a crime has been committed. That’s why it must be reported directly to civil authorities and not to church authorities. This may seem strange and intimidating to you, and we have no way of knowing for certain what the experience of reporting to authorities will be like for you. We understand the system is flawed, but it is all we have at this time in this culture. We encourage you to take someone older or more experienced with you: a trusted friend or family member, an advocate from a local rape crisis center, a specially trained therapist or legal advocate, a lawyer, or a SNAP survivor network volunteer.

What not to do

Do not go to your pastor or conference officials first as they are not licensed, trained, or equipped to handle this potentially criminal information. They are not equipped to conduct interviews or investigate sex crimes.  Unfortunately, they too often assume that they are equipped. Church insiders also often have unavoidable conflicts of interest. The person who harmed you may have been their college roommate, is a close friend, or a powerful and highly respected person in their conference or congregation. It may be difficult for them to truly put your needs first and help you think through all your options. You can go to them for support later, but our experience has shown the first contact should always be to an outside, independent agency or person. Remember that trained sex crime professionals are really the only persons in our culture able to make a credible determination as to whether or not a crime has been committed.

Non-Criminal/Civil Action

If after consulting authorities and learning there is not a criminal or civil case to pursue, your next step could be to consider writing an official letter to the conference officials or your pastor outlining the details of what happened to you. Use specific names, incidents, places and times, to whom you have already reported. 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 SNAP Mennonite know, mennonite@snapnetwork.org, 540-214-8874. SNAP survivor network has a long history of letter writing of this sort. You may also wish to consult a lawyer who is experienced in church abuse cases. Your church officials will be consulting their lawyer who is hired to protect their bottom line. So should you.
The operative words here are ‘outside and independent’ of any church or church institution, including Title IX officers. If I’m getting a paycheck or am under contract with the same institution where you were assaulted, I’m going to have to look out for my institution’s well being more than yours.

State what you expect from the church or church institution

You may want to demand that the perpetrator’s position or ordination comes under review; perhaps you need money for therapy costs or financial loss after abuse, maybe you want a formal public apology, or a notice of the accusation against the perpetrator by name in a church paper. These requests depend on you. No one can make these decisions for you.

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Do not sign a gag order, non-disclosure (secrecy) clause, or confidentiality agreement

Despite the pressure others you trust may put on you to do so. Your experience is your truth. Don’t let church officials, a defense lawyer, or anyone else 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. Depending on the position and power held by the perpetrator, you may have to direct your grievances to a higher authority or to the ‘people in the pews’ in your community.

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Keep copies of everything

You may want to demand that the perpetrator’s position or ordination comes under review; perhaps you need money for therapy costs or financial loss after abuse, maybe you want a formal public apology, or a notice of the accusation against the perpetrator by name in a church paper. These requests depend on you. No one can make these decisions for you.

Here is all that many of us want

Outrage openly expressed by others in our community for what has happened to us and clear responsibility for the wrong done placed squarely on the perpetrator. This is not a conflict to mediate or resolve–it is a wrong to be righted, a terrible injustice to be acknowledged and acted on openly and publicly.

Public acknowledgement of the misdeeds of the perpetrator. The victim, not a lawyer, controls what is or is not published. Disclosure of the truth allows other potential victims to discover they weren’t the only one and feel safer in coming forward. Thus the fuller truth can finally be discovered, and more possible abuse deterred.

Documented promise for anonymity and protection of our identity unless or until we decide it feels safe to come forward. Depending on the response of others, this may take a while or never happen at all.

Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into a long secret internal church process. Often victims have naively assumed the good people they grew up with in church would do the right thing for them.So they reported it and when they were told “let us handle it,” they followed orders.  But then they wait– and wait– and nothing happens. Their abusers remain in their jobs months after the report was filed, they might be allowed to quietly resign, then turn up leading another congregation in another denomination or teaching in another Christian school or administering a home for troubled teens. Victims may think the perpetrator’s name will be revealed publicly. They want to make certain such behavior is not tolerated and warn the public. But instead they watch the perpetrator go on with their life, able to find their way to the next job interview with knowledge of their past hidden behind secret church documents. These church processes can exhaust the victim and their families. Disheartened and enraged by the betrayal, a survivor may finally feel it is time to report to authorities or find a lawyer. Too often by the time they feel ready to come forward, the statute of limitations has passed and all legal options are closed.

Inadequate Responses

If you do not receive adequate response from your conference or church officials, or if your Executive Minister is the perpetrator, write to his or her peers or superior. If that does not achieve the desired response, there are other options. Some of our survivors have courtesy copied the letter describing the offense to the entire list of congregants where an abusive pastor continues to be allowed to lead. You might copy the entire list of leaders from your conference all the way up to the executive boards of the denomination.  Some survivors who cannot find justice and accountability from institutional leaders have gone to their local journalists or TV stations, or held signs and press conferences asking for full disclosure of the case outside the church or institutional offices. The MAP List is now also able to accept your letters and documents for publishing on our site in the interest of public safety and making it safer for others to come forward. SurvivorsStandingTall.org, a website providing opportunity for the self-expression of survivors may also offer an opportunity for you to find a wider audience.

Be prepared for what may happen.

We have yet to hear of one case where an Anabaptist Mennonite church or institution has responded in a way that we would consider responsible to public safety and serious about finding justice, accountability and the full truth 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 and bringing a ‘man of God’ down. You may be told that you are a gossip monger, judgmental or crazy. You may be blamed for using selfish, ‘scorched earth tactics.’ Every victim, including those that volunteer at The MAP List has experienced the pain of the family or community’s silent rejection and isolation if not outright anger.

Do not meet with the church officials or the abuser alone.

You will need support. We can help you find an ally or trained advocate. Please let us at The MAP List or SNAP Mennonite know if you need an ally to walk with you. You can also check out SNAP and the many other resources that can now be found on the web. We are partial to nsvrc.org, rainn.org, and D2l.org

Ask for what you want and hold fast to it.

Many people we learn about were quietly urged by church folks to whom they reported to keep silent ‘for your own protection’, to forgive, or to ‘move on with your life.’ Some may be offered payment, some may be offered therapy sessions, or a promise that the perpetrator will get counseling or take a break from coming to church or campus. They may assure you that the offender has been given an ‘accountability group’ to meet with for a time, after which he is miraculously pronounced healed, without risk to others.

In truth these things mean little to the survivor community because they have proven ineffective time and time again.

Take care of yourself.

You are a unique and precious person. What happened to you can 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. Many develop physical disabilities. Remember, your health and well being come first. Remember you are not alone and it is not your fault, even though it may take awhile for that to sink in.

Find true allies and survivor friends to walk with you who are able to honor your decisions and put your needs first. You get to make choices for yourself and no one else gets to suggest a direction for you. The best ally, friend, parent, or counselor knows that what you need most right now is control of your own life and a sense of safety. They will know you need information about all your options. They will walk with you in exploring them, but know that you are the decider. They will know their limitations as friends and allies and that independent legal and therapeutic professionals can best help you process those options.  No one knows what you need at each moment better than you do. Find friends who believe in your strength and inner wisdom who will walk with you one day at a time without judgement or hurry or a need to fix or even ‘help’ you.

Read more about reporting choices in Barbara Blaine’s article and these articles at our sister site http://www.pokrov.org

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