Victims' Families Offered Support

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
May 29, 2004

Sandra L. Tessier had often felt isolated dealing with her anger and frustration as the mother of an alleged clergy sexual abuse victim.

A support group the Springfield resident started several months ago has helped ease her pain.

Realizing others in the Springfield Diocese may feel as isolated and in need of support, she and other group participants are expanding the group beyond a home setting in the hope that others can be helped.

The group, which is open to all family members of clergy sexual abuse victims, will hold its first open meeting Tuesday in the community room of the convent behind Sacred Heart Church on Chestnut Street in Springfield.

"We have all helped each other. Only moms, dads, sisters, brothers and grandparents of clergy sexual abuse victims know how abuse ripples through a family and leaves scars," said Tessier.

Anonymity of group participants is expected, according to Maryann Lord, a licensed clinical social worker who has been serving as the home group's facilitator.

"Family members are often fearful of coming forward because there is a fear of jeopardizing the privacy of the victim," said Lord.

Lord and Tessier said many group members discuss common problems while some participants look for support on dynamics within their families.

"I have a great relationship with my son, but one mother has talked about struggling to get along better with her victim son," said Tessier.

One commonality is the guilt parents feel in not having recognized the abuse and protected their children.

"They feel that they should have been more attentive parents - that they should have known. But at that point in time, it was inconceivable - it never crossed anyone's mind," Lord said.

The group could possibly split into male and female groups, if that is what participants desire.

"Men talking about their sons' sexual abuse is heavy stuff. Some men may feel more comfortable speaking with other men," said Lord.

"This is not therapy. This is just one person listening and understanding another person. It may feel therapeutic because the group provides a place of comfort and security in dealing with private, painful issues," Lord said.

She added that the general public, regardless of how empathetic people try to be, doesn't know the pain these families have experienced.

For more information, contact Tessier at (413) 732-7086.


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