Methods Offered to React to Abuse
Model Suggested for Child Workers

By Judy Harrison
Bangor Daily News
August 24, 2004

PORTLAND - In the wake of sexual abuse allegations involving churches, schools and other institutions, a team of Maine counselors offered Monday an outline of ways to respond to the problem, especially when children are involved.

The 10-member group hopes its recommendations will be adopted by churches, schools and other organizations that deal with children throughout the state.

In a 32-page document titled, "A Model for Responding to Sexual Abuse Within Institutions," the counselors recommended that victims and institutions turn to the state's 10 sexual assault centers before calling lawyers.

"An institution must choose," says the report, released during a news conference Monday at the University of Southern Maine.

"It can respond in a self-protective manner, which can deepen the pain for victims-survivors, their families, and the community and can continue to place children at risk; or, it can respond with an open, compassionate attitude that will bring healing to victims-survivors, their families, the community, and the institution.

"By responding with openness and compassion, the institution will be supporting those children who have been abused and will be protecting other children from the potential of abuse."

The group was formed in February 2003 at the behest of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay reform group, in response to the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

The group quickly concluded that because recent reports of sexual abuse had involved the Baxter School for the Deaf, the Boy Scouts of America, some public and private schools, and churches of other denominations, it had to broaden its focus beyond the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said team member Cyndi Amato, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine.

The goal became to create a procedure that serves as a way for institutions to regain trust by breaking the secrecy of abuse, listening to any child who discloses abuse, holding the perpetrator accountable, and reaching out to outside providers and professionals specifically trained in sexual abuse treatment.

"This document is by no means exhaustive," Amato said. "We see it as a starting place."

Panel member Courtney Doherty Oland, whose brother was sexually abused by a priest, praised the report. She said her family turned to an institution - the church - because it appeared to be the only way to get assistance for counseling.

"Revealing sexual abuse is like pulling the pin of a hand grenade, laying it in the middle of the living room and daring someone to touch it," she said. "Seeking support and assistance means taking some very scary steps. I hope this packet serves in that capacity for victims and their families."

Amato said she and Oland met two weeks ago with Bishop Richard Malone of Maine's Catholic diocese. He said he would compare the panel's recommendations to the so-called Dallas charter, a document prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to the abuse scandal, they reported.

Malone also told the women he would consider including some of the panel's recommendations in the code of ethics for diocese employees undergoing its annual review, they said.

The diocese itself did not issue a response to the report Monday.

Panel member Steve Beirne, a family life minister and former employee of the diocese, said Monday that he believes good can come out of the abuse scandal.

"The church has the opportunity to bring the issue of sexual abuse in society to the surface," he said. "The priest abuse scandal has given the church, in a sense, the opportunity to bring all society some healing. [The model] can work, but whether it does work depends on whether the members of the institution - clergy and laity alike - have the political will to make it work."

For a copy of the report, call 828-1035. It may be downloaded from from the reports, laws, statistics link.


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