Although Clamor Has Subsided, Abuse Victims Are Still Among Us

By David Briggs
Cleveland Plain Dealer [Ohio]
December 16, 2006

They are still here among us, the victims of sexual abuse whose courage will not let us turn away.

In kitchens and living rooms in Avon Lake and Brook Park, in Cleveland Heights and Parma and Lakewood, they revealed what for so long so many of us did not want to hear: the young girl who was raped by a clergyman and then accused by her disbelieving father of being a whore; the teenage boys seduced by religious leaders with simple acts such as movie outings and swimming trips; the silent suffering of scores of boys and girls, now men and women, who were too ashamed even to tell spouses or family members of the violations that have haunted them since childhood.

Consider how many times these wounded people tried to speak up and were mercilessly turned away by church officials, fellow congregation members and even relatives who refused to acknowledge that a pastor in their church could commit such acts.

And yet they continued to take leaps of faith, bringing the issue to light by sharing their painful odysseys with reporters including me and my Plain Dealer colleague James McCarty and, before us, Karen Henderson.

Throughout the country and in Northeast Ohio, the courage of the victims and their families in coming forward has produced great strides toward healing survivors and protecting children. Several denominations have put into place policies for reporting abuse to both civil and religious authorities.

Often, when The Plain Dealer published the name of a religious leader accused of abusive behavior, Jim and I would hear from abuse survivors who were thankful to learn they were not alone. Some would tell how the victim's bravery gave them the courage to share their burdens with spouses and friends.

Most religious groups, however, have been slow to address the problem. I have reported on cases in evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic communities, and the response of all of these groups was similar. Church officials would refuse to acknowledge the abuse, with some officials trying to silence the victims or accusing them of being disloyal for bringing the issue to light. In many cases, the churches faced the problem only when the victim refused to go away and public pressure mounted.

Some religious leaders still would like to dismiss sexual abuse of children as "a Catholic problem," or shut it out of their minds.

Yet a growing body of research reveals that those who sexually abuse children cross over all religious and professional backgrounds. They gravitate toward positions around children, and in their own disordered minds, many believe they are helping the children they abuse by giving them special attention. In general, sexual predators do not stop or come forward on their own.

Seriously disordered individuals are preying on the weakest members of society. It is up to the rest of us -- congregation members, relatives, friends, government agencies and religious officials -- to act on their behalf.

Who is responsible to promote healing and seek justice?

You and I are responsible.

The stones on the street continue to cry out with the suffering of those sexually abused as children.

Before we act, first we have to listen.

To reach David Briggs:, 216-999-4812

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