Help Is Available for Survivors of Sexual Abuse
By Jeremy Jones
April 6, 2016
Much is yet unknown about a list of 16 priests released by the New Ulm Diocese, named as those who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. Seven of those priests served in McLeod County, and they are all retired or dead.
It’s hard to know who may have been hurt by these accused priests, but Safe Avenues wants all survivors of sexual abuse to know they are not alone.
“They should know that if they need us, we will be there with them every step of the way,” said Debbie Preston, an outreach advocate with the Willmar-based victim’s advocacy group for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Safe Avenues has an outreach office in Hutchinson, which works with victims of sexual violence in McLeod County.
“We can help if you were a victim 10 minutes ago, 10 years ago … 30 years ago,” Preston said. “It doesn’t matter (when). We will advocate for you.”
All services offered by Safe Avenues are free. An advocate will attend court for or with a person who has been hurt, be it for a restraining order, a hearing or other purpose.
Advocates with Safe Avenues maintain a contact list of therapists and other professionals a survivor may find helpful.
Kasey Baker, community outreach director for Safe Avenues, said survivors should know services are tailored to their needs and their lives. “They know what works for them,” she said. “They are the expert in their own life.”
“We use something called support mapping to help survivors identify those who may walk beside them on their journey,” Baker said. “We go through the circle around them. The inner circle may be people who have already been there for them like family, friends or a spouse. The next layer might incorporate a therapist, medical professionals or church. Of course, we hope that advocacy would be part of that, too.”
In this way, Safe Avenues doesn’t dictate what those who need help should do. An advocate’s role is to offer options and empower survivors to make informed decisions. If a therapist is needed, Safe Avenues can help find one. If a connection to faith is important, Safe Avenues can help find the right outlet.
“When they first come to us, oftentimes people define themselves as victims,” Baker said. “Our goal would be that one day they would call themselves a survivor, because they are.”
Baker said that handling abuse issues is always hard, whether it is with family or clergy. She knows that with survivors of domestic violence, people rarely define success as leaving their family behind, and understands that the case may be similar in other situations.
“People don’t just say ‘I don’t care anymore,’” she said. “It’s much more complex than that. Our job is to be there unconditionally. Our role is to lay out their options and let them know what the have to gain and lose by making certain choices.”
One of the most important things for a survivor of abuse is support. The person needs to be believed.
“If people are saying ‘I don’t believe you, it never happened’ it can alter the journey for someone,” Baker said. “One of the biggest reasons victim-survivors don’t come forward is they fear they won’t be believed. They need everyone around them to say it takes courage to go forward, to say they’re brave, that it isn’t their fault. If they can hear that, they can reach that place of healing faster. They need to hear that they don’t have to do this alone.”