Victims of Clergy Sexual Assault Need Support

By Dan Mccaffery
The Observer

November 14, 2008

More emotional support is needed for people who have been sexually assaulted by clergymen, a new report says.

The document, released today, was drawn up in the aftermath of the trial of Fr. Charles Sylvestre, the late pedophile priest who was convicted of sexually abusing 47 girls, many of them Sarnians.

The 114-page report, paid for by the Ontario government, the Roman Catholic Diocese of London and a private donor, is intended to be a guide for Crown attorneys, police, court staff, bishops and other professionals working with survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy.

Called the "From Isolation to Action" (FITA) project, work on the probe began in November 2006 and concluded in March.

Under the title 'lessons learned,' the report lists 40 items. They include:

* Prosecutors should know that survivors of sexual abuse do not bestow their trust easily upon anyone. A prosecutor's title and authority are not enough. Trust has to be earned.

* Before handling such cases the prosecutorial team needs to prepare in advance for oblique suicide threats and despondent e-mails from survivors in the middle of the night.

* Victims often go in crisis the day after a court proceeding. Therefore, the scheduling of court events on Fridays should be avoided because a full array of support staff is not always available on the weekend.

* If a prosecutor believes the accused is guilty, he or she should tell that to the victims. In many cases, it will be the first time they have ever been told that they are believed.

* Assuring victims that they will be consulted about important developments in the case is vitally important to them.

* It is important to take the time and effort to establish a rapport with each survivor and to build a trust relationship.

* The first court appearance for victims in the Sylvestre case proved more traumatic than many of them had anticipated. It may have helped reduce the trauma, the report says, by better preparing them for meeting other survivors.

* A reporting letter, rarely issued in criminal cases, was appreciated by many of the survivors. Nevertheless, prosecutorial team members believe it should have been followed up with a debriefing meeting with all survivors present.

* Individual psychological reports, which assessed the harm caused to each survivor, proved helpful as a sentencing tool. For many of the survivors, however, the assessment caused them to realize for the first time how the abuse had affected their whole lives. Such relations unsettled many survivors and caused some to go into crisis.

* Many of the survivors appreciated the support of the prosecutorial team in achieving their non-judical goals, such as the securing of an apology from the church and the prevention of abuse of children by clergy. It was the furtherance of such goals which gave some of the survivors hope for the future, the report said.

* The Diocese of London issued what is considered by many to be one of the most progressive safe environment policies in Canada as a result of the case. The issuance of this policy gave hope for the future to many of the survivors.

* At the conclusion of the case, support for the survivors by the prosecution team ceased, which was a major emotional setback for many of the survivors. It would have been better had survivors known earlier that the FITA project was going to be launched after the case concluded.


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