The Importance of Hotlines to Investigations

By Zach Hiner
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
August 7, 2019

A report from the Associated Press has highlighted the incredible amount of information that has been gathered about institutional sexual abuse by investigators from the attorney general’s office in Pennsylvania. As the probe continues, now a year after the grand jury report was released, a critical element in the success of the investigation has been the existence of a confidential hotline.

We cannot stress enough the importance to survivors of having a place to share their stories where they know that they will be not only be listened to, but more importantly, where they will also be believed. Many victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers fear coming forward with information about cases of clergy abuse. There are many reasons for this fear, whether it is due to feelings of shame, or to worries of being blamed or of being singled out as a troublemaker. These reasons are examples of why having a confidential hotline where people can make reports can make such a difference in investigations into cases of institutional sexual abuse. It certainly made a difference in Pennsylvania, where the hotline set up by AG Josh Shapiro received nearly 1900 calls in one year.

We have also seen hotlines have success elsewhere. In Michigan, AG Dana Nessel’s investigation is ongoing and has already resulted in at least five arrests. We expect more news to follow as the hotline there has received more than 400 tips since January.  Similarly, in New Jersey, AG Gurbir Grewal’s investigation has been able to net several arrests as well because of the tips generated through “phones ringing off the hook” on his hotline.

These investigations – and the arrests they are generating – send the message that these states care about making sure that their children are protected and that those people who abuse their power are punished for the crimes they commit. As this message gets heard and amplified, it can help dispel those feelings of shame, guilt or self-blame that many survivors feel. But until that happens, confidential hotlines are a critical tool to bridging the gap.

Right now, at least twenty attorneys general have said that they are investigating cases of clergy abuse within their state. We hope that both those AGs who are currently investigating, as well as those who have yet to start, will learn from the successes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey and will create their own confidential hotlines as well.

The stories and tips are clearly out there, it just takes someone being present to listen to the survivors for changes to be made.



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