‘I don’t care if you use my name:’ Survivors of abuse find strength in local group

The conversation begins on the condition of anonymity, the topic a deeply personal and painful one for this man – his abuse as a teenager at the hands of a Catholic priest. He’s come to Harrisonburg to meet with a group of fellow survivors of sexual abuse. The group is part of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or “SNAP,” a national organization with a mission to “Protect the vulnerable. Heal the wounded. Expose the truth.”

“I couldn’t wait to get here,” the man says of the Harrisonburg SNAP group. “It’s been a lifeline. Literally, a lifeline.”

Founded in 1989 to work with those abused by members of the Catholic Church, SNAP became well known after the Oscar-winning 2015 film Spotlight. The film is about The Boston Globe‘s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into abuse within the city’s Catholic churches, which journalists worked with members of SNAP to report.

Over the last two decades, the organization has opened up to survivors from outside the Catholic faith, including other religious groups and people who suffered abuse in organizations like the Boy Scouts. It now has over 25,000 members worldwide.

“In some ways, from the very beginning, it was always a philosophy of we didn’t check I.D.s at the door. We welcomed all survivors,” said Tim Lennon, president of SNAP’s board of directors. “In the recent period I have talked to people from the gymnast community, Buddhists, victims of Hollywood producers, all in the effort to help them establish their own kind of networks. So it’s pretty broad and we’re pretty welcoming.”

The Harrisonburg group was the first founded for survivors of abuse in the Mennonite church. One of its founders, Barbra Graber, was abused as a child by her father and other members of the Mennonite comm...

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