Department of Justice Sends the Wrong Message to Survivors, SNAP Calls for Congressional Involvement

A move by the federal Department of Justice is sending the wrong message at the worst time, bringing more attention to the lack of federal action on behalf of survivors of institutional sexual abuse.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is intervening in a defamation lawsuit brought against the U.S. President by a woman who accused him of raping her in the 1990s. The Justice Department has asserted that the President was “acting within the scope of his office” when he denied in 2019 that he had raped journalist E. Jean Carroll. Ms. Carroll sued the President for defamation over his denial.

It is disappointing to us that the DOJ is using a technicality to delay the progress in this case when the focus should be directly on the allegation. This is a tactic frequently employed by the Catholic Church to dismiss the claims of clergy sexual abuse victims. We deplored it then, and we deplore it now.

When it appears that the nation’s highest law enforcement office is actively working against survivors instead of with and for them, it sends a dangerous message that will likely keep victims of sexual violence trapped in shame, fear, and silence. Instead of using its power to protect children and to prosecute abusers, the DOJ is following the Catholic playbook of denying survivors their day in court by any means necessary.

Federal governments in other countries like Australia and Canada have used their power to launch large-scale investigations into cases of institutional child sexual abuse and cover-up. We believe that it is time that the U.S. follows in those footsteps and uses its own expansive power to investigate these institutions and explore new and creative ways to incentivize them to prevent and report abuse. That the DOJ seems to be working at cross purposes to this goal is disappointing and disheartening, but is another example of the dramatic and necessary shift in thinking that has to happen around the issue of sexual violence.

If Congress has the time and energy to investigate performance-enhancing drugs in sports, they can and should use those same powers to make children and communities safer. Every single Senator and Representative should be working to advocate for an exhaustive investigation that will not only address the root causes of rampant sexual violence in our nation’s institutions, but also find ways to provide support services for victims, create new punishments and oversight that will prevent future cases, and provide more opportunities for education about the nature of sexual violence.

To us, this move by the DOJ signals that it is not going to be a friend to survivors of institutional abuse. We hope that all those who care about preventing future cases of sexual violence will take the time to call and write their Representatives and Senators, urging them to use their power in the face of this disheartening move by the DOJ.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, zhiner@snapnetwork.org)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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