The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP's Congressional Page Reform Plan 

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006

Everyone on Capitol Hill should pledge to call the police if they suspect crimes

Congress should hold a mandatory, nationally-televised training session

Program needs more independent oversight & involvement of professionals

We belong to a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. I'm Barbara Blaine from Chicago, SNAP's founder and president. I'm an social worker and an attorney.

SNAP is the nation's largest and oldest support group for clergy molestation victims. 

We  have more than 7,000 members, 90% of whom were sexually assaulted by Catholic clerics. The rest were hurt by ministers of other denominations. We try to help everyone we can, no matter who molested or exploited them, and whether they were hurt as adults or as children.

For 17 years, SNAP has worked to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable.

Before going any further, I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence on behalf of those who were molested by clergy and, unable to cope with the devastating pain, ended up taking their own lives.

Now, I'd like to ask you to join me in another moment of silence -- for those who seem to have been largely forgotten over the past few weeks -- the young pages who have been hurt by this whole sordid mess.

Whether they were technically minors or not fundamentally doesn't matter. Whether what happened was technically illegal or not fundamentally doesn't matter. What they experienced was wrong, confusing and hurtful.

Research, history and common sense tell us that adults who are sexually harassed or exploited or abused on the job are psychologically traumatized, at least for a while. Why wouldn't teenagers be hurt in the same way? Foley, Hastert, Shimkus, Kolbe -- our views of these men will differ. But all of us should remember, support and pray for the teens who have been hurt, and are likely still hurting, because of this scandal.

As I said, we have two goals: to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable. Today, we'll describe our proposals to protect the vulnerable, both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Today, our focus is on safeguarding youngsters in the future. We're less interested today in pointing fingers or assessing blame. We're more interested in problem-solving and prevention.

Our proposal involves several components, including

-- asking Representatives and their staff members to sign a pledge promising to call the police if they suspect harmful and potentially illegal sexual misconduct by lawmakers (instead of reporting to an internal Congressional committee),

-- seeking a mandatory, one-hour, nationally-televised training session on grooming/sexual abuse/harassment for all Capitol Hill lawmakers & staff,

-- establishing a new, five-person page program oversight panel with a majority of members being law enforcement and mental health practitioners (providing more independence and professionalism) and only one congressperson from each party (eliminating partisanship).

-- eliminating the civil and criminal statues of limitations across the country, so that victims can better expose and jail their perpetrators (thus reducing the role of essentially untested internal investigatory committees and enlarging the role of our time-tested court system in handling abuse and exploitation accusations).

The Congressional page scandal does not, of course, involve religious authority figures. So why are we here?

Because the institutional dynamics of abuse and harassment in religious bodies and governmental bodies are similar. Because in each case, there's a tremendous power differential between those at risk and those in power. Because in each case, there's a temptation to try to handle potentially embarrassing situations quietly and “in-house.”

The list of parallels could go on and on.

And we are here because from personal, painful, first-hand experienced, we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work when it comes to exposing and preventing sexual misconduct in such settings.

Here then is what we've learned from the sexual abuse of kids by clergy and the cover up of that abuse by church officials that is relevant and helpful to the page scandal.

1)      We have learned that no religious institution can police itself. Neither can Congress.

Therefore, we believe that the Congressional page oversight panel should be expanded, should include a majority of members who aren't US representatives, should involve more mental health and law enforcement professionals, who are far more likely to report suspected misconduct to police than to Congress. The appointees should be chosen by officials outside of Congress, to again further insulate them from possibly inappropriate pressure.

Our nation fought a war for independence because we suffered when government had no checks and balances. The page program needs checks and balances. A larger and more independent committee managing the program can only help.

2)      We have learned that many still don't understand the basics of sexual abuse and exploitation.

To protect pages, lawmakers, and congressional staff, plus educate millions of citizens across the country, we ask that the House leadership hold an unprecedented, one hour, nationally televised training session about the "grooming" and sexual abuse/harassment of vulnerable teenagers and children.

It should be run by independent professionals. It should include victims speaking about their own experiences. It should be focused on the "warning signs" of abuse and exploitation. It should thoroughly explain the rarely-understood process called "grooming," in which molesters subtly and gradually blur the boundaries between adults and kids, and shrewdly manipulate vulnerable individuals into allegedly consensual  inappropriate actions and eventually hurt them through illegal sexual misconduct.

Some in Congress say they weren't sure whether Foley's actions "crossed the line." If highly educated elected officials aren't exactly sure what constitutes sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or sexual harassment, let's make sure they learn. And let's educate literally millions of others in the process.

Many people know and understand much more about workplace sexual harassment because of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Imagine the public safety benefit, for both kids and adults, if Congress were to use this "teachable moment" to focus a dispassionate, professional light on sexual misconduct.

3)      We have learned that the civil and criminal courts are usually the best way to ascertain the truth, expose wrong-doers, deter more wrong-doing, and hold accountable wrong-doers.

Victims and witnesses sometimes turn to internal committees and boards to report abuse because they have no choice. Often, arbitrary, archaic and dangerously restrictive statutes of limitations exclude victims from using the open, impartial and time-tested American justice system to warn others about a predator, get a predator locked up, and discourage others from hiring or associating with predators.

Gradually, all across the country, some of these statues of limitations are being reformed. But it's a slow, pain-staking process. It should be accelerated. No one who has been devastated by a horrific sex crime should be prohibited from seeking justice, exposing the truth, and protecting others because of some rigid deadline that protects predators and hurts kids.

4)      We have learned that suspected crimes should be reported to the police, not to some internal institutional panel.

The independent professionals in law enforcement can better determine the truth of allegations than any committee of ‘insiders,' no matter how unbiased or well-intentioned they may claim to be.

For more than 200 years, police have investigated possible crimes. Prosecutors have filed criminal charges. Judges and juries have determined guilt or innocence. While certainly flawed, this system usually works. No one, least of all elected officials, should ignore or circumvent it. That sends a terrible signal to other citizens.

This isn't rocket science, folks. Several elected officials or appointed staffers on Capitol Hill had one single, proven way to protect teenagers: it was calling 911 when they first suspected anything inappropriate or harmful or illegal between Mr. Foley and a teenager.

It's that simple: if you suspect a crime, call the police. Period.

That's why, in the days ahead, we'll send to each member of Congress this simple pledge: I promise I'll call the police, if I suspect any sexual misconduct. Period.

Had this simple step been taken, much of what's been exposed in the last few weeks might have been avoided.

Finally, since we're focused on preventing more harm, today we also repeat our public plea to Mark Foley: Tell the police who molested you.

Citizens have a moral and civic duty to report suspected crimes to police. Because child molesters rarely stop, this is even more crucial with sex crimes. It's especially important when the predator holds a position of power, authority and access to kids, like a clergyman. And finally, it's particularly crucial that public figures and elected officials set a positive example in this regard.

If Foley was abused, his perpetrator could be tutoring a child right now, coaching soccer this afternoon, or babysitting a single mom's daughter tonight. If the alleged predator is alive and healthy, the only prudent assumption is that the man is still dangerous. At a bare minimum, his identity should be made known to police. Otherwise, kids are needlessly at risk of more harm.

We're not saying that Mr. Foley has any higher duty than any other citizen. But he does have a tremendous opportunity to remind ALL citizens that no matter what the crime is or no matter when the crime happened, we've all got to call 911.

Thank you.

Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP President and Founder 312 299 4747

David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP National Director (314) 566 9790 cell

Mark Serrano of Leesburg VA, SNAP Board Member (703) 771 9606

Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director (314) 862 7688, (314) 503 0003 cell


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests