I was sexually abused by my priest when I was young, what do I do?
Clergy abuse is a serious topic that impacts millions of people across the country. While most people are familiar with the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church by priests, nuns and lay clergy members, evangelical churches, Mormon Temples (a.k.a. Latter Day Saints), other religious organizations have also seen their share of sexual misconduct accusations.
For those who are victims of childhood sexual abuse, the first step is to seek mental health support. Anyone who is bravely facing the reality of past childhood sexual trauma needs support in facing these old demons. The next step is to begin the process of seeking legal action by finding a skilled clergy abuse lawyer who can help guide victims through the legal process. This is not easy as the law on this topic has been changing in recent years. One such development is that a new window for the “statute of limitations” in California has been implemented, which will allow victims to seek justice for just two more years.
While many attorneys claim they have experience in this area of law, it is important to find an attorney who understands fully the sensitive nature of these types of cases and can provide experienced legal help. Mary Alexander has represented numerous victims of California clergy abuse. She and her firm have helped obtain justice for victims in numerous cases, which has also given these victims the type of closure they needed.
History of Clergy Abuse Law
Prior to the last decade, options were limited for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Unfortunately, the law often protected the predators and not the victims of these horrific crimes. However, recent changes in various state laws, including California, have given many victims more rights as they fight for justice in the court system.
Below is one such example; a story by a victim named Peter:
Peter’s father served as a “Swiss Guard” which is a prestigious group that is essentially the private bodyguards of the Pope. Peter’s father and mother had a difficult relationship and Peter’s father died when Peter was only 9 years old. Shortly thereafter, the junior priest in Peter’s local parish began “grooming” Peter for abuse. Grooming is the process where a sexual predator spots a potential victim and then manipulates the victim so that sexually abusing him or her becomes a much easier process. In this case, Peter was father-less, had a difficult family upbringing, and was one of nine children his mother had to care for. The priest began sexually abusing Peter shortly after grooming began and then made Peter do a confession afterward. This led Peter to a period of drug use and other difficult personal experiences, which were all a product of this abuse. Thankfully, Peter eventually recovered. However, there are many who are less fortunate, and do not.
Among the factors that cause someone like Peter to experience a difficult time obtaining justice through the legal system is that authorities will use the victim’s mental health issues against him or her. Instead of having empathy and realizing that someone like Peter might be abusing drugs because of the past abuse endured, the culpable priests and churches (and even district attorneys at times) will often cast doubt on the victim’s credibility and refuse to believe the victim by focusing on their prior drug use.
A 2019 op-ed in The New York Times shared the story of someone who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest. The article highlights how victims of clergy abuse often never discuss their abuse, commit suicide, fall into addiction, battle depression, file for bankruptcy, and suffer other challenges later in life.
Another terrible story from the Royal Commission, covering Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia, involved a Catholic school where a predator priest sexually abused “just about every single child” at the school. Again, the victim who wrote the story had been groomed; this time with gifts, including a television. The victim eventually sought help in seeking justice against the priest, but also suffered horrible nightmares and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of all the stress associated with having to relive the abuse.
As the world has further progressed and learned more about how childhood sexual trauma works, a different approach has been adopted in regard to understanding the nature of how childhood sexual abuse works. This has also led to a change in the law as more legislators are willing to confront various religious organizations and their leadership.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) called the California Child Victims Act which provides a lengthier window for the statute of limitations. Essentially, the bill opens a new, three-year “lookback window” for sex abuse claims that were previously time-barred. This bill was passed so that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse throughout California can now file a claim regardless of the person’s current age. A law similar to this was also passed in 2004, which prompted victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts to come forward in droves.
To read the text of AB 218, please click here.
Despite all the recent changes in the law, numerous problems remain pertaining to how the country is currently dealing with predator priests. For example, NBC News reported that almost 1,700 priests and clergy accused of sex abuse remain unsupervised. Some of those accused are now teachers, coaches, and counselors. Others are permitted to and do in fact live near playgrounds!
Nationally, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states have passed similar laws to those in California, and as a result many victims are now coming forward to hold these predators accountable.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a clergy member, please contact Mary Alexander & Associates. Our compassionate attorneys and legal staff possess the skills necessary to provide thorough and effective legal support. Our empathetic team stands ready to aid victims of these horrible crimes by obtaining the justice they deserve.