After two years of investigation, a Pennsylvania grand jury report has brought to light over 1,000 cases of abuse of children by 300 Catholic priests over the last 70 years. In the words of the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it is a moral catastrophe. This type of abuse never falls on just one state or one faith; much more remains undiscovered. The grand jury report covered six of Pennsylvania’s dioceses. There are 177 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States. These acts and the failure of church authorities to respond betrayed our most sacred trust. When that happens, we must respond by supporting each other as a community. Our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons in Sonoma County have been victims too. Providing the compassion and services they need is an absolute necessity.
Many of these crimes happened decades ago. They may be buried but their damage lingers, festering within. So often the truth of what happened is denied to victims. Verity, Sonoma County’s rape crisis center, provides a 24/7 crisis line that victims of sexual violence and their loved ones can call at any hour of the day and receive support from a trained advocate. The term “crisis line” can be deceiving; a crisis doesn’t need to be recent or active to deserve care. Historical reporting is an important part of what the line offers. It never becomes too late to have the truth heard and recognized. You may feel that law enforcement, your pastor or priest, your rabbi or imam, or even members of your family will not respond the way you need and will not support you at that moment. Verity will. There is good in speaking the truth when you are ready.
Along with dealing honestly with the past, we should respond to these horrors by protecting the future. While they are still very young, 6, 7 and 8, we should teach children about their bodily rights, boundaries and how to be assertive when faced with inappropriate behavior. We should teach teenagers that they have a right to consent (or not) to any sexual activity, openly discuss why people don’t report and teach them how they can respond and get help if they are abused. Verity provides these lessons in free educational programs for any school in Sonoma County that wants them or call 707-545-7270 for help in bringing this information to your community.
A few Tips from the Prevention Department:
Encourage your kids and teens to embrace surprises, but not secrets.
If you’re keeping information from someone with the intention of sharing it later for fun, that’s great! Your kids should know that no adult in their lives should be asking them to keep a secret from you, their parent or guardian.
Teach your kids the proper terms for their anatomy.
Abusers prey on vulnerability and knowledge is power!
Practice consent and bodily autonomy in non-sexual ways.
Let kids choose who to high-five, hug, and kiss.
Defend their rights to choose if adults push back.
Give kids choices of what to wear if they’re young enough that you are still dressing them.