During the first week of November, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson released the final report of an investigation into sexual abuse by the clergy that commenced in August 2018. The investigation identified no less than 258 victims who made allegations against a total of 58 officials, including teachers, priests, and deacons, from the Catholic Church.
The report went on to stipulate that 158 victims were from the Omaha Diocese, 97 from Lincoln Diocese, and three hailed from the Grand Island Diocese. The instances of abuses that are highlighted in the report took place between the 1930s and 2010s.
Women are Victims too
Although the majority of the 258 victims noted in the report were young boys, a number of women were also victimized. Despite the mainstream media often focusing their attention on the horrific abuse of minors in the church, countless women across the world have been sexually abused by clergy.
In fact, approximately 90% of victims of sexual exploitation by clergy are women according to research cited in a publication of the World Council of Churches entitled When Pastors Prey.
Unfortunately, until the rise of the #MeToo movement at least, most sexual abuse victims were too scared or ashamed to speak openly about their abuse. It is due to the stigma attached to sexual abuse that too many women and men choose to remain silent.
Failed by the System
Every year thousands of sexual assault cases either go unreported or unprosecuted. Of the 258 cases involving the clergy in Nebraska, laying charges were only possible in one case. In the other 257, the statutes of limitations had already expired. The majority of the Nebraska clergy victims only came forward when a victim hotline was created in 2018 after a number of victims shared their harrowing experiences.
Although the idea of coming forward is understandably frightening, it is vital if the perpetrator/s is to be brought to book and justice is sought for the victim/s. While suing the church may also sound like an absurd idea, it is by no means a foreign concept. In fact, the Catholic Church alone has been sued a number of times and have already had to fork out billions of dollars in damages to victims of sexual abuse.
It is a Difficult Process
Seeking justice for sexual abuse victims is often a long and very difficult process. The extensive review of the Nebraska cases was not an easy procedure. Learning about the extent of the trauma caused to the victims was very unsettling for everyone involved in compiling the report. What is perhaps even more concerning when dealing with sexual abuse cases involving the clergy is the fact that the reputation of the church is often prioritized over the dignity and well-being of the victims.
A number of the allegations in the Lincoln diocese were against an elderly priest, Reverend James Benton. Although the leaders of the church were very well aware of abuse allegations against the reverend for more than 15 years, he continued to serve in the church and only retired in 2017. For as long as women are told they 'were looking for it' or are made to feel that they are not believed, it will continue to be extremely difficult for justice to be served.
Sexual abuse by the clergy has been going on for hundreds of years if not more. While victims are finally starting to be more willing to speak out about their experiences, the world still has a very long way to go before sexual abuse victims receive the acknowledgement and support they deserve.