In the last three and a half years of my life, I have been fortunate enough to not only witness huge strides in the movement to end child sexual abuse but to have become a part of it. History is being written as we speak, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has played a huge role in this movement and an even bigger role in my life and my transition from survivor to being a thriver.
I was raised in rural Minnesota. It was there that I was repeatedly raped by a Catholic priest. After enduring years of shaming, doubt, and being bullied into silence, I became a quiet and frightened individual with no voice.
My journey began by joining the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and soon thereafter, becoming a CCR client. The first time I went public with my story was when we announced the settlement of my own case. This was just one week before I traveled with CCR and SNAP to The Hague to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court on behalf of thousands of survivors of rape and torture by the Catholic Church.
It was a very empowering time for me, but it also left me feeling quite vulnerable. By working with the caring and considerate justice seekers and human rights advocates at CCR and SNAP, I was given a way to not only start healing, but to again have a voice and help others. There we were in dozens of countries letting the world know this was not just me, not just that one priest, not just the US—this was a worldwide problem.
To me, it was justice and progress not only to carry the thousands of pages of documents to the ICC but to, in return, reach survivors who, before that filing, were unreachable and voiceless. After The Hague, the CCR and SNAP team traveled to 12 European cities in 10 days, culminating in a major press conference in Rome and giving hundreds of interviews along the way.
Because of our outreach, many previously isolated, shamed and silenced survivors around the globe joined the survivors’ network. The requests for assistance, resources and support poured in. This cause has reached victims of abuse across the globe of every gender and denomination.
CCR and SNAP’s case at the ICC put a spotlight on the issue and soon after, the Vatican was called before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva to answer questions about its failure to end the rape and torture of children by priests and associated cover-ups. There, our stories were heard and taken seriously. Claims of sexual violence, a systemic cover-up and abuse of power could no longer go unanswered. It was in Geneva that I had the opportunity to listen to the Vatican respond to tough questions for the first time. It truly felt like the doors to justice had been opened. Not only did this historic United Nations hearing grab international attention, but the folks there came out swinging for survivors and all of those who have been mistreated and misguided by the Vatican.
After years of waiting for a resolution in my criminal case against the priest who harmed me, he was finally arrested on an Interpol notice in 2012. To me, this was again validation that progress is possible and the struggle worthwhile. When pursuing justice we all face obstacles, I was faced with a lack of support and received multiple deaths threats after speaking out. But this has not deterred me one bit. In fact it has made it even clearer to me that this journey must be continued, so that today’s children and those in the future will never have to make these same steps.
The ICC case and working with CCR and SNAP has forever changed my life. It’s hard to put words to something as impactful as the feeling of being truly believed for the first time. By not only being heard but listened to, I was able to take a big step out of the role of the victim and into a survivor. But it hasn’t stopped there; I am not only a survivor but a thriver.