"What should I do if I have been a victim of abuse? What if someone I love has been a victim?"
First of all, I am so sorry that this happened to you! It was not your fault. Second, please know that you are not alone and there is help for you. You do not have to go through this alone, so do reach out for help and support.
The following options listed below can help point you in the right direction to getting the help you need. If you or a loved one has been a victim of abuse (including clergy abuse), you do have options.
Some steps you can take include:
Call 911 if the assault has just happened. Otherwise, if some time has passed since the crime occurred, file a police report with local law enforcement (or wherever the abuse occurred). Ask the department if they have someone who specializes in abuse cases.
If you have just been assaulted, you can go to your local hospital and ask for a sexual assault forensic exam (also known as a rape kit). If possible, you should not wash any evidence off your body or change your clothes. This will ensure that as much evidence as possible can be collected. Rape kits can provide crucial evidence if your attacker is prosecuted and can also help to identify perpetrators in cases where he/she is unknown to the victim.
Call your local Child Protective Agency or an abuse hotline. Child Help Hotline is one option. You can call or text 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or go to the website and chat with a live representative.
If you are a victim of clergy abuse, report it to the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). The number for the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection is 202-541-5413. You can also report to the Victim Assistance Coordinator within the diocese. In addition to reporting to the diocese where the abuse occurred, you can also report to any other locations you know the abuser has been located.
If the abuser was a bishop or if you believe a bishop has covered abuse, you can call The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service (CBAR) by calling (800) 276-1562 or visiting ReportBishopAbuse.org
If you are in fear of your abuser, look into getting a stay Civil No-Contact Order or a Civil Restraining Order. Contact your local law enforcement agency or courthouse for more information.
Seek out a trauma counselor or mental health professional who specializes in trauma or sexual assault as soon as possible. This is an important step for victims to get the help and support they need but it’s also important for those who are trying to support victims. There are resources online for obtaining a Catholic or Christian counselor if that is your preference.
Trauma can have devastating consequences particularly in regard to personal wellness and safety. If you or a loved one is in severe distress and in danger of hurting themselves, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Here are some additional resources (click for more information):
Find a Catholic therapist near you
Protection of Children and Young People: How to report clerical abuse
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)
Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute: this website offers information for survivors and their loved ones
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake: information about trauma's correlation to substance abuse
Made in His Image: a non-profit organization that offers support to victims of eating disorders, depression, self-harm, or physical and/or sexual abuse
Ruth Institute: provides research and educational tools to support individuals and families affected by the consequences of the Sexual Revolution
Awake: their mission is to awaken the community to the full reality of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church
Tentmakers: a non-profit organization by the Peyton family offering assistance to victims in Louisiana.
Ask a Survivor Blog: I answer the questions survivors and their loved ones may have as they search for hope and healing.