In any community, people tend to look up to the clergy as community leaders. When anyone is singled out to be a part of the clergy's working group, it can feel like an honor. But when that situation is shattered by the presence of sexual assault, it can leave the victims confused and scared. This happens in a variety of religions, and it is one of the most heinous acts against humanity a person can think of.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a victim to speak up after being sexually assaulted by a member of the clergy. The Catholic Church has received the most publicity on this issue, but it is a problem in all churches throughout the country. How can survivors of clergy sexual assault fight back? What can they do to get the justice they deserve and get their lives back?
According to AbuseGuardian.com sexual assault is not limited to intercourse without consent. There doesn't even need to be physical contact for their to be sexual assault. One of the biggest problems for victims in the United States is that many don't even realize that they have legal recourse because they do not identify themselves as victims.
Sexual assault can come in the form of intense voyeurism, having someone purposely expose themselves to another person, forcing someone to watch or read pornographic material, unwanted touching, and making sexually-driven phone calls or sending obscene texts to a person who does not want them. Instances of clergy sexual assault primarily involve physical contact, but there are other ways that clergy members use to exert sexual dominance over their victims.
Over the course of years, a clergy member may use their position and power to convince the victim that what is happening is right. But as time goes by, the victim comes to understand that they have been attacked. The first step is to break the strong hold the clergy member has over the victim's emotions. It is important for victims to remember that they did nothing wrong and that the clergy member, the person the victim thought was infallible, is very much in the wrong.
One law the federal government did pass is Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004 that more clearly outlined what a victim was legally able to do when it came to their assault and their case. This law says that victims will:
Victims of clergy sexual assault can consult lawyers who specialize in these types of crimes, and know what kind of resources are available. The churches that have acknowledged wrongdoing by their clergy, such as the Catholic Church, have set up funds for victims. But the process of accessing those funds can be long and difficult.
Clergy sexual assault victims are subject to the same laws as any other sexual assault victims. The hardest part for clergy victims when it comes to pursuing legal options against their attackers is that they have to present their case in court. While all states have confidentiality laws that protect the victim for the most part, court documents are often public and release information such as names and places.
Another difficulty is the habit that many religions have for transferring known offenders to new areas instead of bringing them to justice. It may take years for a clergy sexual assault victim to gain the courage to come forward, and by that time the first step in presenting a case is trying to determine where the offender is located.
The reality is that the best legal option for clergy sexual assault victims is to use the civil court system to try and get as much financial compensation as they can from their attacker. The point in using the civil courts to sue an attacker for money is not financial gain; but it is to damage the attacker as much as possible and attempt to put some kind of major dent in their life.
For sexual assault victims, it is important to know exactly what a victim is and what rights a victim has. It is also important to know that the United States legal system is available to victims who build up the courage to take their attackers to civil court and hopefully make life as difficult for the attacker as it was made for the victim.