Survivors, law enforcement make plea to victims of clergy abuse to step forward

By  | 

GRAYSON COUNTY, Tex. (KXII) -- A spokesman in Dallas for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - or SNAP - put it simply.

He said "the church has shown it cannot police itself, so it is up to survivors to take their stories to law enforcement outside the church for something to be done."

In Grayson County, the people who help those who might come forward are ready in case someone does.

"I was abused when I was twelve. It went on for, you know, several years. I came forward and disclosed when I was thirty eight," said Paul Peterson, an abuse survivor and advocate with the SNAP network.

Peterson now works as an advocate for abuse survivors and says the first step for anything to be done about abuse is speaking up.

"All we can do is encourage people who think they may need to file a report to file a report with their local law enforcement agency," said Sarah Bigham with the Grayson County Sheriff's Office.

Sherman, Denison, and Whitesboro police say they have no reports of abuse by any clergy.

Neither does the Grayson County Sheriff's Office but they're ready in case someone makes a report.

"As a matter of fact, as a result of my story, there have been other victims that have come forward," said Peterson.

Britney Barker with the Children's Advocacy Center says many times, speaking out is easier said than done.

"I think that people experience some fear, of course, associated with this when they've decided to tell and they don't know how they're going to be received but overall the entire system is built to listen and to help," said Britney Barker, Executive Director of the Children's Advocacy Center.

And the outcry may be made years after the actual abuse.

"When is the right time? It's whenever the person is ready, when they have the support circle that they need," said Peterson.

Barker says it's the responsibility of everyone involved to pay attention and be aware.

"As a community, it's all of our jobs to make sure that kids are safe. So if someone knows about this happening to someone else, they should make a report as well," said Barker.

Peterson works closely with abuse survivors in Dallas and says he was surprised when he saw the list.

"There are names that I suspect that are not on that list and so it probably wouldn't be prudent for me to conjecture about that," said Peterson.

He says that's why it is so important, to make the report.

"There just needs to be a tremendous reach out to survivors to come forward and that's just so incredibly important just for your own healing journey," said Peterson.

And in Grayson County, law enforcement, advocates and medical professionals are at the ready in case someone does come forward.

"So that we can make sure that crime is properly taken care of in court and so that there's justice for the victim," said Bigham.

"Not only for that person to get the justice that they deserve but also for them to heal and be able to move forward and be productive and have happy lives," said Barker.

Peterson believes this list is only the beginning.

"I have faith that eventually the truth will come out," he said.

If you or someone you know were abused by a member of the clergy, you can contact Lieutenant Heath Wester at the Grayson County Sheriff's Office by calling 903-813-2216.

Wester says there is no statute of limitations on child sexual assault or child sexual abuse charges in the state of Texas.

A detective at the Dallas Police Department is also compiling a list of all reports of abuse by the clergy in that Diocese.

His name is David Clark and you can reach him at 214-671-4301.

If you are a victim of abuse and are looking for support, you can visit snapnetwork.org for information about the resources available to you.