Monday, April 19, 2010

Guest Post: A victim’s story

I write about clergy sexual abuse. When I started this quest, I had no emotional attachment to the subject. Over time this changed. I’m emotionally invested now, and it’s because of people like the anonymous author of this guest post. I end up talking to tvictims in about 50% of my clergy sexual abuse posts. I hear things that make my blood boil. Few are willing to let me tell their stories. It’s a shame, but I understand their reasons.

I’ve written 2 posts about Fr. Kevin Hederman: Clergy sexual abuse and missionary work (May 27, 2009), and A victim’s Statement (May 28, 2009). Together the posts have generated nearly 100 comments and over 100 emails. Three emails were from other people who claimed abuse. One agreed to tell their story. People are free to voice their opinions or tell their stories. I think it’s healthy. I accept quest posts from both sides. So far I’ve had no takers from the clergy.

This guest post is written by the sister of an abuse victim. She posts as The-Truth-Hurts in the comment threads of the articles linked above.

Please note that the copyright for this article is CC BY-NO-NO.

A Victim’s Story
By The Truth Hurts

If a stranger approached me and said, “Your cousin is a child molester.” I would not believe it for an instant. There is just absolutely no way. My cousin wanted to be a Catholic priest before he met a woman he fell in love with, married and had two children. He is a deep believer in God and his religion. He loves his children. How could he be a child molester? Why would someone make such vile accusations that I know are not true? There is no way.

When someone you know and respect is accused of such atrocious acts I can completely understand how one would not believe the allegations to be true. No one wants to think they are friends with someone who could and would engage in sexual abuse, especially against children. It’s a hard, bitter pill to swallow. And yet, you see news stories all the time with friends and family pleading that their loved one is innocent only to be found guilty. They never knew.

I am not judging those that have had positive dealings with Fr. Kevin and are adamantly sticking up for him because all they know is his glowing public persona, but they are wrong. I am also not judging those they want to hang him up by his testicles just because an allegation has been laid against him, but they are wrong too.

This is my personal story, or rather the story of my brother and my family, about how we ended up in our own personal Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

Recent allegations have come to light about John Doe 115 charging Fr Kevin Hederman of sexual abuse. I am not related in any way to JD115 and anything I write here is in no way speaking on behalf of or for him. I have no knowledge of whether or not his allegations against Fr Kevin are true. I tend to believe him though since the same priest raped my brother. Our lawsuit was brought against Fr. Kevin over ten years ago without any press or news. Yet here is another person all these years later saying the same man abused him. He named the same priest. That would be a pretty big coincidence. We have been waiting all this time for another victim to step forward. We know there are more out there.

First, let me address the anonymous issue. I will remain anonymous for this post. I will protect the identity of my brother. Let me be clear, my first and main concern is the welfare of my brother. If in trying to get this story out to others means I have to leave important details out then so be it.

Is it fair for a victim to anonymously call out, by name, the accused? I see both sides of the issue. If the accused is innocent and their name gets attached to such a horrible claim they can be forever stigmatized as an abuser, even if their name is later cleared. This is not right. I believe that if a person knowingly and falsely accuses someone of rape then they should be the one to have jail time instead. Now on the flip side, if a victim has to declare themselves by name will that hinder their decision to come out or press charges? Yes. Not always, but it will happen. It’s hard enough to publicly admit you were sexually abused or raped. Now add to that you have to put your name out there so it will be forever known you were a victim can be a daunting thought. Victims do not want to be defined by this. They want to heal and move on.

Like I said, I see both sides of the issue. I do not have a solution. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 isn’t it? You want victims to feel safe enough to prosecute their attackers yet is it fair if the attackers are innocent? I know that my brother does not want people to look at him and think to themselves, “Hey, that’s the guy that got raped by a priest. That’s the guy who had a priest’s penis up his butt.” Was that too harsh of a way to put it? Too graphic? Too disgusting? Unnecessary? So is rape. It’s humiliating is what it is. It’s dehumanizing. Of course people may not want their name attached. Everybody handles rape differently but it most assuredly affects all victims. It’s easy to say what you would do if it happened to you but you don’t know what you would do – do you? How do you know for sure whether or not you would fight or if your flight instinct would kick in instead? We all would like to think we know exactly how we would react and respond but when it comes down to it, maybe we don’t know until we experience it firsthand. How do you know with it being just a hypothetical?

Imagine that you have a loved one that was raped. Imagine that person has not handled it well at all. You, not having to actually experience the rape, think that person should go public and press charges. It’s the right thing to do. Now what happens if that person were to say, “I just can’t. I would rather kill myself than have people know this was done to me.” Now what do you think? If your loved one was affected so emotionally and mentally that they couldn’t handle the public attention that they would rather die, would you think badly of them for not stepping forward publicly? Would you judge them? Would you rather your loved one dead or mentally broken down as a consequence of “doing the right thing”?

Between the humiliation and the fact that it was a priest can account for why some victims take so long to come forward. You’re ashamed. You question yourself and the event. Yes, it’s easy to say that it wasn’t your fault, you should not feel guilty and you should not question what happened but that’s not how it works when you’re the one that has been abused. People normally are initially in shock when the abuse first happens and it can take a while to process. By the time they realize what happened was wrong and decide to take action all forensic evidence may be gone, if there was any to begin with. Then it’s your word against a priest. Keep in mind that it has only been very recent that DNA evidence has even been possible. Sometimes there isn’t DNA evidence to begin with; abuse can happen without it and in other forms. The burden of proof is on the victim and these can be hard allegations to prove. You’re left with your word against an automatic respected persona, image, and person.

Imagine someone coming forward about being raped by a cop. The phrase that comes to my mind is, “Good luck with that.” Imagine the run around the victim would get trying to report the crime and the disbelief. The cop’s colleagues might verbally attack the victim and possible harassment would follow (much like what we have seen through the comments on this site and various others). It is more than an uphill battle. The victim is not just fighting one person, one cop, but an establishment. Now imagine that victim is a male accusing another believed-to-be heterosexual male cop of rape. I guarantee the uproar and incredulity would be nothing short of a violent sandstorm locked in a small compartment with the victim trapped in the middle being lashed at from every direction. This is what it is like for victims of sexual abuse by a priest. This is why the victims are terrified to come forward. This is why they wait. This is why they want their name protected.

Abuse victims don’t ever forget what has happened to them but there is a certain denial that goes with it. You do your best to box it up and stick it in the darkest locked closet in your mind. Sometimes you run and run and run and run from it. Sometimes you are so tired of running that you unlock that door, get down that box, open it up and confront the horrible memories and the crime. You come forward and let it be known something horrible happened and you are now willing to speak about it. You stop hiding.

I will only touch briefly on the actual events of what happened to my brother by Fr Kevin Hederman. He was a teenager away on a retreat. Father Kevin singled him out. He offered my brother something to drink but he declined. Fr. Kevin needled him about it until my brother finally accepted. The drink was drugged. I will skip the gruesome details of what occurred and they were undeniably gruesome. He suppressed the memories and no one had any idea something horrible had happened to my brother.

When the memories finally reappeared my brother was not able to handle it well. It was a horrible time. We knew something was wrong and only that it had to do with Fr. Kevin. Our initial guesses were that Fr. Kevin had a conversation with my brother that did not go well. That he said something to upset my brother. Perhaps he didn’t agree with a career choice or something along those lines. No one imagined or would have even guessed the magnitude and horror of what had actually occurred.

My parents are Catholic. Their parents were Catholic. My entire extended family, I and my siblings were all raised Catholic. We are taught to trust in priests. We confess to them. They have a direct line to God. What do you do when you’re in trouble or have a problem? You take it to an elder or someone in authority. We are taught not to question that authority. They know more than we do. We hold priests in high regards. While they are still human beings, we are led to believe they are more enlightened and will help us. Rape victims usually end up questioning themselves to begin with. Did I do something wrong? Am I in any way to blame? Now add to that that it was done by someone whom you were raised to believe to trust and that they are righteous, then a person will really start to question themselves. When you first start to hear of all these abuse stories about the priests you think, “But they’re a priest!” The concept is hard to grasp that these Men of God would go against their own teachings.

When my brother finally decided to file a lawsuit the police brought Fr. Kevin in for questioning. He miserably failed his lie detector test. I know that doesn’t mean much and wouldn’t even be admissible in court. He gave an official statement and it was disturbing. He never admitted to any guilt. He did however make inappropriate comments about my brother’s attractiveness. He also admitted to walking my brother back to his room, hugging him and at that point he “lost his seed.” That’s in quotation marks because that was Fr. Kevin’s exact words. He “lost his seed” when giving my brother a hug. What grown man ejaculates while hugging a teenage boy? Perhaps those that know Fr. Kevin well might have heard this term of phrase from him before. It’s a bit of an odd one yes? Not one that many people say. I wonder what would happen if someone did a test on this? If someone were able to somehow bring up in conversation with him another way to phrase ejaculation would he suggest “lose your seed”? Then again, maybe he is scouring the internet for his name and will come across this post so the test would be moot. If he is reading this, he knows who my family is. He knows I am no longer remaining silent. I was just a kid myself when all this happened. I’m an adult now and my own person. I am not bound by a gag order from the Archdiocese. My restrained comments are only done out of respect for my brother. Make note though, I am commenting and I am talking.

A civil suit was filed. There simply was not enough proof to pursue a criminal trial. Too much time had gone by and it was Fr. Kevin’s word against my brother’s. No witnesses. The point of the civil suit was to have something done about Fr. Kevin. This was the only way to get the Archdiocese to take us seriously at all because up to that point they were not. They didn’t care. This was not about money.

Why is it that when most rape victims take their attackers to court people don’t shout at them that they’re money grubbing piranhas? What is it about accusing priests that people automatically think the victim is after something devious or anything other than justice? Is it that so much time has gone by before they step forward? What if it was a kid that was molested time and time again by a relative? Do we blame them for not coming forward more quickly? Or do we see how they are apprehensive about pointing their finger at someone close to them? Do we understand that it’s hard to come out against someone that others know, love and trust? We get it how many others won’t believe them and that it’s hard to take a stand? We’re more willing to accept that they questioned what was happening or that they were too humiliated to let the world know? Why is it that when other rape victims stand up to be accounted for they are strong and brave yet people like my brother or JD115 are made out to be the bad guys? Why don’t priest victims get the same understanding and sympathy? Why are they judged more quickly and harshly? A question: If someone came forward saying they were abused by Fr. Kevin, without the lawsuit and without the possibility of receiving monetary compensation, does that mean the priest is now indeed guilty? To all those that stand up Fr. Kevin, if some one was to come forward and just simply state this man hurt and abused me are they to then be believed? Or is it just easier to cry foul and point the blame at the money that to step back and believe in the possibility the allegations are true?

The case never went to trial. Simply and honestly put, my brother was not stable enough to handle a trial and being questioned by the opposition. Lawyers are hired to win for their clients and that is what they do. I don’t have a problem with that. The Church’s lawyers would have come after my brother hard and ruthless. He was already deeply clinically depressed. Getting out of bed or taking a shower seems monumental when you have a deep depression. Now imagine trying to face a panel of lawyers accusing you of lying or worse, wanting the attentions of Fr. Kevin. Lawyers will try any tactic to try and trip the victim up, make them seem irrational, confused, liars and whatever else it takes for their client to be found innocent. Sometimes it’s not just about the facts but what you can sell to the judge and jury. What perception and reality you can create. Due to the time lapse and the drugging of my brother by Fr. Kevin the memories were not always the exact and the most clear. Something the lawyers would have had a field day with. Fr. Kevin had learned his trade well. My brother was also suffering with PTSD. He had to drop out of college. He was angry. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t know what was right or what was wrong. He didn’t know how to love and be loved anymore. He didn’t know how to deal with what happened to him.

So what options were left to my family? They wanted some type of justice but none would be forthcoming in jail time or a guilty verdict. That’s when the money came into play. The Archdiocese didn’t even offer counseling of any sort because that would make it plausible Fr. Kevin was guilty. My parents wanted assurances that Fr. Kevin would not be allowed around children ever again but that too would be an admittance of sorts. You want to be taken seriously and sometimes the only way to do that is to hit them in the pocketbook. They won’t listen any other way. My brother was mentally and emotionally unwell now. We wanted money to get my brother help. So we either walked away worse off than when we first began or walked away with the hope we could get my brother professional help. Lawyers and therapy cost money. Our lawyer said we would not win the case and the best thing to do was settle. So we did.

As part of the settlement a gag order was issued for my parents and my brother. Yes, they were paid to remain silent. My brother couldn’t face coming out publicly and we were not going to force him. I don’t judge him for his decision. He made the best fight he could and unfortunately it did not end up with Fr. Kevin’s name in the press, behind bars and away from children.

Let’s tally things up shall we? The Archdiocese paid my brother a sum of money in exchange for my brother: being raped, not being able to talk about the rape, dropping out of school, becoming clinically depressed, PTSD and more, not being able to ever have a normal relationship again, being angry, being paranoid, being confused, doubting himself, hating himself, not being able to keep a job, not being able to live on his own, revolving visits to behavioral clinics, a lifetime of multiple daily medications, not knowing how to communicate and not being able to have a normal life. I dream of winning the lottery and not worrying about paying bills. My brother dreams about having a normal life where he gets to worry about paying bills. I think it’s fair to say that while he is still living, Father Kevin Hederman stole his life and the Archdiocese paid a paltry sum for my brother’s soul. Meanwhile, Fr. Kevin was free to go about his business, his life and set up shop elsewhere.

And while we are at it let’s throw in a few more things. Not only has my brother’s life been irreparably been changed but so has the lives of my family. The abuse of one person has many ripple effects. Not only do my parents take care of my brother but they have to watch him suffer on a daily basis of him struggling to get by week by week. My parents never experienced the “empty nest syndrome.” My siblings and I have experience our own issues surrounding this new family dynamic as well. This has been going on for years. My brother is very much loved and we do what we can to help him. We will always be there for him and glad to do so. These years have been frustrating for all of us but we remain a loving family and committed to working through this lifetime sentence. My brother is no longer the person he once was. Sometimes though, sometimes, when he is having a good cycle you see glimpses of the old person he used to be: funny, smart and carefree. When this happens it makes me smile and cry all at the same time. It’s wonderful to see and remember how great my brother really is and can be. It is heart wrenching to know this aspect of him is more like spotting a rainbow, but less often, and a reminder of what was taken from him.

For any of those that say my family took hush money and that’s all they wanted or contributed to others being abused because we didn’t stop it I will chalk your comments up to appalling ignorance. Try looking at things from the victim’s point of view as a victim, not an outsider. The money was spent long ago on medical care and now he gets by on government disability. Think about that. Your tax dollars are paying for the victim of sexual abuse by a priest.

People have said, “If there was a lawsuit then where is it?!?” Well, it’s on file but it doesn’t matter. Fr. Kevin was not specifically named as a defendant on the lawsuit, which in hindsight was a mistake. I am not sure as to what the reasoning was behind that decision but I can only assume it was based off the recommendation of our lawyer. We also naively thought that the Archdiocese would want to remedy this situation by appropriately dealing with Fr. Kevin and his assigned duties and responsibilities. The case has been sealed so no details are available as to what it contains. All you will see is that there was a case filed, settled and sealed with no mention of Fr. Kevin by name that is public information. So you want hard proof? I have none. As of now.

Now the high school that was involved in this incident assured us that Fr. Kevin would no longer have any dealings with their school. From my knowledge they kept their word. The Archdiocese was of no help. Based off the police report alone it was clear Fr. Kevin should have been kept away from children. So instead of acknowledging the severity of the situation and the potential damage to future victims they did nothing. Or did they? Not too long after the lawsuit was settled Fr. Kevin moved to Belize. Interesting isn’t it?

I know Fr. Kevin’s family was asked by a respected reporter about my brother’s case. There were no details mentioned, just the fact that the reporter had heard there was another case from the 90’s brought against Fr. Kevin. They vigorously denied that fact. Maybe they didn’t know about the case because Fr. Kevin was easily able to hide it since it never made the press. Maybe Fr. Kevin lied about wanting to go to Belize for the same reason? Maybe it wasn’t even his choice to leave the country. Maybe he has been lying this whole time about why he is there. He didn’t have to offer up the truth nor would he as it would tarnish his name and reputation. Lies are easily accepted by those that love someone, trust them, believe in them and have no reason to think otherwise. I get that.

I’d like to urge other victims of sexual abuse to step forward. I’ll be honest, it isn’t pretty and it sure in the hell isn’t easy. It is also very scary. But as JD115 has done, you too can make an anonymous claim. The Archdiocese did nothing when my brother came forward years ago but today’s climates regarding these cases are different. Another voice, two, three, twenty can make a big difference. JD115’s case is non-existent in the media. If enough people stand up and speak out the public will take notice and that will force the Church to take notice. Perhaps we can get this man, and any others, away from children for good. Perhaps he will finally be held accountable.

I would also like to extend my personal thanks to John Doe 115 whoever and wherever you are. I know coming forward is a hard thing to do. The fact that you are doing so now after all this time leads me to believe that this has been weighing on your mind for years. I hope, no matter the outcome of your case, that you find peace with the past, present and future. I hope that your case (either directly or indirectly) finds a way to ban Fr. Kevin Hederman from being around children; something my family could not accomplish. I hope that you have scared Fr. Kevin badly enough to stop acting on his sick desires from fear of getting caught. I hope that you remain strong and know how strong you are to begin with. I hope you realize that your actions of speaking out was like a gift to my family; priceless. I hope you know that there are people that believe you. And while I have all these hopes, I know there is a place for you in Heaven.

The point of me writing this wasn’t so much to try and make people believe that Fr. Kevin raped my brother or to make you believe JD115’s claims. I know people are going to say you have no proof so you must be lying. Or I won’t believe you until you show proof. That’s fine. Go ahead and accuse me of lying or having ulterior motives. I’m not sure what those motives would be though. I mostly wanted to address the reasoning behind stepping forward anonymously, years later and settling a lawsuit for money. People seem to want to jump on these things like it is proof that the victims are liars or the bad ones in this situation.

Let me tell you, there are no winners in these situations.

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