Listening and responding to those who have been abused

Introduction #

Right from the beginning, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (TutelaMinorum) focused on understanding the best possible ways to listen and respond to all those who have been wounded by abuse. It is an ongoing process which unfolds on three levels: change, experience and meaning.

Change as a proactive and intentional commitment to bring healing to those who have suffered.

Experience as the source of learning, through the generosity and the courage of those who have suffered abuse and who contribute to this process by advising the Church on how to make the voices of victims and survivors heard.

Meaning as tention toward the promotion of an effective culture of listening and responding with an aim to improve our Outreach and Safeguarding standards.

We acknowledge that there is no “perfect” way or a prototype to listening and responding. We also acknowledge that there are good ways represented by solid approaches, initiatives and projects carried out at local levels.

What has emerged from this ongoing process are the following foundational concepts. We offer these suggestions for a positive and effective approach to listening and responding to victims/survivors of abuse and as a methodology to create safe spaces to allow their voices to be heard.

Suggestions for listening and responding #

Prompt response: to ensure that dioceses/religious congregations have effective, professional and prompt processes in place in order receive competently and appropriately those who report abuse.

Quality of the listening and responding attitude: those who have suffered abuse must be heard and received compassionately. Listening to them with empathy and support must be guaranteed.

Events: to consider offering support groups with regular meetings, retreats, parenting groups (when one is a survivor of child sexual abuse and also a parent), family support.

Psychological support: to offer the possibility of counselling or psychotherapy.

Further thoughts and suggestions for listening and responding are included in the following document, “DOS & DON’TS,” prepared by Teresa Pitt Green from Spirit Fire.

Survivor advisory panels #

The work of TutelaMinorum has aimed to offer strategies to develop platforms for the Church to better listen to the voices of victims/survivors of abuse and work toward integrating these voices into the life and mission of the Church. Survivor Advisory Panels (SAP) are platforms through which survivors can be listened to within a safe and culturally familiar space. The creation of these safe spaces and transparent processes invite people who have been abused to openly come forward and share their experiences.

A goal of these SAPS is that local church leadership will benefit from the direct input of victims/survivors by learning how they can improve their child protection and Safeguarding policies. Currently, three local SAPs are being developed and are serving as pilot programs in different continents (Brazil, Zambia and the Philippines). One is also being carried out through a virtual platform based in the United States. These initiatives are based on the Survivor Advisory Panel of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission from England and Wales which shared the expertise and experiences of its generous members with TutelaMinorum. These developments are helping TutelaMinorum fulfill its ongoing mission of ensuring both that the thoughts and contributions of people who have been abused inform all aspects of the Commission’s work and that the voice of victims/survivors are fully integrated into the life and ministry of the Church.

A SAP can be established in order to advise Episcopal Conferences and Safeguarding ministers. The following document, “How to develop a Survivor Advisory Panel,” is a guide that demonstrates how to organize such a panel. It is extremely important to acknowledge that such panels need very careful preparation, planning and support, and they need to be rooted in the local culture if they are to be effective.

How to develop a Survivor Advisory Panel

How to develop a Survivor Advisory Panel (picture)

 Experiência de César Cotrim (published with the kind permission of the Brazilian Survivor Advisory Panel and the generosity of César Cotrim)

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