Abuse survivor network seeks to help other victims sexually abused by clergy

- A bombshell grand jury report released Tuesday alleges the Catholic Church covered up stories from 1,000 victims. It also stipulates that even though they have identified those victims, there are likely thousands more who have not come forward.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – known as SNAP – is a nationwide support group for victims. Becky Ianni, the D.C. and Virginia Leader for SNAP, has been with the support non-profit for 11 years. She joined in 2007 after seeking help herself. Ianni was victimized when she was just 8 years old.

RELATED: Cardinal Wuerl addresses report on child sex abuse by priests, says he will not resign

“I went to Catholic school and the nuns taught us that the priests were sent by God,” explained Ianni. “So I thought God had sent this priest to abuse me because I thought I must have done something wrong. At one point, I thought I had more Original Sin – that I was a dirty little girl. And for some reason, I had done something wrong, that I deserved this. And my perpetrator told me if I told anyone, that I would go to hell.”

She blocked out her abuse until the age of 48 when she came across a picture of herself as a child with her abuser. The memories flooded back and Ianni sought help from the Catholic Church, who told her, her’s was a complicated case.

“I had said, 'Well, what I need is I need to be told it’s not my fault,'” said Ianni. "I need to be told that someone is sorry and that someone is going to do something about it. And I didn’t get any of those things from them. It took 18 months where they passed me back and forth, back and forth, and I felt like a liability. I didn’t feel like a victim who was hurting.”

The experience changed her relationship with the Catholic Church that she and her children were raised in. Ianni left the church and sought help from others like her.

She was introduced to SNAP from a fellow victim of her abuser.

“And when I called, they talked to me for over an hour and just heard me,” she said.

Even though SNAP is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for those who have been abused by religious and community leaders, Ianni estimates for every victim who comes forward, 10 do not.

“You’re thinking, ‘What if I’m not believed? What if they think I’m dirty? What if they get angry at me? What if someone sues me?’" Ianni explained. "There is such shame involved in it that it is so impossibly hard to come forward. That is why you don’t see people come forward until their 40s, 50s, 60s … Maybe their perpetrator has died. Maybe their mother died and she never knew. You just never know when someone is going to come forward. It’s not early.”

But with the grand jury report and more allegations coming to light, Ianni hopes that stigma will soon be history.

“My goal would be – if a little kid falls down and they scrape their knee, they go running to someone to get a Band-Aid to get it fixed," she said. "If a child is sexually abused, I want them to be able to do that same thing. I want them to know that they can go to someone, that someone is going to take care of them and that they are going to be okay. I think those are the things that we have to work on as a society.”

For those still looking for help, SNAP leaders – including Ianni – are available any time. Just go to http://www.snapnetwork.org.

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