If a clergy member sexually abuses you, you can take steps to get help and support. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that you have choices in how to proceed. You may feel afraid or ashamed to talk about what happened. But it is not your fault, and you do not have to keep it a secret. Here are some things you can do:
Take a break from the church
The first thing you should do after being sexually assaulted is take a break from the church. If possible, you can ask another person in the congregation to go with you on this break or take a leave of absence from church.
Report to the authorities
Sexual abuse is a serious crime. If you’re still in high school, your school will probably report the allegation to the police. If you’re an adult and have been abused by a clergy member, you should report it to law enforcement immediately and then hire a lawyer to help you build a sexual abuse case.
Tell someone you trust
The most important thing you can do is tell someone who will believe you and help. It might be a friend or family member, or it could be a counselor or other professional. If your abuser is in the clergy, ask a trusted adult if there’s anyone else at your church who would be willing to listen without judgment. If not, ask for recommendations from another church leader or religious leader outside your faith (like a rabbi or imam).
Don’t keep it a secret!
Telling an adult will remove any pressure that keeps survivors from revealing their abuse out of shame or guilt — or fear of being blamed for what happened. It will also help protect other children from abuse by letting adults know that there may be a problem in their community (or work).
Get counseling or therapy
Sexual abuse does not go away on its own, and it could keep rearing its ugly head in your life until you get help addressing it properly. It could also lead to other problems down the line, such as depression or anxiety, so it’s essential that someone helps you through this difficult time. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about what happened with someone at your church or any other religious organization, consider finding someone who specializes in helping victims of sexual abuse deal with their feelings and memories (such as a psychologist).
Get medical attention
If you were injured during the abuse, seek medical attention as soon as possible from a doctor or hospital emergency room so that evidence of the assault can be collected and preserved for investigation purposes (e.g., bruises, cuts). Try not to wash or clean your body before seeking help — this may destroy evidence that could be used in court later on down the line.
Meet with your bishop in person
You should meet with your bishop immediately after reporting sexual abuse or harassment. Your bishop will want to hear what happened to take appropriate action against the priest who abused you. Depending on the allegations’ seriousness, your bishop may also refer them to law enforcement authorities for investigation and criminal prosecution if necessary.
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