SNAP logoI distinctly remember the feeling I had walking into that large hotel conference room in Chicago with Rae Halder last summer. I was overwhelmed with emotion and had to find a chair.

We were welcomed as Mennonites to the 2014 Annual SNAP Conference, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and I saw something I’d never seen before: several hundred fellow survivors gathered for the purpose of making sure the reprehensible acts that were done to us would not be done to others. They had, like me, been sexually violated by members of their faith communities, the same persons who taught us about God.

imagesAfter nearly three decades of work on my own healing and advocacy with others, I knew many, many Mennonite survivors of sexual assault and violation at the hands of family members and people with whom they attempted to worship on Sunday mornings.  But very few of us were ready to call it sexual violation or tell others that it happened to us, much less dare to confront the denial in our families and the cover-ups in our churches.

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Rae and me at the 2014 Chicago SNAP Conference

So on that summer day in Chicago in 2014, I discovered something new. I found survivors of sexual trauma, without a stitch of shame, wearing placards around their necks that held pictures of themselves at the age of their abuse.  They were taking clear courageous action collectively and publicly, as survivor-activists, to ‘protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, and expose the truth.’ It was one of those watershed moments. I knew I had found a true network of support from people much further along the path of healing and prevention than I.  It was something I’d sought after all my life and that’s why the tears of relief and disbelief began to flow. And it’s why I’m so excited to finally bring you, our OSU readers, some really big, glorious news, with deep gratitude for the prayers, persistence, and support of so many others both named and unnamed in this newsflash:

Thirteen Mennonite-related survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates have joined other faith groups to create an Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests.  

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SNAP Founder and President Barbara Blaine

Here’s how SNAP introduces itself re: the 2015 Annual SNAP Conference this summer: “SNAP was founded in 1988 as a self-help support group for those who were sexually violated. Frustrated with the inadequate response from church officials we began seeking out each other. Still hurting, we determined to research and teach ourselves how to heal from the trauma. Very early in the process we figured out that church officials were interested in protecting predators and their reputation, not truly helping victims and family members. As the SNAP members embarked on individual journeys towards wholeness we discovered that working to prevent future violence is an integral element for healing.”

Now in its 26th year, SNAP was created by President Barbara Blaine and then joined by Executive Director David Clohessy and Outreach Director Barbara Dorris, to expose the sexual violations of clergy in the U.S. Catholic Church. Their courageous influence has since expanded around the world to serve survivors of predators and pedophiles from a variety of faith communities.

SNAP’s mission: “protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, expose the truth.”

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Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, founder of G.R.A.C.E., represented evangelical Christians at last year’s conference.

The new SNAP Menno Chapter provides a safe place, an inclusive place, entirely independent of Mennonite institutional structures, conferences and congregations, for Mennonite-related survivors to seek healing alongside other Anabaptist Mennonites.

SNAP’s helpline (1-877-SNAP HEALS) offers a confidential listening ear to anyone who has seen, suspected or suffered from sexual abuse, especially from within our faith community. Its website is filled with a wealth of free help, advice and first-person accounts. SNAP’s Survivor Support Groups, facilitated by SNAP-trained leaders with a time-tested format created by SNAP survivors, provide a place where victims and their loved ones come to receive anonymous aid from other survivors and advocates.

Many of these self-help groups are available across the continent for survivors and their loved ones. And we’re bringing them to Kansas City! SNAP Menno and OurStoriesUntold.com will co-sponsor three SNAP Survivor Support Group meetings during Mennonite Church USA’s biennial convention in Kansas City, from 1-2pm on July 2, 3, and 4 in the Citiscape Room of the Aladdin Holday Inn Hotel in KC.  Contact Barbra Graber for more information.

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Father Thomas Doyle spoke at AMBS and College Mennonite in October 2014

The seeds of this Mennonite movement began with Dr. Ruth Krall when she heard Dominican priest Father Thomas Doyle speak in 2006 about the connection between clergy sexual violence and institutional clericalism —that cloud of personal power we are taught to hand over to ordained church leaders. Ruth had already dedicated decades of her life to understanding and penetrating the deeply hidden plague of sexual abuse among Mennonite clans and found herself saying “I know this story. I recognize this story.”

In late 2011 Krall released a 3-part online book The Elephant in God’s Living Room which brought documented attention to renowned Mennonite peace theologian John Howard Yoder’s serial sexual abuses. It includes a detailed timeline in which institutional church leaders in the 70’s and 80’s, with credible allegations of his behavior, allowed it to continue. As part of her research, she read her way through Richard Sipe’s webpage and stumbled across SNAP as well as Bishop Accountability’s Abuse Tracker.

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Outreach Director Barbara Dorris with Blaine, bringing the case of abused children to the International Court of Justice, The Hague

When Krall’s path crossed my own, she began sending me links to SNAP news and information.  As I’ve spoken about publicly since the 90’s, I survived sexual assault as a very young child at the hands of my father and other child predators in our small Mennonite community of Wayland, IA.  As is common for child victims, I was sexually violated again, as a teenager by my much older Baptist brother-in-law and again as a recent college graduate by a married man in a Mennonite Church sponsored travelling drama troupe, which happened to be performing the works of well-known Mennonite writer Urie Bender, who was later credibly accused of multiple sexual violations of children.

I was so drawn to the wealth of knowledge and hope in the SNAP resources Ruth sent me that Rae and I decided we’d like to check them out as a resource for our own mission here at OSU. Little did we know Ruth had even bigger plans.

She was implementing a dream of her own: to create an Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of SNAP.  She tested the idea with Father Doyle in October 2014 when he was invited to consult with the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart  and lecture at Goshen College Mennonite Church’s New Perspectives in Faith series, a weekend of events she initiated.

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SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy (in blue shirt) with photo of another survivor at the age of his abuse.

Fr. Doyle later introduced the idea of a Mennonite Chapter to SNAP leaders and soon Krall received a letter from Barbara Blaine welcoming Mennonite survivors and advocates into the organization. Since that time Barbara Dorris and David Clohessey have become important mentors.

On November 18, 2014 Ruth and I conference-called with Dorris and assembled a group of persons interested in the cause. Among those was a Canadian woman, Cameron Altaras, who was sexually violated by her teenaged uncle when she was a child and again as an adult by a Mennonite pastor.

In January of 2015 Cameron and I, along with her advocate-husband Jeff Altaras attended the SNAP Leader Training in Tampa, FL.  Cameron and Jeff are now co-leading with a Catholic survivor, a SNAP Survivor Support group in Seattle, WA and focused on the Mennonite abuse crisis in Canada. I’m slated to begin a group in Harrisonburg, VA later this fall.

Additional chapter members include OSU partner Hilary Scarsella (survivor-advocate) along with Sylvia Klauser (advocate & European Menno), Stephanie Krehbiel (advocate), Keith Morris (survivor-advocate), Tim Nafziger (advocate), Lisa Schirch (advocate), Sylvia Shirk (survivor-advocate),  and Jennifer Yoder (survivor-advocate). And we hope this list grows to include many more of you.

Come learn more at the 2015 Annual SNAP Conference which will take place in Alexandria, VA, July 31-August 2, 2015.  Mennonite survivors, supporters and friends from around the world are welcomed and encouraged to attend!  Register for a day pass or the full schedule.

It’s onward and upward, my friends, with deep courage and lots of hope and a heap of thanks to the SNAP network.    Barbra

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www.snapnetwork.org

Toll Free SNAP Phone: 1-877-SNAP HEALS (1-877-762-7432)

Toll Free National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

Contacts for the Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of SNAP:

Email: Mennonite@SNAPnetwork.org

Cameron Altaras (Washington State): 206-930-7067, Survivor

Jeff Altaras (Washington State): 206-930-7065, Advocate

Barbra Graber (Virginia): 540-214-8874, Survivor

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