Clergy sexual abuse survivors group aims to empower through knowledge

| March 31, 2017 | 0 Comments

Education about sexual abuse and its effects, coping strategies and letting go of feelings of shame is the focus of a six-week, confidential group launching in the Twin Cities to support victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

Led by Bloomington-based therapist Deb Riba, the group is designed to help survivors feel validated, “more aware” and empowered through knowledge. The group is also geared toward “secondary survivors,” family members and friends of people who have suffered clergy sexual abuse. The group will meet 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesdays April 19-May 24.

Deb Riba

“A big part of this is not to feel alone,” said Riba, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked with survivors of several kinds of abuse, including clergy sexual abuse. “Our goal is to have everybody feel comfortable and safe. There’s no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

The group is independent of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It’s not a therapy group, Riba said, but rather “a starting point” for people healing from clergy sexual abuse. “You can come and not even talk, just get information that we hope is helpful,” she said.

Facilitating the group with Riba will be a clergy sexual abuse survivor, who asked that The Catholic Spirit not use her name. She said the idea behind an education group is to help survivors and secondary survivors “approach the issue with a fuller understanding of what abuse is.”

“Knowledge is power, and this whole crime is about powerlessness,” she said. “Many times people haven’t even started their therapy, and I think this is a first step to learn about the effects of abuse on a person and on their entire relationships that they have in their whole lives. It does something to that, and those have to be built up again, and that trust has to be built up again. This is a place to start.”

She said she hoped that “in some small way we can be part of the healing of their souls and spirits and also give them the resources to continue to become whole again.”

Riba stressed the group’s value for secondary survivors.

“There’s so many things that you think you know about abuse, but you don’t,” she said. “It’s not a topic that people like to talk about, so it’s not a topic that you like to ask questions about.”

The survivor-facilitator said she’s especially passionate about helping secondary survivors.

“I saw what my husband went through when I went through therapy,” she said. “I know that he was one of them who saved my life, and he was there every step of the way, but because of that experience, because he saw what clergy have done, he won’t step foot inside a church today.”

She added: “I think there are people out there hurting, and the focus, of course, should be on the victims, but there are other victims, too.”

For more information and meeting location, call 612-388-5752.

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Category: Local News