A hotline set up by New Jersey officials for citizens to report sexual abuse by priests was so overwhelmed with calls that the state had to assign more workers to the hotline — and people are still having trouble getting through.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal launched a special task force to look into allegations of sexual abuse within the state’s branches of the Catholic Church, and part of that included a call-in center for victims to give tips to investigators… and those tips haven’t stopped coming in.
[Spokesman for the Division of Criminal Justice Peter Aseltine], who would not disclose how many calls have been received, said the state has taken steps to ensure that the hotline is adequately staffed. Calls yesterday to the toll-free number, (855) 363-6548, were being answered almost immediately.
The move by New Jersey to set up a task force and hotline was taken in the wake of the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August, which detailed in graphic terms the sex abuse by hundreds of priests who had preyed upon children for decades.
In an interview with NPR, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said the response underscored the need to have hotlines across the country, “because I am certain that this abuse, given the pattern and practices that the Pennsylvania report identified, was not limited to the Northeast.”
Why was the line so overwhelmed? Perhaps because of how much Church leaders have downplayed the scandals and covered up for fellow priests. Perhaps because more people are willing to speak out when they believe investigators will actually take them seriously for once. Perhaps because people have seen what’s happened in Pennsylvania and Boston and have been waiting for the opportunity to tell someone their own stories. When people in power are honestly listening, it’s not surprising that stories will pour out of people who have been afraid to speak out.
Certain advocates for child abuse survivors already knew the Church’s power and secrecy were keeping some victims silent, so they predicted the hotline would be popular.
Mark Crawford, the state director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he had anticipated there could well be a great many calls to the state’s hotline.
“I suspect they are getting many calls from victims throughout the country who once lived here as a youngster and experienced clergy sexual abuse at that time,” he said. “I know this as I myself have received many calls — far more than the regular volume of survivors reaching out. Some in their 70’s who stated they had never spoken to someone, anyone of their abuse before now.”
Keep in mind the hotline is just the beginning. The stories that come in will be investigated and they will have to be confirmed. It’s merely the first step in a long, difficult journey. But it’s also a step that many victims felt they couldn’t take until now (for a number of legitimate reasons).
All the more reasons for other states to set up their own hotlines — and to make sure they’re adequately staffed.
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