I was in an interview the other day when I was asked whether SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (the group for whom I have volunteered for the past 12 years) paid me.
When I said, no—that I am, in fact, a volunteer with the organization—the writer said, “That’s good. You wouldn’t want to be seen as a professional victim.”
I swallowed hard, and let it drop.
Here’s the rub: SNAP is constantly being bashed by its opponents for being “professional victims.” But since when is taking a stand, demanding change and accountability, and running an organization been “being a professional victim?”
No one looks at other great victim-based organizations like the National Center for Victims of Crime or RAINN: The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and says, “If you really care about the cause, you would work for free.” You certainly don’t look at your child’s teacher and say, “If you truly believed in education, you’d refuse a paycheck.”
So why do people look at SNAP’s full time, professional (and sorely underpaid) staff differently? It’s time for that view to end.
Which leads me to my next point: SNAP is successful. So successful, in fact, that its opponents have taken to SLAPP lawsuits to attempt to silence and bankrupt the organization.
A SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
From the California Anti-SLAPP Project:
While most SLAPPs are legally meritless, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and thus diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue. Equally important, however, a SLAPP also sends a message to others: you, too, can be sued if you speak up.
In a new SLAPP lawsuit, SNAP leaders, an alleged victim’s parents, St. Louis police officers, and city officials are being sued by a St. Louis priest, Fr. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang.
In June 2012, Fr. Jiang was arrested for repeatedly molesting Lincoln County girl and was also charged with “victim tampering.” The tampering charge was due to the fact that he gave the girl’s parents a check for $20,000 to ensure their silence. The parents turned the check over to police.
He also admitted to molesting the girl, according to press reports.
In November 2013, those charges were dismissed. Unfortunately, this is all too common in child sex abuse prosecutions.
Then, in April 2014, he was arrested again on charges he repeatedly molested a St. Louis boy between 2011-2012. Those charges were dismissed in June 2015, but circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce said that her office “remains hopeful that charges will be refiled in the future.”
The motivation for Jiang’s SLAPP lawsuit? From KMOX:
Barbara Dorris of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) tells KMOX that she believes the suit is intended to send a message.
“Our fear is that this is a way to intimidate victims, witnesses and whistle-blowers…into silence,” says Dorris. “If you tell the truth, we will sue you and I think it’s intended to silence people.”
SNAP has never been terribly popular. They expose cover-up. They show how victims and the public have been betrayed by beloved religious leaders. They talk about ugly truths that keep children safer from abuse. They demand that wrong-doers—even well-loved wrong-doers—be held accountable.
And they have changed the world in the process.
Their first amendment right to continue in their work should never be silenced by a SLAPP.