Survivors, advocates form a chapter of anti-abuse network

Group with Catholic roots now serves people from various faith communities

Jun 29, 2015 by

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Twelve survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates have formed an Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of an organization that “protects the vulnerable, heals the wounded and exposes the truth.”

Leaders of the group, known as SNAP-Menno, announced its formation June 23.

SNAP stands for Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests. Founded 26 years ago to expose sexual violations by U.S. Catholic clergy, it has expanded to serve survivors of predators and pedophiles from a variety of faith communities.

SNAP-Menno “provides a safe place, entirely independent of institutional structures, for Mennonite-related survivors to seek healing,” according to a news release.

The group is convened by longtime victim-advocate Ruth E. Krall, an emerita professor at Goshen (Ind.) College, with SNAP-trained survivor-advocates Cameron Altaras, Barbra Graber and advocate Jeff Altaras.

Other founding members are Rachel Halder, Steph­anie Kreh­biel, Keith Morris, Tim Naf­zig­er, Hilary Scarsella, Lisa Schirch, Sylvia Shirk and Jennifer Yoder.

SNAP’s helpline, 1-877-SNAP HEALS, offers a confidential listening ear to anyone who has seen, suspected or suffered from sexual abuse within a faith community.

SNAP’s Survivor Support Groups, facilitated by SNAP-trained leaders, provide a place where victims and their loved ones receive anonymous aid from other survivors.

‘Deeply hidden plague’

According to notes accompanying the news release, the SNAP-Menno idea began with Krall, who was introduced to Catholic activists in 2006.

Krall “had already dedicated decades of her life to understanding and penetrating the deeply hidden plague of sexual abuse among Mennonite clans,” according to the notes.

In 2011 Krall released a three-part online book, The Elephant in God’s Living Room, about Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse of women.

Krall sent information on SNAP to Graber, a former professor at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., who is an associate editor of ourstoriesuntold.com, a website devoted to preventing sexualized violence among Mennonites.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, Graber was drawn to the “wealth of knowledge and hope” in the SNAP resources Krall sent her. Graber and Halder, founding editor of Our Stories Untold, attended SNAP’s 2014 conference in Chicago.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion walking into a room of several hundred survivors who had, like me, been sexually violated by the same persons who taught us about God and were members of our faith community,” Graber says in the notes.

“I knew many Mennonite survivors of sexual assault, but very few who called it that or were able to speak openly about it, much less publicly confront the church’s denial and collusion. In Chicago I discovered passionate and wholly committed survivors of sexual trauma, of all genders, without 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. . . . I knew I had found a true network of support — something I’d sought after all my life.”

In October, Krall tested the idea of an Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of SNAP with Thomas Doyle, a Catholic abuse-survivors’ advocate, when he consulted with Anabaptist Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and lectured at College Mennonite Church in Goshen.

Graber plans to start a SNAP survivor support group in Harrisonburg this fall. She and other SNAP-Menno leaders are available for anonymous and confidential support.

The SNAP-Menno chapter joins other SNAP chapters for Presbyterians, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, children of missionaries, Orthodox Christians and Boy Scouts, among others.

More information is available by contacting mennonite@SNAPnetwork.org.

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  • Barbara Dorris

    We are so grateful to Ruth, Barbra, Cameron and Jeff for stepping forward and creating a safe place for anyone hurt in the Mennonite community. When SNAP was founded we believed the abuse was a “Catholic” problem but sadly we have learned there is abuse and cover-up in almost every denomination. Things change when survivors, witnesses and whistle blowers feel safe enough to step forward and report what they know to civil authorities. Welcome SNAP Mennonite and thank you for all your help!
    Barbara Dorris
    Outreach Director for SNAP
    314-503-0003

    • Barbra Graber

      Thank you Barbara and David for all the encouragement, patience, wisdom and help you have given us already. We look forward to being part of this civil rights movement for children and vulnerable adults in faith communities. Onward and upward!

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