AG Kaul: Releases Update Ahead of First Anniversary of Clergy and Religious Leader Abuse Initiative
MADISON, Wis. – As Wisconsin approaches the first anniversary of the launch of the Wisconsin Clergy and Religious Leaders Abuse Initiative, AG Kaul releases additional information and highlights successes.
“In the year since the Clergy and Religious Leader Abuse Initiative was launched, more than 200 people have reported reports and a district attorney has criminally charged one defendant in a previously unreported matter,” said AG Kaul. “We continue to encourage anyone with information about abuse by clergy and religious leaders to report such information.”
The Wisconsin DOJ Takes Every Report Seriously
Shortly after the initiative was launched, the DOJ organized training for victim advocates in Wisconsin to be prepared to support survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and religious leaders. The training offered live presentations by national experts on working with survivors of clergy sex abuse. Victim advocates at the DOJ and throughout Wisconsin are ready to respond.
Once the DOJ receives a report of abuse, a DOJ Victims Specialist assesses the report to determine what follow-up is appropriate. If the reporting party has indicated that they are willing to be contacted by the DOJ, a DOJ Victims Specialist will contact to help identify survivor support resources. The report is then evaluated by a multidisciplinary team (MDT) composed of a victims’ rights advocate, an investigator and a prosecutor. MDT confers and recommends next steps, which may include follow-up questions for the survivor, collection of additional documentation, or referral to local law enforcement for further investigation. The multidisciplinary teams continue to meet regularly to assess reports made to the DOJ. Every report of abuse made to the DOJ has been or will be reviewed by an MDT.
One respondent said, “For the first time ever, someone listened, someone cared, and most importantly, someone shared the same level of care and compassion for not only my children, but also for the well-being and safety of all children. For the first time, my daughter had a lawyer who wanted to help at the highest level – so wrongdoers could be held accountable and justice was a possibility – not just a hopeful wish.
Wisconsin DOJ making progress
As of April 18, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Initiative for Clergy and Religious Leaders has received a total of 204 reports completed the toll-free information line and the online reporting tool accusing more than 150 people of abuse. Over 1,000 calls have been made to or from the information line, including repeat calls from survivors who recall additional information or seek follow-up information.
Additionally, the DOJ received a significant number of reports from those who had never reported to anyone before.
For example, last year a survivor used the DOJ’s online reporting tool (www.supportsurvivors.widoj.gov) to report abuse by a religious leader at a religious camp. Prior to reporting to the DOJ, the survivor had never reported the abuse to law enforcement. Following the report to the DOJ, a DOJ victim specialist contacted the survivor to discuss possible avenues, including whether he was willing to continue the investigation by law enforcement. Additionally, a DOJ EMD met to assess the report, ultimately deciding that it should be referred to local law enforcement, if the survivor agreed. After a discussion with the survivor, the DOJ contacted the local district attorney and the sheriff’s office about the case, advising them of the details and encouraging further investigation. Following an investigation, the public prosecutor indicted the case in early February (Wisconsin State vs. Remington Jon NystromWaushara County Case No. 2022 FC 27).
Survivors are always encouraged to report
Although many survivors have already come forward, the DOJ encourages survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and religious leaders to contact the DOJ, either through the online reporting tool, www.supportsurvivors.widoj. gov or by calling the toll-free line at 1-877-222-2620.
Survivors who report to the DOJ will have control over what happens after they report. As one survivor said, “The DOJ Victims Specialist was extremely supportive and listened to me. I encourage anyone who has survived sexual abuse in their church to contact the DOJ.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative is making progress for survivors of abuse at the hands of a trusted leader in their faith community. Giving survivors enough time to make the decision to report if they want to is critical and one of the reasons this initiative remains ongoing. Investigating and prosecuting any crime takes time, and sexual assault investigations can be incredibly traumatic and complex, requiring more time for survivors.
The initiative has already resulted in the prosecution of an accused child molester and has given countless Wisconsin residents and their families resources to deal with the traumatic experiences that have occurred when a person in a position of trust has abused its power. The Wisconsin Department of Justice will continue to work with victims and their loved ones to seek justice where possible and provide support to all affected.