As more and more clergy sexual abuse survivors feel empowered to come forward and file claims under the New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill, the number of accused priests taking legal action in response is rising. Since December 2019, when the New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill went into effect, more than 240 lawsuits have been collectively filed against the five dioceses in New Jersey. As lawsuits amass, the alleged perpetrators and their institutions continue to use multiple tactics to roadblock survivors at every turn.
Children who have been abused typically do not disclose sexual abuse during or immediately after the time they are abused. Additionally, widely accepted scientific evidence has found that victims of childhood sexual abuse are often unable to come forward and speak on their abuse until many years into their adult lives, if ever. The New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill was passed in order to remedy the injustice to abuse survivors in recognition of these facts. This innate struggle, now coupled with the possibility of facing a defamation lawsuit, creates an even more daunting psychological barrier for survivors. The defamation lawsuits are meant to scare survivors into submission and muffle their pleas for truth and justice. Not only is this a callous and cold maneuver, it is re-traumatizing. Survivors, who have dealt with an immeasurable amount of trauma, are now forced to face a new wave of distress as their alleged abusers again use their power to silence them. For those who did tell someone about their abuse as a child and weren’t believed, this tactic is one that hits especially close to the heart, because they are again being called a liar and their trauma is again invalidated. Furthermore, this response illustrates the self-serving and cowardly nature of the accused perpetrators; instead of taking responsibility and accountability, they continue to deflect, disengage, and defend themselves whenever and wherever they can.
This dark tactic further proves the need for survivors to shed light on the truth. This litigious maneuver is, by all means, designed to intimidate and silence survivors. It is vital that survivors continue to take their power back and courageously come forward and share their truth. Every survivor story brings us closer to a world in which children are safer and guilty institutions or parties are held accountable. The more survivors come forward, the more challenging it becomes for the institutions and perpetrators to bury the truth and hide behind self-serving tactics.