8 Nov 2010

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Opens Branch in W.Virginia

The Charleston Gazette - October 13, 2009

Support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse starts in W.Va.

By Kathryn Gregory | Staff writer

Lawrence Pierce
Cynthia Falter-Marquez of Berkeley Springs talks about the sexual abuse she endured when she was a girl in Catholic school in Los Angeles. Falter-Marquez recently traveled across the country, reaching out and speaking to victims of clergy abuse and encouraging them to come forward and share their stories.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- People who have been sexually abused by priests or other clergy members in West Virginia now have an outlet to voice their pain and tell their stories, through a new support-group branch.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the oldest and largest self-help support group for clergy-abuse victims, has started a West Virginia chapter, with the hope that local victims of clergy abuse will come forward.

In May of this year, Sandy Martin Cook, 49, was sentenced to 20 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing Michael "Andy" Lewis, José Strickland and Michael Bradford in the 1990s, when Cook was pastor at Shrewsbury Church of God.

"I want to commend all of the brave victims of the Sandy Cook case," said SNAP Ohio Valley Regional Director Judy Jones. "They started the ball rolling. Hopefully, they'll raise awareness for other victims to speak about their own clergy abuse."

David Mullins was one of four victims who originally came forward to testify against Cook, but his particular charges were dropped and not brought to court. Even so, Mullins said that standing up and giving his testimony against Cook during the sentencing was a sort of closure for the 30-year-old man, who said he was abused when he was in his early teens.

Mullins said that if he hadn't found SNAP, he might not have been able to come forward with his testimony.

"We get a lot of negative comments when we come forward," he said. "Without Judy, I would not have been able to get up there and relive that experience."

Mullins said he hopes the new group will uncover more of Cook's victims.

"I honestly believe there are more victims of Sandy Cook. They need to come forward now," he said. "You're not that same scared 13- or 14-year-old boy anymore."

Jones said the most important thing that victims can do is to come forward and bring more attention to the issue of abuse by authority figures of any religious faith.

"It's extremely hard to come forward," she said, "but with every survivor that has come forward, they have always asked me why they waited so long."

Jones, who is the oldest of 11 siblings, joined SNAP after she learned that a clergy member who has been in her town for more than 40 years had abused her brother.

On top of announcing the new support network in the state, Jones wants to encourage victims to go to the police, not other church members, about their abuse.

"It doesn't matter how long ago it happened, they need to go to the police," she said. "It starts the healing process."

Cynthia Falter-Marquez, a Berkeley Springs resident and abuse victim, recently traveled across the country to speak to clergy-abuse victims and encourage them to come forward and share their stories.

Falter-Marquez was abused as a young girl at a Catholic school in Los Angeles. More than 40 years later, she is still speaking out about what happened to her and is trying to find closure.

"We're not alone," she said. "I was told that I was the only person that this happened to at my school, but then I found out that there are 39 counts against my abuser, and he's still not on a sex-offender registry."

SNAP has been in contact with more than 10,000 victims of sexual abuse, and they are finding more victims everyday.

"It's just the tip of the iceberg," she said.

Falter-Marquez said that coming forward as a victim of sexual abuse could help keep future cases from happening.

"People like this don't stop doing what they do," she said. "I can't bear the fact that this could happen to one more child."

The first self-help support group SNAP meeting will be held Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Kanawha Public Library in St. Albans. Any victims of sexual abuse by a clergy member of any faith are encouraged to attend.

For more information about the SNAP organization, please visit www.snapnetwork.org or http://wheeling-charlestontruth.org.

The first self-help support group meeting will be held today at 6:30 p.m. at the Kanawha Public Library in St. Albans. Any victims of sexual abuse by a clergy member of any religious faith are encouraged to attend.

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