Kat Sullivan

Kat Sullivan

News On The Rocks: The Crisis Of Sexual Abuse Without Accountability

August 17, 2018 - 4:09 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- We learned this week that more than 1,000 children – maybe far more – were victimized by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania.

The report accuses church leaders of hiding abuse for 70 years.

The grand jury said it believes the "real number" of abused children might be "in the thousands" since some records were lost and victims were afraid to come forward. The report said more than 300 clergy committed the abuse over a period decades, beginning in the mid-1950s.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro also said the probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.

Back in April, Kat Sullivan – inspired by the film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" – took out three billboards to call out the man she says raped her decades ago. Sullivan said she was a student at the prestigious Emma Willard School in upstate Troy when she was raped by her history teacher and soccer coach, who she said took advantage of her after she learned her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer.

In this week’s “News on the Rocks” podcast, Sullivan joined Wayne Cabot and Patty Steele to talk about the horrific situation in Pennsylvania. Here are some excerpts from their conversation.

Cabot: “For those who don’t remember, tell us in a nutshell why this means so much to you what’s happening now, with the victims being suppressed and not being able to exercise their rights because of these laws that protect the abusers.”

Sullivan: “The Pennsylvania grand jury investigation report is a segue to the recommendations that the grand jury made, and these people are laypersons. They were randomly selected to perform their civic duty. They served as grand jurors for two years. And so these are recommendations based on everyday people within our society, and what they have recommended overwhelmingly is that the legislation in Pennsylvania needs to change. There needs to be access to the court system, because out of 1,000 victims that were identified, only two were within the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. That’s a failure, because it’s not through lack of any evidence. This is a 1,300-page report. It’s 800 pages in text, and the rest are addendum items, and addendum items could be a memo from one bishop to someone else.”

Steele: “And it’s hair-curling in what it describes happened to so many of these children.”

Cabot: “And just to establish, so you took out billboards.”

Sullivan: “I did. I took out billboards because I had no other recourse of warning society of my abuser and what took place, and I also wanted to let them know I am very sorry that this is not a public record other than in media and this billboard that you’re looking at for the next four weeks. But I cannot take my rapist to court. I cannot take the school to court that gave him letters of reference that allowed him to go to another educational institution and teach, and abuse more girls.”

Steele: “And that they covered that up.”

Sullivan: “Correct.”

Cabot: “And now we’re hearing about kids being brought in for haircuts, which were not haircuts at all; about kids that were given gold crosses after being abused and those crosses were assigned to other abusive priests in this ring of pedophiles; that this was a kid who was amenable to your deviant approaches because they had already been desensitized. I mean, it’s just bloodcurdling.”

Steele: “So they were being labeled as up for grabs, basically…. It’s, oh, gah, it gives you chills when you think about your little child!... Whether it’s to a school that you send him to, believing as a parent, you know, the most important thing in the world is that you keep your child safe. So you think school, church, you know, what better places to send your child and know that you can trust that these people are dedicated to children and helping raise them in a safe, loving environment, and this stuff is going on. And then to find out, as you did, that you have zero recourse – because once you’re an adult and you look back, and you realize how this impacted you, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Cabot: “Aren’t you typically in your 40s and 50s, Kat, by the time… most people are ready to be able to deal with this?”

Sullivan: “Yes. There’s studies that have been done, and you know, all of this information; all the research and the data has been presented to New York senators for 11 years now, and certainly, Governor Cuomo is aware of it. You know, let’s use science. Let’s use the data to have legislation that helps to stop crimes, and when you silence the voice of victims – regardless of how old they are – you don’t course-correct history. I mean, what needs to happen here is a course correction of history. The people that enabled the abuse; the people that covered it up – some of them are still in their positions of power right now. I mean, that can’t happen.”

Steele: “And when you screw with a child’s sense of what’s right and wrong – I mean, that’s part of the problem. This stuff is starting at a very young age, obviously, and children don’t have the capacity to say: ‘OK, I know this is a person I’ve been told is a good person. I know this is a person who’s supposed to take care of me, but they’re not. A kid doesn’t have that ability. They’re sitting there thinking that they did something wrong, and that’s why they don’t feel right about what’s happening, and so they lock it inside, and that’s exactly what happened to Kat. When she was young, she just kind of internalized it all because it was so horrifying to her. She didn’t feel like she had a whole lot of recourse, especially after going to the school and talking to them and they shut her down. After that, she just pulled it all inside herself.”

Cabot: “Well there’s such shame, such immense shame, you know – and I can speak to that from what I’ve told you about happened to me when I was young also. And it wasn’t at the hands of a priest, and it wasn't at the hands of someone in authority, but it was an adult who knew better, and my intense shame just let me protect that person unwittingly. And that person is still, by the way, protected all these years later.”

Steele: “I mean, as a young woman – not as a child and not as a minor – I had a number of situations. And I still, even though in my head, I know that they were wrong with what they did to me, I can still, when I think about it in my gut, feel like, ‘OK, I probably did something wrong to bring that on.”

Sullivan: “But you know what? That is what needs to change. The discussion within society needs to be, this is not about what the victims did. This is not about their failure to report, because in most cases, they did tell someone. And that adult either failed that child or helped them – and it is very rare that the help was there. I think if you look at this, I mean, they have letters – handwritten letters from the parents of a child, who said, ‘My son just came home and told me this, and I need to speak with someone about it.’ And you know, the clergy and the leadership of the Church – the Roman Catholic Church – would discourage police investigations. They would try to handle it quietly. They are still doing this today. So what needs to change? Society needs to say, ‘We need to know who these people are, we need to know who they hurt, and we need to stop them. And we need to create disincentives for institutions to cover this up and protect their money.”

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)