submitted by Barbra Graber, SNAP-Menno
The seeds of this Mennonite movement began with Dr. Ruth E. Krall, emeritus professor of nursing, religion, and psychology and former peace studies program director at Goshen College. She was first introduced to Catholic activists when she heard Dominican priest Father Thomas Doyle speak in 2006 about the connection between clergy sexual violence and institutional clericalism – that cloud of personal power we are taught to hand over to ordained leaders and their religious hierarchies.
Krall had already dedicated decades of her life to understanding and penetrating the deeply hidden plague of sexual abuse among Mennonite clans and found herself saying “I know this story. I recognize this story.”
With an educational and clinical background in psychiatric/community mental health nursing and in pastoral theology, her sexual violence advocacy had strong footing.
In late 2011 Krall released a three-part online book The Elephant in God’s Living Room which brought carefully researched and documented attention to renowned Mennonite peace theologian John Howard Yoder’s serial sexual abuses. It includes a detailed timeline in which institutional church leaders in the 70’s and 80’s, with credible allegations of his behavior, allowed it to continue.
As part of her research, she read her way through Richard Sipe’s webpage and stumbled across SNAP as well as Bishop Accountability’s Abuse Tracker.
When Krall’s path crossed with Mennonite survivor-activist Barbra Graber, Krall began sending her links to SNAP news and information.
Graber is a former Eastern Mennonite University professor and director of theater, now an associate editor of OurStoriesUntold.com, a website devoted to preventing sexualized violence among Mennonites.
Graber survived sexual assault as a very young child at the hands of her father and other child predators in her small Mennonite farming community. As is common for childhood victims, another violation was perpetrated against her as a teenager by her much older Baptist brother-in-law, and again as a recent college graduate by a married man in a Mennonite Church sponsored travelling drama troupe. She was so drawn to the wealth of knowledge and hope in the SNAP resources Krall sent her that she and OSU founding editor Rachel Halder 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 reports. “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 as survivor-activists to ‘protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, and expose the truth.’ It was one of those watershed moments. I knew I had found a true network of support –something I’d sought after all my life.”
Meanwhile Krall was implementing a long held dream: to create an Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of SNAP. She tested the idea with Father Thomas Doyle in October 2014 when he was invited to consult with the Anabaptist Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart and lecture at College Mennonite Church’s New Perspectives in Faith series, a weekend of events she initiated.
Fr. Doyle introduced the idea of a Mennonite Chapter to SNAP leaders meeting in Chicago and soon Krall received a letter from SNAP President Barbara Blaine welcoming Mennonite sexual violence activists into the organization.
Since that time SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris and Executive Director David Clohessy have become important mentoring colleagues.
On November 18, 2014 Krall and Graber conference-called with Dorris and began a list of Mennonite-related persons they knew who may be interested in joining the cause. Among those was a Canadian, Cameron Altaras who was sexually violated by her teenage uncle when she was a child and again as an adult by a Mennonite pastor.
In January of 2015 Graber, along with Altaras and her advocate-husband Jeff Altaras, attended the SNAP Leader Training in Tampa, Florida. Jeff and Cameron are co-leading, with a Catholic survivor, a group in Seattle while Graber plans to start a SNAP Survivor Support Group in Harrisonburg, Virginia sometime this fall. All are available for anonymous and confidential support.
The SNAP-Menno Chapter joins other SNAP Chapters of Presbyterian, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Missionary Kids, Christian Orthodox, and Boy Scouts, among others under the umbrella of SNAP’s international outreach.
Toll Free SNAP Phone: 1-877-SNAP HEALS (1-877-762-7432)
Toll Free National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
Twelve Mennonite-related survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates have joined other faith groups to create an Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Now in its 26th year, SNAP is an inclusive and independent advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse, created by survivor-activist Barbara Blaine and then joined by David Clohessy and Barbara Dorris to expose the sexual violations of clergy in the U.S. Catholic Church. Their influence has since expanded around the world to serve survivors of predators and pedophiles from within a variety of faith communities. SNAP’s mission: “protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, expose the truth.”
Convened by long time victim-advocate Dr. Ruth E. Krall with SNAP-trained survivor-advocates Cameron Altaras, Barbra Graber and advocate Jeff Altaras, SNAP-Menno provides a safe place, entirely independent of institutional structures, for Mennonite-related survivors to seek healing alongside other Anabaptist Mennonites. Other founding chapter members are Rachel Halder (survivor-advocate), Stephanie Krehbiel (advocate), Keith Morris (survivor-advocate), Tim Nafziger (advocate), Hilary Scarsella (survivor-advocate), Lisa Schirch (advocate), Sylvia Shirk (survivor-advocate), and Jennifer Yoder (survivor-advocate).
SNAP’s helpline (1-877-SNAP HEALS) offers a confidential listening ear to anyone who has seen, suspected or suffered sexual abuse within a faith community. SNAP’s Survivor Support Groups, facilitated by SNAP-trained leaders and with a time-tested format created by SNAP survivors, provide a place where victims and their loved ones come to receive anonymous aid from other survivors. Many of these self-help groups are available across the continent for survivors and their loved ones.
SNAP-Menno and OurStoriesUntold.com will co-sponsor such meetings during Mennonite Church USA’s biennial convention in Kansas City, from 1-2p.m. on July 2, 3, and 4 in the Citiscape Room of the Aladdin Holiday Inn Hotel in Kansas City.
Contact Barbra Graber for more information.
The 2015 Annual SNAP Conference will take place in Alexandria, Virginia, July 31-August 2. Concerned Mennonites are welcome and encouraged to attend. Register for a day pass or the full schedule: http://www.snapnetwork.org/2015_snap_conference