A hotline set up by New Jersey officials for citizens to report sexual abuse by priests was so overwhelmed with calls that the state had to assign more workers to the hotline — and people are still having trouble getting through.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal launched a special task force to look into allegations of sexual abuse within the state’s branches of the Catholic church, and part of that included a call-in center for victims to give tips to investigators — and those tips haven’t stopped coming in.
Division of Criminal Justice spokesperson Peter Aseltine would not disclose how many calls have been received, but said the state has taken steps to ensure that the hotline is adequately staffed. Calls to the toll-free number, (855) 363-6548, were being answered almost immediately. But why was the line so overwhelmed?
Perhaps it’s because of how much church leaders have downplayed the scandals and covered up for fellow priests. Perhaps it’s because more people are willing to speak out when they believe investigators will actually take them seriously for once.
Or perhaps it’s because people have seen what’s happened in other places (like Pennsylvania and Boston) and have been waiting for the opportunity to tell someone their own stories.
When people in power are honestly listening, it’s not surprising that stories will pour out of people who have been afraid to speak out.
Certain advocates for child abuse survivors already knew the church’s power and secrecy were keeping some victims silent, so they predicted the hotline would be popular. For example, Mark Crawford, New Jersey’s director of the Survivors Network Of Those Abused by Priests, anticipated there could well be a great many calls to the state’s hotline.
“I suspect they are getting many calls from victims throughout the country who once lived here as a youngster and experienced clergy sexual abuse at that time,” he said. “I know this as I myself have received many calls — far more than the regular volume of survivors reaching out. There have been some in their seventies who stated they had never spoken to someone, anyone, of their abuse before now.”