Wisconsin AG seeks survivors of clergy abuse for statewide review
Josh Kaul urges victims of clergy and faith leader sexual abuse to report the crime no matter how long ago it happened.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is conducting its first statewide review of clergy and faith leader sexual abuse, and Monday, July 26, the department’s top lawyer, Attorney General Josh Kaul, traveled to Superior to urge survivors of clergy sex abuse to report those crimes regardless of when they happened.
“There has never been a statewide, independent review of this issue in Wisconsin,” Kaul said. “During my time as attorney general I’ve heard from survivors of clergy and faith leader abuse, as well as their families and friends, about the importance of conducting this type of review.”
Douglas County District Attorney Mark Fruehauf, one of the partner district attorneys, said the review is a victim-centered initiative to try to get justice, no matter how long ago the crime occurred.
The DOJ is working with victim services professionals, district attorneys in counties where the five Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin are headquartered and investigators to conduct the review.
Since opening the inquiry, Kaul said the DOJ has received more than 100 reports from survivors.
“Many of those reports have been provided by people who have previously reported, but some are from people who have never reported before,” Kaul said. “And we received reports from people that were not in any way related to religious organizations. What we are providing is a safe and trusted place for survivors to report.”
Kaul said his three main goals with the review include:
- Providing a safe place to report and connecting survivors with victim or community services.
- Getting a measure of accountability where possible.
- Improving the response to reports of abuse in Wisconsin to stop additional cases of abuse from occurring.
“When someone contacts the Department of Justice, their contact is received by trained victim services specialists,” Kaul said. “We have multi-disciplinary teams that review each report. Those teams consist of a prosecutor, an investigator and a victim services specialist.”
He said if a report requires further investigation and prosecution, the teams make those referrals, but when a report is outside of the statute of limitations, it’s still an opportunity to provide survivors access to victim services.
Fruehauf said his office hasn’t received any referrals.
“Please know that even if it is a crime that happened long ago, one that hasn’t been reported yet, your report will be taken seriously,” he said, directing his comments to victims. “The people involved will do their best to get justice for you.”
As a prosecutor, Fruehauf said he understands it can be difficult for victims to come forward. However, he said he hopes those victims understand that prosecutors have dealt with cases like that.
“There are all kinds of reasons why a victim or survivor may not be able to make a disclosure right after something happens,” Fruehauf said.
Victims or survivors of clergy or faith leader abuse can report the crime toll free at 877-222-2620 or through an online reporting tool at SupportSurvivors.widoj.gov .
“We are still receiving contacts,” Kaul said. “We are still receiving reports … We encourage people to come forward and make reports.”
Kaul said the goal is to hear from people all around the state who have been abused to get as complete a picture as possible.
“We hear you,” Kaul said. “We know how important this review is. The partners that we’re working with are committed to conducting as thorough a review as we can.”