YWCA creates therapy group for church sex abuse survivors

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The growing awareness of sexual abuse by faith leaders is leading to an unprecedented program for West Michigan.

On Thursday, the YWCA in Grand Rapids will hold its first group therapy session specifically for survivors of sexual abuse by faith leaders.

The YWCA started the group because clients who were abused by church leaders felt they needed a different type of therapy.

“We had a couple clients who were abused by faith leaders and they brought it to our attention that there wasn’t a support group and a way to build community and work towards their journey other than one-on-one therapy,” said Becky Mills, a counselor at YWCA.

The YWCA program is open to all genders. People can share as much or as little as they would like.

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Mills says the needs for survivors of abuse by faith leaders are different because of the church’s response.

“They may rally support around that priest or that minster or that faith leader so that victim or survivor may not feel like they can continue in that community. They (the victims) may feel like they have to shut down that part of their story and not be able to work towards healing,” Mills explained.

While the program is a first for the area, there are similar groups across the country.

Mills, who will lead the discussion, says she is using insights from the established groups and customizing the program to the needs in the local community.

The support group will offer a safe and confidential space to share, along with therapeutic tools and resources for participants.

Mills says she hasn’t experienced any real push back from the diocese.

“I spoke directly to someone from the diocese and they did seem open,” she said.

24 Hour News 8 also reached out to the diocese, which provided the following statement:

“The Diocese of Grand Rapids applauds the work of the YWCA in its effort to bring healing to survivors of sexual abuse through this support group. We remain committed to our promise to help survivors through both prayer and practical means, such as counseling. We are providing this group’s contact information to survivors who inquire with us…”

Mills worked with the Vatican prior to joining the YWCA, so she is uniquely qualified.

She hopes that people will take part, but she’s unsure who will show up.

“I hope probably around 10 (people). I know there are more survivors in the community, more than 10, but we have to start somewhere. So I’m OK if just one (person) shows up and we can work on this and build from there,” she said.

There is no need to sign up for the session, but the YWCA would like to get a head count. The first session will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. at the YWCA, located at 25 Sheldon Boulevard SE near Weston Street and S. Division Avenue.

For more information regarding the therapy group, contact Mills directly at bmills@ywcawcmi.org or 616.426.3741.

Anyone who has been victimized by a member of the Catholic church can also confidentially report it to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office online or by calling 844.324.3374 during regular business hours. The state also has a hotline for all victims of sexual assault that offers support and resources: 1.855.VOICES4 (864.2374).

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