Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Face Lifelong Financial Burdens Being sexually abused as a child can shape someone's entire life: their health, relationships, spirituality. And the loss of income can be enormous.
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Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Face Lifelong Financial Burdens

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Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Face Lifelong Financial Burdens

Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Face Lifelong Financial Burdens

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Being a victim of child sexual abuse can affect a person's entire life from health and relationships to spirituality. And the loss of income can be enormous. We're going to consider those long-term monetary costs by looking at the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. There are more than a thousand victims documented in that report, but just a handful can even bring civil lawsuits which might lead to financial restitution. Sarah Boden of member station WESA has the story.

SARAH BODEN, BYLINE: When Ray Santori was 10, his mother died. His father had died the year before, so an aunt and uncle near Pittsburgh took him in. At St. Bernadette's church in Monroeville, Pa., Santori met Father William Yockey, who according to the grand jury report sexually assaulted him for about two years.

RAY SANTORI: I mean, I sometimes couldn't look people in the eye because they would know.

BODEN: Santori started drinking, using drugs, ended up leaving the house before finishing high school. He's been homeless, incarcerated.

SANTORI: I felt that everybody knew that I was sexually abused.

BODEN: Today Santori says he's 26 months sober and makes a decent living as a carpenter. But economically, the 53-year-old is not in good shape.

SANTORI: The sexual abuse drove me into such a dark place that it was hard to get a grip on responsibility, reality, you know, saving money.

BODEN: During more than three decades of addiction, Santori estimates he spent up to $2 million on drugs and alcohol.

SANTORI: I know this. I'll probably have to work till the day I die.

BODEN: Many survivors of clergy sex abuse struggle financially. Health economist Derek Brown at George Washington University in St. Louis specializes in studying the effects of child maltreatment. This spring, he published research on the lifetime financial burden of child sex abuse.

DEREK BROWN: We can compare it to, say, costs of disease, you know, to other kinds of injury or illness.

BODEN: Brown factored in things like medical care and quality of life. Per individual, this loss averages more than $80,000, and that's not including loss of income. All told, the financial effects can average more than $300,000.

BROWN: If you have a modest impact of a few thousand dollars a year in earnings but that accumulates over the life cycle, you have 40-plus years of those impacts for a victim.

BODEN: Survivors of sex abuse often develop depression and anxiety, which affects their performance at work or school.

TOM PLANTE: And then there's reminders all around us.

BODEN: Psychologist Tom Plante at Santa Clara University researches clergy sexual assault.

PLANTE: Maybe you drive by a church or you see a - you're watching a movie, and all of a sudden a priest shows up in the movie. Or you are asked to attend a wedding or a funeral.

BODEN: Plante says while sexual assault of any kind is traumatizing, with clergy offenders they're often seen as these godlike leaders whom no one questions. As a result, he says, many victims develop issues with hierarchy, which career-wise is problematic.

PLANTE: They may have troubles or issues with, you know, the boss at work because it's hard for them to potentially trust those who have authority and power.

BODEN: Plante says it's hard to always draw a clear connection since perpetrators tend to target kids like Ray Santori who are already troubled. And Santori isn't positive the abuse led him to blowing millions of dollars on drugs and alcohol.

SANTORI: But I definitely look back and am disheartened by how quick the time passed and how far behind the game I am.

BODEN: At this point, Santori says there's nothing he can do but keep moving forward. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Boden in Pittsburgh.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that Derek Brown is at George Washington University in St. Louis. The correct name is Washington University.]

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