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Childhood sex abuse survivor speaks of getting help for victims

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

On the same day the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo released a list of 42 clergy accused of sexually abusing minors, a childhood sex abuse victim - himself allegedly abused by a now-deceased priest - shared his experience of coming to terms and reaching out for help.

Tom Travers, who now brings people together to share and cope with their childhood experiences with the group William's Place, told WBFO although he was abused as a child, he didn't feel strong enough to reveal his trauma until he was in his late 40s.

At the age of 48, he returned to the church where he said he was abused. Travers says it took about a year after that until he could go public with his story. The few he told, he explained, didn't receive him well and left him feeling re-victimized.

"Shame and guilt are major driving factors in being able to come to terms with this," Travers said. "When these things happen to us as children, we absolutely feel that we were involved in it, that it was partially our fault. And often, abusers convince us that we have to remain secret and that we were an active participant in the abuse."

Travers is among those calling for passage of the Child Victims Act, a proposal that has the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Assembly but has stalled in the State Senate for 11 years. The legislation would allow victims of childhood abuse to pursue legal action as adults. Currently, the law cuts off their ability to do that at age 23.

While many received Tuesday's decision by the Diocese of Buffalo to release a list of accused pedophiles as a welcomed start, critics suggest church officials must also disclose information including where the accused served at the time of their alleged deeds and where surviving suspects are staying now.

Travers told WBFO his alleged abuser, the late Monsignor Sylvester Holbel, was not on the list released Tuesday by the Diocese of Buffalo. An official for the diocese explained that those identified faced multiple accusations. Travers acknowledged receiving an invitation by the Diocese to participate in the reconciliation and compensation program announced by Bishop Richard Malone earlier this month.

Travers was asked if the "Me Too" movement has helped shift social sensibilities in order to make childhood sexual abuse victims feel more comfortable with coming forward.

"As we talk more about the sexual abuse that exists systemically in our culture, the reality of child sexual abuse is becoming more important," Travers said. "One of the reasons for me coming out and speaking about these things is to really help people understand the damaging effect childhood sexual abuse has on children and how it lasts throughout a lifetime." 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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