How do Czech Salesians protect young people and children from sexual abuse in their youth centres or parishes?
First of all, I must mention that talk of this issue is not a taboo among Czech Salesians. We dis-cuss it in our meetings and deal with it by implementing various rules and guidelines in our youth centres and parishes. I think that teamwork is a very good prevention, as are also various personal and professional measures, such as supervision. It is also useful to talk about it among the Salesians themselves and between Salesians and lay people. I see an open and honest discussion as essential for the prevention of various failures in our work and relationships. We worked at this and gradually developed a culture of shared thinking, planning and open evaluation.
At the same time, I believe that the best prevention is an honest effort for the human and Christian development of everyone who participates in the Salesian mission and an honest experience of Salesian consecration.
Nevertheless, we cannot completely rule out the possibility of sexual abuse among Salesians. How should a person who has been a victim or a witness of inappropriate behaviour react?
That is right, unfortunately; we can never completely rule out that risk. Therefore, it is important to have a quality procedure ready, as to what to do in such a situation. When someone witnesses or falls victim to inappropriate behaviour, it is like the outbreak of a fire at home. One may panic and, out of shock, may not know what to do. The basic principle is not to keep it to oneself. It is possible to confide in the person who is leading or managing the organization, such as the director of the youth centre, the parish priest, or the rector of the community. It is also possible to contact me directly. All these people normally know how to react and what to do with this information.
If it turns out that someone has been a victim of sexual abuse by Salesians, what follows?
In general, the first steps look like this: the victim calls me and tells me that she or he has been abused by a Salesian. At times she/he contacts us through an intermediary, such as a therapist or a loved one. The first contact does not include any names or specific details. The caller usually wants to know what we – as Salesians – will do in the situation. First, I try to describe a possible procedure. It consists in listening to the whole event and making a written record in the presence of a notary to verify its accuracy. The records are confidential, so I can't give any specifics here.
Who attends this meeting?
We agree on this in advance with the person who files the complaint. She or he can have someone close to her/him as a support, such as a therapist. We further discuss whether the two Salesian participants (both of them men and priests) are too intimidating in such a conversation. It is possible to arrange for a woman to conduct the interview if the whistleblower feels safer that way.
By the time we agree on a safe environment, we have already agreed also on a date and place for the meeting. Often, the informer needs time to gather strength and courage to talk about these things in person. Arranging all these, from the first phone call to a personal meeting, may take several weeks. I leave the pace to the one who comes with the information. It is part of the safe environment we are trying to ensure. The aim of the meeting is to gather reliable information, on the basis of which the whole situation is dealt with.