Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Marthasville woman helps victims of clergy sex abuse

Marthasville woman helps victims of clergy sex abuse
stltoday.com
Judy Jones runs a quiet little bed and breakfast on five wooded acres near Marthasville, but last week she jetted off to head a press conference in West Virginia in a case about a priest charged with sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl.

As the Midwest associate director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, Jones regularly travels to Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to pass out leaflets, run support groups or appear on television.

About 90 percent of the people who run SNAP support chapters around the country were sexually abused, but that's not true of Jones. She got involved after she learned that several of her male relatives were victims.

She spends at least four hours a day surfing the Internet, communicating with victims and commenting on news stories she reads about clergy abuse. She signs her name to the comments and includes her SNAP title and e-mail. Sometimes people contact her immediately; others wait months to talk.

"If I can help somebody else to feel good and be able to live life, that's just the neatest thing," she said.

Jones, 65, grew up the oldest of 11 children in a strict Catholic family in Woodsfield, Ohio, a close-knit farming community in the Ohio River Valley.

Her parish church, St. Sylvester's, was the center of the town and her life. Her family went to confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday and prayed the rosary together every night.

After Jones graduated from high school, she moved away, married and started her own family. When a relative came for a visit a few years later and told Jones about the abuse, she wanted to know more.

Jones said she tried to discuss it with her family, but they didn't want to talk about it. Their reaction made her feel helpless.

When she read about SNAP in a sex abuse case in 2002, Jones said she contacted the group to offer her bed and breakfast as a place for victims to have support meetings and ended up telling her story to Barb Dorris, the outreach director for SNAP.

"It was the first time in my life that I felt validated for how I felt," Jones said. "This abuse with priests, it affects the victims, but it also affects the extended family members."

She went to a support group meeting, then one for leaders in Chicago.

"I didn't know if I could do this because I was raised to grow up and be a mother and have babies," she said. "I was very shy and insecure."

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, suggested she start a support chapter in Ohio.

"I really like Judy and respect her ... and she's really risen to the occasion and surpassed what we ever expected," he said.

Jones has started SNAP chapters in half a dozen towns and also conducted news conferences in St. Louis, Kansas City and Quincy, Ill. She pays her own travel expenses, about $6,000 a year. She and her husband, Steve Spaner, are starting a chapter in Australia next and are already communicating with victims there from their Warren County home via a computer video hook-up.

Along the way, Jones said she realized this is her calling.

"When I did my first press conference in Steubenville, Ohio, I was shaking so hard, all I could think about was how I almost flunked speech in high school," she said. "Never in a million years did I think I would be doing this, but now I know I'll keep going until I stop breathing."

She said the hardest thing for her to deal with has been the negative reactions about her involvement with SNAP and the disbelief of relatives and friends about the abuse.

One of her acquaintances on Facebook sent her a hate-filled note after learning about her volunteer work and said she didn't want to be "friends" anymore.

Jones consoles herself with the fact that SNAP's network has helped thousands of victims.

"We tell them: 'It's not your fault. You're very brave. Take care of you,' " she said.

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