Women, the hidden victims of abuse in the Church

Marivi Martirikorena She was 11 years old when a nun “sold” her body for another nun, the school nurse, to use. The horror lasted an entire school year, the one in which she was enrolled in the Ursulines of Pamplona. “My body was his toy, whether he caressed me or scolded me, he made me feel bad and ugly or he didn’t smile at me. It was a power game in which I was something to use,” she tells us.

Mariví, victim of abuse: “What my body and my mind did was close off everything and deny it (…) At 11 years old and with that education, I did not have the ability to verbalize”

Mariví took many years to put words to her story because At first I didn’t remember what had happened. It was with a movie Bad Education from Pedro Almodovar, with which he understood that she “had experienced something similar”. “What my body and my mind did was close off everything and deny it. It’s as if it hadn’t happened to me, but inside it did happen to me. At 11 years old and with that education, I didn’t have the ability to verbalize. What happens to many women is the thing is what we now know was abuse and rape at that time was normal. It was normal for them to abuse you and make you feel like an object. And nothing happened, because you were a woman, “she recalls.

Girls, adolescents and adult women are the hidden victims of sexual abuse in the Church. Three out of ten minor victims are girls, according to studies from Spain, Australia, Germany or Belgium, although in the victims who suffered abuse as adults the percentages are reversed. explains it to us Maria Theresa Compete, president of the Betania Association that accompanies victims of sexual abuse within the Church. “Of every 10 adult victims, seven are women. There are 30% of girls who have suffered sexual abuse in religious contexts and have been ignored. The question is: where are the girls, where are the adolescents, where are the women? adults? Why haven’t we paid them due attention?”

A crime of opportunity

The question does not have a simple answer, although Compte points out in the first place that the focus has generally been on the perpetrators, that in more than 95% of the cases they are men and that, in general, they abused minor children by having more access to them. The study carried out in the Public University of Navarra (UPNA) and in which the researcher participated Mikel Lizarraga. Regarding the perpetrators, he points out that it is not a question of sexuality, “but of who they had access to. In those contexts in which they only had access to boys, they abused them and when they had access to girls, they also abused them.” It is what many researchers have called a crime of opportunity. In a context in which religious schools were segregated, the statistics make sense, what is not known -because it has not been studied- is how the percentages of victims change when the schools become mixed.

Mikel Lizarraga, University of Navarra: “It is not a question of sexuality but of who they had access to”

One of the conclusions of the UPNA study is that these data are just the tip of the iceberg. They have identified 31 alleged religious and each of them abused, they say, more than one person. In this investigation they have initially identified 42 victims of abuse in Navarra -34 men and 8 women- and in seven of the cases the perpetrator was a man. Lizarraga points out that in the school context the majority of victims are boys but outside – in parishes, in churches and in camps – no, which suggests that there are many girl victims who do not dare to take the step because they probably do not identify themselves as victims.

Second victims?

Mariví was born in 1949, at a time when society, she says, understood that boys, and especially girls, had to obey. “You couldn’t say that they abused you because you would have done something, it was always your fault. They devastated me, they made me feel like real trash, they sank me”. These are the words of those who feel that in these years women and girls have been second-rate victims.

You couldn’t say that they abused you because you would have done something, it was always your fault

The misunderstanding, he says, has even come from other male victims in his case. “We are not considered victims of sexual abuse and less so in my case, because there was no penetration,” she denounces. The media and the official story have not rowed in the right direction either, they warn, and that has not favored more women telling their story. When talking about abuse in the Church, Compte denounces, “we usually talk about boys and not girls.” “We meet quite a lot with women who write to us and what they tell us is: it’s enough for me that you listen to me, that you take notes and it’s enough for me that you know that I’m one more”, she admits.

That feeling of saying that she was one more is what Mariví felt. Her life has been marked by the abuse of a nun in her childhood and later by the abuse of one of her brothers-in-law. And this, she assures her, has destroyed him and has separated him from her family and from her surroundings because no one has understood that she tells it. “The first time I felt like dying was when I was 17 years old, you have some shortcomings and gaps that are there and that are part of you.”

María Teresa Compte, Betania Association: “If we don’t make it easier for them to recognize themselves, we will be contributing to their remaining silent”

The ages at which there are more female victims are between 5 and 10 years old and between 14 and 17, says Compte. The president of Betania adds: “Let’s ask ourselves, have we normalized sexual violence against women? What surprises us more, that a boy or a girl is raped, that a boy or a girl is harassed? We have to talk of them, if we do not make it easier for them to be recognized, we will be contributing to their remaining silent”.

Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: how far do they go in Spain?


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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