Diocesan News

Walking the Walk with Sexual Abuse Victims


The Diocese of Brooklyn will sponsor a Mass of Hope and Healing for and with survivors of clergy sexual abuse on Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m. at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn. To prepare for the event, The Tablet has been offering a series of stories about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. This week, we provide this first-person piece by a member of the diocese’s Victim’s Assistance Team.

By Santiago Martinez

I am a first-generation American. My grandparents from my mother’s and father’s side migrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. to offer a better life to their children. I am proud and grateful of the sacrifices they have made with the hope of a better future in mind as they dared to leave all that they knew for a future that was unclear.

As a child, I was raised in a typical Dominican American household in Brooklyn, the product of a low-socioeconomic environment. Survival at the time meant blending in, not standing out, as well as developing a hardened constitution.

My mother received public assistance and food from the human services center at our local church. I remember standing with her on the food lines where we received canned goods in plastic bags and large blocks of cheese. I also remember the horrible treatment she received when she had an appointment with her case manager in the public assistance offices, and how she held her chin up and smiled even though she was being torn apart from the inside.

I saw her pride and tenacious resolve to provide for us. The degrading comments she received from the workers there and the stigmas of being perceived as a social pariah that was attached to receiving help from the government never debilitated her desire to help my family survive.

Most of my friends were not as fortunate to have a mother as I did. They fell to questionable lifestyles because of the lack of guidance. Many of them found themselves incarcerated and lost within a system that almost seemed purposefully designed to hold us down. Life was difficult and it was easy to lose your way fast. For many of us the future meant, “What time is dinner?” and the only expectation was to get a job right after high school.

Ray of Sunlight

Despite these setbacks, my mother always had hope and there was always a ray of sunlight that came from her smile. She encouraged me, helped me and instilled in me hope that everything I dreamed of was possible as long as we continued to work hard, continue to dream and stay positive.

My past work experiences read like a story that helped define my current perception of the world and assisted in molding my character. While there are many examples, I believe that I began to understand the importance of the human services profession only after I started with direct care.

While I was at LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, I worked as an Intensive Case Manager for HIV/AIDS patients. I was immediately exposed to the world of the underserved.

I saw for the first time how this population was treated from the other side of the table. It was very reminiscent of my own beginnings and stirred me in a powerful way. I felt connected to them. In them, I saw what my life could have been like. In a way, I saw how a little guidance goes a long way.

I saw how many of the people that sought services would self-medicate their troubles away. I saw how alone they felt. I saw how they have been burned by the system. I saw despair. The success stories were few, but when they came, it was cathartic.

After six years in this intensive environment, I was fortunate enough to work at the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a social worker-run program designed to help city workers with human services needs. It was a stark difference from the previous population I worked with. It was a clinical environment where I worked with children, families and professionals alike.

Shortly after, I earned a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University. My wife gave birth to my daughter Rosalina Maria Martinez in 2003 and my son Santiago Martinez III in 2007. The best part of my day was coming home to them and their smiles.

Never far from my career path was my faith, which always accompanied me. To be of service and be an instrument of Jesus’ love and compassion were values intricately woven into my work as a social worker, even though it was in the secular world.

Then in 2013, I was asked to join the Healing Intervention Team which is a component of the Office of Victim Assistance Ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn. In this capacity I continue to offer my services as social worker, in responding to those that have just received very difficult news about a member of the clergy. I can listen to their concerns, their confusion and their anger, and offer some clarity in the midst of a very difficult situation. It is also where I can inform those who have been walking a path on their own as a survivor of abuse that there are resources available to accompany them, even within the diocese.

Ultimately, I want to build on my social work experience, and continue to help those struggling to reach the conclusion that all things are possible and help them find their voice. It is now my turn to give these dreams to my community, to my faith community and in particular, to my children. I want them to believe that they have great power within them.

Throughout my journey, I realized that I have captured the dream of my grandparents, that I am the embodiment of that American Dream, and I am the possibility. While I have accomplished much, my journey is not over, it has barely begun.

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To report an incident of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, call the confidential diocesan hotline: 1-888-634-4499.

One thought on “Walking the Walk with Sexual Abuse Victims

  1. Very inspiring. I wish you all the luck and the blessings in the world. Not only because you are my brother but because you are a wonderful individual.