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FAQs

  • The primary goal of this initiative is to provide victims and survivors with an independent and thorough review of the sexual abuse committed by clergy and faith leaders in Wisconsin, no matter when that abuse occurred.

    Through this initiative, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will provide victims and survivors with a safe and confidential means to obtain support from the DOJ Office of Crime Victim Services and referrals to available services.

    The initiative also will provide a confidential means for:

    • victims and survivors to report sexual abuse by clergy and faith leaders
    • others who have witnessed, know about, or suspect such abuse to report it
    • people to report what they know about the church’s response to or concealment of abuse

    DOJ will review all reports and refer them, with the victim’s consent, to local law enforcement when appropriate.

    DOJ aims to verify whether the lists published of credibly accused priests are complete. Following the initiative, DOJ will issue a summary report.

  • Although the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) is starting with the Catholic Church in this initiative, victims are encouraged to report sexual abuse committed in any religious organization. As with any report of abuse received, DOJ will endeavor to connect the victim with appropriate support services. DOJ also will encourage victims to report abuse to local law enforcement or will do likewise with permission from the victim.

  • Victim Service Specialists from the Office of Crime Victim Services - Victim Resource Center at the Wisconsin Department of Justice will be answering the toll-free abuse reporting line during regular business hours, 7:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. If calls are received after hours, callers will have the option of leaving a voicemail and the call will be returned as soon as possible during regular business hours.

  • A reporter will have a choice to remain anonymous when they make their report, either online or through the toll-free abuse reporting line.

    Victim names will not be released to the public without the victim’s consent. 

  • First, victims will be supported by the Office of Crime Victim Services (OCVS) at the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ). OCVS will ensure that the victims’ immediate needs and concerns are met and addressed, especially if a victim is in crisis. This is true for victims who contact DOJ via the toll-free reporting line, email, or an online submission.

    Once the immediate needs and concerns of the victim are addressed, the victim will be referred to support services in their local communities to meet their ongoing needs. OCVS may also connect victims to other support agencies throughout Wisconsin, depending on the victims’ specific needs.

  • If someone is a victim of current abuse, with the victim's permission, a victim service specialist will assist in coordinating an immediate report to the local law enforcement agency where the abuse is occurring. The case will then remain with that local law enforcement agency and district attorney for investigation and potential prosecution.

  • There is no time limitation to how far back the Wisconsin Department of Justice will review information about abuse.

  • As always, the Office of Crime Victim Services (OCVS) at the Wisconsin Department of Justice is ready and willing to support victims of any crime. Victims can use the toll-free clergy and faith leader abuse reporting line to contact OCVS to speak with a victim service specialist. The victim service specialist will learn what the victim’s specific support needs are and then connect them with appropriate ongoing resources, preferably in their local community.

    Victims of sexual assault or any crime can also call OCVS’ regular toll-free line at 1-800-446-6564 or contact OCVS by email at ocvs@doj.state.wi.us  to speak with a victim service specialist about getting support.

  • This initiative is victim-focused. The information provided by victims and others will not be shared outside the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) without the permission of the reporting person. Actions will not be taken without the consent of the victim or reporting person.

    If a victim or other individual makes an online report of abuse and provides their name and contact information, as well as consent to be contacted, a victim services specialist from the DOJ Office of Crime Victim Services will reach out to the reporting party. The victim services specialist will gather additional information and provide support and resources to the victim.

    If a person makes a report using the toll-free line, the victim services specialist who answers the phone will gather information from the caller and provide support and resources.

    In either instance, the information provided by callers and online reporters will be collected and compiled with information received by DOJ from other sources, such as other victims or documents provided by the church.

    With consent from the victim, each case will be reviewed and discussed by a multi-disciplinary team that will include a victim advocate, an investigator and a prosecutor. The team will recommend a course of action for the case.

    If a case is within the statute of limitations, and the victim consents, the case information may be shared with a law enforcement agency and/or district attorney’s office in the jurisdiction where the offense occurred. A follow-up investigation may take place that could lead to charges being filed.

    If a case is outside of the statute of limitations, the case will be considered in light of other documents received by DOJ to determine whether any further action is appropriate.

  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will review any and all information about abuse, even if the alleged perpetrator is deceased. DOJ understands that the pain and trauma felt by victims does not go away when the person who abused them dies, and that an abuser’s name being listed publicly is an important part of the healing process.

  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will review any and all information about abuse, even if the statute of limitations has expired. DOJ understands that the pain and trauma felt by victims does not go away just because the statute of limitations has expired, and that an abuser’s name being listed publicly is an important part of the healing process.

  • First and foremost, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will connect the victim with support services, ideally in the community where they live. If there is credible evidence that a crime has occurred, but that crime occurred outside Wisconsin, DOJ will refer the matter to local law enforcement in that jurisdiction to the extent the victim gives us permission to do so.

  • While the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) expects that the vast majority of information gathered during its review will relate to sexual abuse of minors, the DOJ review will not be limited by a victim’s age at the time of abuse.

    To the extent victims report information of abuse while adults, DOJ will follow up on that information as appropriate, just as with information about abuse of minors.

    In any instance, if a victim comes forward and reports abuse, DOJ will endeavor to connect that victim with the appropriate support services, regardless of how old the victim was when the abuse occurred.

  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) review is not limited to clergy, and will consider abuse by other people in positions of trust within the church. That is why DOJ has characterized the review as one involving not only clergy but “clergy and faith leaders” more generally.

    Although one of the goals of this initiative is to verify the accuracy of public lists of priests credibly accused of abuse, ultimately, it is up to the church to decide which names are included on their lists.

  • We encourage anyone to report abuse by clergy and faith leaders in Wisconsin, regardless of whether that abuse was previously reported to local law enforcement and/or the church.

  • The line between different types of abuse is often difficult to draw. Therefore, we encourage anyone to report any abusive behavior by clergy and faith leaders in Wisconsin. We also encourage anyone to report conduct that could be considered inappropriate “grooming” behavior, even if that conduct did not ultimately result in sexual abuse, or it is unknown whether sexual abuse occurred.

  • We encourage anyone to report abuse by clergy and faith leaders in Wisconsin, regardless of whether they were the victim of the abuse. We also encourage people who have knowledge about the church's response to abuse to report.

  • Victims still may pursue any viable civil claim against the church or any of its leaders that is within the statute of limitations. Nothing about the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) review will impact an otherwise valid civil claim. DOJ cannot and will not, however, represent any victim with respect to any civil claim.

  • Research indicates that the percentage of sexual assault reports that are false is extremely low. Certainly, the incidence of false reports for sexual abuse and assault cases is no higher than for any other crime. Although rare, as with any type of crime, false allegations can occur. The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will fully review all reports of abuse, looking carefully at the facts and circumstances of each case individually. As with any report of criminal activity, in determining whether abuse allegations are substantiated, DOJ will consider the details and consistency of the report made, as well as corroborating statements by others including the alleged perpetrator of the abuse.

    Notably, within the Catholic Church, it is up to each dioceses and religious order to decide how and when to publish names of clergy with substantiated allegations of abuse, and no single standard applies across all dioceses and religious orders.

  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice plans to issue a summary report upon completion of its review.

  • It is possible that the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will want to include case-specific information in the final report. Prior to doing so, DOJ will consult with the victim to determine whether the victim is comfortable with their case being discussed in the final report.

    A victim’s name will never be published by DOJ without informed consent from the victim.