Survivors have a history of people not believing them, particularly people in power,” said Robert Fontana, a member of SNAP whose brother was abused as a child.
"Survivors have a history of people not believing them, particularly people in power,” said Robert Fontana, a member of SNAP whose brother was abused as a child. HG

A local group of survivors of sexual abuse by religious figures plans to call for Mayor Ed Murray's resignation this afternoon.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is a volunteer organization that offers resources, support groups, and a helpline for survivors of sexual abuse. Members of the local chapter of the organization plan to deliver a letter calling for the mayor's resignation to City Council members during a 2 pm meeting today. Ahead of that action, SNAP will hold a press conference outside City Hall. The group does not plan to release its letter until then. See update below.

SNAP calls itself "the largest, oldest and most active self-help group for clergy sex abuse victims, whether assaulted by ministers, priests, nuns or rabbis." The organization has more than 20,000 members, according to its website.

In April, the Seattle Times reported on allegations from three men, one of whom had filed a civil lawsuit, accusing Mayor Ed Murray of sexually abusing them in the 1980s, when they were teenagers and Murray was in his 30s. A fourth man came forward in May. One of the four men, Jeff Simpson, had been Murray's foster child in Portland in the 1980s. The Times recently uncovered documents showing that a Child Protective Services investigator in 1984 found Murray had abused Simpson and should "under no circumstances" be a foster parent again. Murray did not face criminal charges. He has denied the allegations.

Like council members, candidates for office, and other organizations, SNAP is coming forward with a call for Murray's resignation after the most recent revelations. In the weeks immediately following the allegations, very few elected leaders or advocacy groups—including sexual assault organizations—issued statements or agreed to comment. At the time, Mary Dispenza, director of SNAP's Northwest chapter, told KUOW she wasn't surprised by the silence.

“Clergy abuse in Seattle has been very quiet and very silent, more so than other states and places,” Dispenza told KUOW. “That’s always been a puzzle to me.”

UPDATE: SNAP Northwest Director Mary Dispenza and other members of the organization spoke to reporters in front of City Hall today. After that, they planned to deliver a letter to the city council.

“We’re here to make our voices known and to speak out,” Dispenza said. “We’re a group of persons who have often kept silent because of shame and guilt because of sexual assault as a child, teen, [or] adult. We can’t afford to not speak out.”

“We aren’t investigators,” Dispenza continued, “but when several allegations or accusations are raised against a prominent leader, we can’t remain silent. We do believe that Mayor Ed Murray needs to resign—and do it now.”

SNAP’s national organization, which counts 20,000 members, stood behind the call for Murray’s resignation, said Dispenza, herself the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When it was founded, the group focused on abuse by religious figures, but has since expanded to support all victims of sexual abuse, she said. The organization is calling for either Murray’s resignation or the city council’s removal of him from office.

Robert Fontana said his brother was raped as a child and “kept silent for 35 years,” terrified to tell even those closest to him.

“Survivors have a history of people not believing them, particularly people in power,” Fontana said. “And they’re very terrified of speaking out… Survivors need to know that when people in power are credibly accused of abuse and there’s documentation—as in Oregon that something terrible happened where Mayor Murray as a foster parent broke his fiduciary relationship with a young man—there needs to be consequences.”

SNAP joins the call for Murray’s resignation from the Seattle LGBTQ Commission and others. “As members of SNAP we know how systems and organizations cover up, protect, obfuscate, blame, and try to protect their assets and reputations,” the group writes. “Even offenders wield a certain power over victims, often silencing their voices, accusations and stories, at times, forever.”

“It is not a time for politics as usual,” the letter reads. “It is time to give victims of sexual abuse the respect and support they deserve.”