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Brief History of SNAP in Aotearoa New Zealand


The following is a brief history of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in Aotearoa New Zealand, and some commentary on the challenges we have faced, our accomplishments, and some background to our community services and charitable operations.

SNAP came to Aotearoa New Zealand in June 2019. The local chapter was set up in response to a request to SNAP’s leadership in the United States to fill the void that existed for victims and survivors of faith-based sexual abuse and other kind of religious and institutional abuse in Aotearoa New Zealand. Given this void, there was a dire need to receive professional peer-support and other expert assistance to address the complex and often frightening issues around abuse in religions and faith-based situations. As Valerie Sinason, British author and psychotherapist once said: “When there is abuse by itself it’s scary enough. When there is abuse within a religious setting it is so terrifying to people... nobody can bear it when it is linked to religion.” (Sinason 2011)


The request came from Chris Longhurst, a survivor of clerical child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church of New Zealand in the 1980s. His need for a confidential and safe place to be heard, supported and heal was unable to be met by the support networks and organizations around at that time and across the county there was no agency providing peer-support for survivors of faith-based abuse.


The need for this kind of support was strongly felt after Chris reached out to another organisation supporting male survivors of sexual abuse.  However, it soon became apparent to him that unresolved historical disputes existed.


The complexity around faith-based abuse seems to have not been well understood in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was surprising to discover that amongst the people already involved in support services for victims and survivors of clerical and religious sexual abuse, how little knowledge there seemed to be of the literature or on how to respond to survivors of faith-based abuses. SNAP is not a faith-based group, and entirely independent.


This circumvented problems where leaders of survivor support groups tried to negotiate secret deals with Church authorities behind survivors’ backs, and despite calls from survivors to stop such deals, or at least make the deals known to them.


The void of professional hands-on intentional peer-support for victims and survivors of faith-based abuse is the reason why there was a crucial need here in Aotearoa New Zealand for the strong presence and vital work of SNAP. Despite the existence of other survivor networks and support groups across the country, there has never been any agency with expertise in the area of dealing with that complex and often frightening reality that envelopes victims and survivors of faith-based sexual abuse and religious institutional violence.


For over thirty years SNAP has provided the skills, resources, and services necessary to deal with this kind multifaceted kind of abuse, and is now available in New Zealand. SNAP has been the strongest voice of advocacy for victims of sexual abuse in the world, raising public awareness around sexual abuse. SNAP is a recognized authority on sexual abuse by every media organization around the world.


Members of the SNAP network here in Aotearoa New Zealand provide scholarly information about how to deal with religious and institutional sexual violence and other forms of religious abuse. Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP, in her ‘Survivors’ Wisdom’ explained why is was not prudent to go to churches for healing. She gave numerous examples of Church officials proving to be impervious and insensitive.


Here in Aotearoa New Zealand several victims and survivors have reached out to SNAP have reported how their complaints made to Church authorities were mismanaged and the principles and procedures set up to respond to those complaints were ignored.


SNAP in the United States was contacted in June 2019 to assist survivors in New Zealand. After suffering clergy sexual abuse as a child in the Catholic Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and later as a young adult in Rome, Chris Longhurst reached out to SNAP with the request to start a local chapter to set up a professional peer-support group to help him deal with the long-term impact he was struggling to manage. That is the genesis of SNAP in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP, Melanie Sakoda, international survivor support coordinator, and Tim Lennon, president of the Board of Directors came to the rescue. They responded quickly to a request for SNAP to help victims and survivors of faith-based abuse here in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Since June 2019, SNAP in Aotearoa New Zealand has reached out to sister organizations here in New Zealand and overseas, and has steadily grown in numbers of both victims, survivors, and advocates.

Many supporters of SNAP worldwide have joined us here in Aotearoa New Zealand through the Facebook group, particularly from Australia and the United States. SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand has been established as a Charitable Trust under the New Zealand Charitable Trusts Act 1957.


Another challenge is a commitment to respecting and recognising within SNAP operations, the dual heritage of the partners of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi).

SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand works in collaboration with various ministries and agencies around the country such as the New Zealand Police; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Development; Sexual Assault Assessment and Treatment Service, and local DHBs. SNAP ios in the prgress of building a network of effective support and healing to every single person who reaches out.

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