A Nurse and Scholar’s Perspective on Victim Assistance Coordinators


By Charlene Niemi, RN, MWS, PhD

You may not count me a survivor of abuse. Yet in my personal life and, notably, in my chosen profession as a registered nurse, I have experienced pain and suffering and I have had the distinct privilege of trying to help clients who have experienced abuse.

As a nurse focusing on mental health disorders and on community health, and as a doctoral candidate, I began, in September of 2015, to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinators in Catholic churches throughout the United States for a research study involving adult male survivors of clergy abuse. I also I reached out to numerous other organizations working with survivors. My hope was that by reaching out in this way a diverse group of men would participate.

I find now some time to reflect on meetings and phone conversations I had with many coordinators. Twenty-six of the 171 VAC’s contacted agreed to share the internet link to the study; 34 said they were not interested for a variety of reasons. One hundred and eleven VAC’s did not respond at all.  I met with several VAC’s spending many hours in airports and towns such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Fresno, Stockton, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Boston, and New York.

To those whose paths I crossed, I wish to say that so many of the conversations I had with you have left an everlasting impression about struggles and hopes. You play a difficult role which takes a certain kind of person, the kind who faces hard facts with eyes wide open, the kind who responds compassionately.

Victim Assistance Coordinators have various roles depending on the diocese. Some are volunteers, others are paid for full-time employment, still others serve dual roles with the organization. Whatever your role as a VAC it is unfortunate that we need to have you in this role at all, but need you we do. Please do not become discouraged or complacent; there is much still to be done!

As we pray for the survivors, let us pray too for these brave souls who choose to face down evil, for heaven’s sake and for the sake of us all.

Charlene Niemi, RN, MSN, PhD, is a nurse who has been researching resilience and other characteristics in survivors of abuse. Her husband, Rick Niemi, contributed to this reflection as inspiration and co-author. Together they are guest contributors to The Healing Voices Magazine.


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