SNAP rep denies lawsuit's accusation sex abuse survivors group colludes with lawyers for kickbacks

By Laura Halleman | Feb 1, 2017

CHICAGO – A former employee of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is suing the group, alleging collusion with survivors' attorneys - charges the group denies.

The former employee, Chicago resident Gretchen Rachel Hammond, alleges in her lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, that the advocacy group conspired with attorneys for plaintiffs who sought help from SNAP, resulting in the group accepting “kickbacks” in the form of a donation to SNAP once a case was taken on.

Hammond also alleges that there were no grief or rape counselors on staff at SNAP to help victims of clergy abuse.

“SNAP is a self-help peer support group. Its foundation is based on this,” Barbara Dorris, SNAP outreach director, told the Cook County Record.  “We think that grief and rape counselors are incredibly important. We encourage survivors to seek outside counseling. We do not offer that here, but we encourage it.”

Hammond was employed with SNAP from July 2011 until February 2013 as a director of development. Hammond was “deeply excited to apply her professional experience in non-profit fundraising to the noble endeavor of helping victims who had suffered sexual assault at the hands of trusted clergy members,” the lawsuit states.

Hammond alleges that victims are exploited, rather than helped. Dorris said this is not true.

SNAP is a non-profit organization that was based in Chicago before moving to St. Louis. It now has chapters all around the world. It bills itself as a self-help support group for those who have been victimized by clergy. SNAP's website lists several support groups it offers and lists resources for choosing a grief and rape counselor.

Defendants in the lawsuit include SNAP; Barbara Blaine, the founder and president of SNAP; David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP; and Dorris.

The lawsuit states: “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them. SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations.’ In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church.”

“That is absolutely not true,” Dorris said in reference to the claims.

Dorris confirmed Hammond had been an employee of SNAP, but would not speak on specifics of why or how she left.

The lawsuit also states: “SNAP also regularly communicates with attorneys about their lawsuits on behalf of survivors, receiving drafts of pleadings and other privileged information … Attorneys and SNAP base their strategy not on the best interest of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and on fundraising opportunities for SNAP.”

Among other allegations, the lawsuit specifically claimed 81 percent of the $437,407 in donations SNAP received in 2007 came from attorneys who had represented victims.

Hammond alleged she began to question SNAP’s operations when she was barred from participating in an internal audit and from attending survivor meetings and group therapy sessions.

Hammond is being represented by the Chicago law firm of Siprut PC. 

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