ALLOUEZ — When Bishop David Ricken issued his “action steps to accountability” in September 2018 (part of the Diocese of Green Bay’s “promise to protect” initiative in response to clergy sexual abuse), he pledged to provide “as many ways as possible” to report incidents of abuse.
The diocese recently unveiled a new online initiative that fulfills Bishop Ricken’s pledge. Called Awareity, the incident reporting system allows people involved in various parish and diocesan ministries to fill out an online form and submit it to the diocesan Safe Environment Office.
“The goal of Awareity is prevention and the platform allows you to report ‘red flag’ behaviors and warning signs before an incident occurs or escalates,” the website states. It also says it is not meant to replace face-to-face communication with Safe Environment officials.
Instead, it’s an option for reporting information that “you may be uncomfortable coming forward with normally.” Reports can be submitted anonymously, but the website — gbdioc.org/awareity — states that anonymous reports will make investigating incidents more difficult.
It outlines various behaviors that should be reported:
- Boundary issues.
- Threats of violence.
- Concerning behavior by clergy, staff or volunteers.
“Anything you may find stressful or out of the ordinary and feel compelled to bring forward regarding clergy, staff or volunteers” should be reported, the website notes.
It also emphasizes that the website is not meant for reporting emergencies. “Call 911 if someone is in immediate danger,” it states, adding that incidents of sexual abuse of a minor should immediately be reported to 911.
According to Courtney Coopman, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Green Bay, Awareity is a national program that works with organizations to report and prevent a wide range of violent and abusive behaviors.
Awareity, which is based in Lincoln, Neb., uses the example of the “butterfly effect” as its prevention model. In the Awareity theory, the butterfly effect “involves a single incident report of a concerning behavior, suspicious activity or social media comment, no matter how small. That pre-incident indicator can be the piece of the puzzle that saves lives … and changes the world forever,” the Awareity website states.
“I think the biggest thing is that this is a preventative tool,” said Coopman. “For so long, we have been dealing with issues as they come. This is a way for people to report things that they see could be a concern before something really bad happens. That’s really cool that we can be at a point that is preventative instead of (reacting to a problem). That’s where I hope that this leads.”
Coopman said more than 300 dioceses and archdioceses around the country use the Awareity platform to help them report suspected violent and abusive behaviors.