You could call Jeff Anderson persistent, tenacious, even tireless. Now widely known for his advocacy for childhood sexual abuse survivors, the St. Paul attorney lost 80 percent of his early cases against Roman Catholic priests, the church hierarchy that moved them from parish to parish, and others accused of abusing minors.
Anderson found his purpose in the law when he discovered widespread clergy sexual abuse in 1983. Public flare-ups about the abuse in 2002 and in 2012 garnered international attention. Last year, the Minnesota Legislature lifted the statute of limitations on filing civil claims against alleged sexual abusers. In January 2014, a judge in one of Anderson’s cases ordered the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona to release the names of all credibly accused priests, past and present.
“It’s the kind of thing that keeps me fully engaged, not only in the practice of law, but I call it the practice of love,” Anderson said. “When I know that we can every day help somebody who has been wounded and enter into a sacred journey into the legal system to protect other kids in the future, I have been given a purposeful life that has been a fight, an opportunity, an at 66, never a burden.”
Judges across the country are beginning to understand the gravity of sexual abuse and institutional failure to deal with it as more than an anomaly, according to Anderson.
Dealing daily with clients’ trauma can take its toll. Anderson takes comfort from the fact that others are starting to believe abuse survivors. Their pain fuels his fight to help them recover their power.
“I’m happy and my life is full,” he said. “I feel fully engaged by my involvement with child protection and the survivors.”