Clare Crawley on Surviving Childhood Abuse and How It Affected Her Relationship with Her Mom
On Thursday's episode of the Facebook Watch series, the former Bachelorette, 40, revealed publicly for the first time that she was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when she was young. In addition to sharing how the traumatic experience affected her, Crawley also reflected on how it changed her relationship with her mother.
"I believe I was right around 5 or 6 years old, I was in first grade," she told hosts Gloria Estefan, Emily Estefan and Lili Estefan. "And one of the biggest things in going to school for me was that I was just painfully shy. I wouldn't speak up, I would never raise my hand, to the point where if I had to use the bathroom I would pee my pants instead of ask to go to the restroom."
She continued: "I grew up going to a Catholic school, when I was a victim of a predator."
"It was a priest?" asked Gloria, 64.
"Yes. My parents looked at Catholic priests, they held them on a pedestal," Crawley replied. "And the Catholic school treated him as a counselor. My parents did the best they could and reached out for the resources they could at the time and sent me to this priest, and I don't think there was any counseling that was done — it was one-on-one time to be a predator."
Crawley said she didn't remember being "threatened" by her abuser, but "quickly" changed her behavior in school to avoid counseling.
"I remember quickly learning to love school and quickly shaping up and raising my hand and speaking up for myself, because I knew enough to know that I didn't want to sit alone in a confessional room with him anymore," the reality star said. "And I never told my family, I never told my parents, because this was somebody you respected, they can do no wrong."
She continued, "This was when you didn't hear about sexual abuse in the church. Nobody talked about it, so I never talked about it for years and years and years. And I think I was in fourth grade when I randomly just shared with one of my sisters and I don't even remember what was said, but right then she went to my mom and dad."
Crawley said "panic" ensued when her family found out, and recalled how the moment changed how her mom treated her from then on.
"My siblings and my sisters noticed that she did treat me differently, maybe intentional, unintentional, I don't know," she said. "There was just always something in between our relationship. She was a good mother to me. But there was always just something in between."
Things changed, she said, when she confronted her mom about their relationship.
"Only a couple years ago, I finally sat down and asked her, 'Why was it so challenging? Why do we have such a rift?'" Crawley said. "And I don't know why I asked her this, but I just remember looking at her and saying, 'Who hurt you?' And she told me."
"She had been abused," Gloria said.
Nodding yes, Crawley continued, "And she had never shared that. And I didn't ask the details, but she just started crying and apologizing and said, 'I didn't know how to handle it.' And I think how she handled me was a reflection of how she was taught, mentally, to handle it."
These days, Crawley said her relationship with her mom is different because she has dementia and Alzheimer's.
"For some reason it has been extremely healing for me with her Alzheimer's and dementia — it's almost reverted her to a child, and it's allowed me to step up and be the mother to her that she never really was able to be towards me, and love her unconditionally, and be there for her as much as I can," Crawley said, becoming emotional. "I just did not want to perpetuate anger or bitterness or that wall between us, I wanted to heal that."
She also shared that her parents sued the church after learning about the abuse, but the priest was simply moved to a different parish.
"The church essentially said, 'We will do whatever it takes to keep this quiet, we will move him out of the church.' But when the church said that they had moved him out of the church, they had moved him to one church over — another parish," Crawley said. "And he did it to more children, and the church allowed him, knowing that he was a predator, to perpetuate what he was doing."
"These predators bank on us being silent, these predators bank on us not saying anything and not opening our mouth, and that gives them that power. And that's why after 39 years, instead of letting it affect me negatively, I thought, 'How do I take the power back?'" Crawley continued. "Because for so long, the weight that I was carrying was shame, embarrassment, feeling not worthy of the church standing up for me. And now I thought, you know what? This is not my burden to carry anymore. What I'm going to carry is being a survivor, being proud that this is not mine to hold on to."
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"Self love is the act of giving a voice to your truth. So here is mine," she wrote at the time. "As a child of sexual abuse, my young adult years were spent in unhealthy relationships feeling unworthy of the good ones. It was a vicious cycle, because the more I chose the wrong men who treated me poorly, the more I believed I wasn't good enough."
Earlier in the Red Table Talk episode, she recalled being "scared to death" to share the post, but then-fiancé Dale Moss encouraged her to do so. The pair have since split, a source told PEOPLE earlier this week.
"I knew with sharing my journey with getting my breast implants out, it was going to open up a can of worms," Crawley said. "And I remember sitting on the bed and telling my fiancé, Dale, 'I want to share this, I'm ready to share this but I'm scared,' and he told me, 'That's even the more reason for you to share it.' And he said to make your mess your message, a Robin Roberts quote."
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 connected to a certified crisis counselor.