Cameron House has had a long history of providing support and shelter to sex abuse victims, beginning with the mission of saving Chinese girls from the slave trade in 1874, when Cameron House was first established as the Occidental Board Presbyterian Mission House .
Our programs have since changed to continue to meet the needs of the community by providing a variety of social services and youth leadership programming for our children, young adults, seniors, and families.
Creating an environment that helps kids and adults to thrive is core to the Cameron House mission. Youth Ministries has developed a program called C.A.S.E. – Creating a Safe Environment. It is an umbrella under which everything – and everyone – is protected. This is made possible thanks to the close work and collaboration between the Social Services Ministry and Youth Ministries staff who work together to provide wrap-around services and care for the youth and adults, whom we serve.
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The Need for Healing from Sex Abuse
After establishing a successful and popular youth ministry in Chinatown, as the Executive Director of Cameron House for 30 years, the Rev. F.S. Dick Wichman retired in 1977. During his tenure, Wichman was a charismatic, dynamic leader and highly respected pastor to many, especially to those who regarded him as a substitute father. . He was widely admired and credited with being the major influence in inspiring countless persons into Christian ministry, community service, and active church leadership.
In 1987, ten years after Wichman’s retirement, public allegations surfaced accusing him of a long history of sexual abuse, misconduct, and molestations of boys and young men in the Cameron House program. After the Presbyterian Church investigated these allegations and was about to bring formal charges against him, Wichman denied the charges and resigned as a Presbyterian minister, thereby aborting the Presbyterian judicial process and avoiding a trial. Due to statute-of-limitations, there was never a trial. And because of this provision in place at that time, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office determined it could not bring criminal charges against him.
Though at least nine victims had been identified during the Presbyterian investigation, the Cameron House community was traumatized and became divided between those who believed and supported the victims and those who believed Wichman. This left some victims feeling isolated, and many chose not to be identified. The controversy remained unsettled for another decade and continued as an unresolved, unspoken issue, which was collectively devastating to all.
Healing Task Force & Final Report
In 2002, the Cameron House Board established a Healing Task Force to explore what we, as a community, might do to further address the many hurts, pain, and broken relationships brought on by the sex abuse perpetrated by Wichman, during his 30 years of service.
The Healing Task Force was established to study and make recommendations regarding how to help individuals and the Cameron House and Presbyterian Church Community heal from the wounds of sex abuse, sexual molestation, the betrayal of trust and the abuse of authority.
The members of the Healing Task Force included: the Rev. Andrew Choy, Executive Director Doreen Der-McLeod, Sharlene Hall, Rev. Willie Ng, Jeannie Choy Tate, Rev. Henry Solomon Wong and the Rev. Dr. Bradford L. Woo.
In 2004, the Healing Task Force published a Final Report, which unequivocally supported the allegations of the victims (which now numbered 19) and made seven major recommendations for healing, both for individual victims and their families, as well as for the Cameron House community, considered a ‘secondary victim’ because everyone had been traumatized by the shock of betrayal by Wichman, who was deeply loved and revered.
This Final Report chronicles the story of Wichman’s abuse at Cameron House, and includes information on clergy sex abuse, the feelings and needs of victims/survivors, and theological reflections on evil, love, forgiveness and justice.
The Healing Task Force Report also included a list of specific recommendations for effective healing. A copy of the Final Report is available upon request.
Every recommendation has been fully implemented, including obtaining formal public apologies to the victims from Cameron House, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, The Presbytery of San Francisco, and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The Cameron House Board created a separate “Healing Implementation Committee” (today known as the Healing Committee) to oversee continued implementation of recommendations made by the Task Force.
The Healing Journey Today
A Survivors and Thrivers group was formed so that victims could begin their healing journey with support through counseling, workshops, and sharing their stories to help break the silence. This sexual abuse also affected members of their families, including the children of survivors. A Spouse and Partner’s group was also formed to address their own needs as caregivers and provide support as they continue to sustain their loved ones.
More than ever, we feel called to a ministry of helping Asian victims heal from abuse. The Healing Committee continues to meet on a regular basis. We invite your continued support and participation in this ministry. Unless sex abuse is openly discussed, perpetrators hide behind a cloak of silence that perpetuates their misconduct. Only by honestly acknowledging the past and refusing to perpetuate a culture of secrecy will we ensure that such abuse never occurs again.
Safety in a Place called Home
Over 140 years ago, Cameron House was truly home for the victims of sex abuse rescued from Chinatown’s slave trade. From the late 1940’s to the present, hundreds of youth still “feel at home” serving and participating in the programs offered at 920 Sacramento St.
Today that work continues with Chinese and Vietnamese victims of domestic violence. In the future, we expect to provide support groups and workshops on sex abuse and healing for Cameron House and the broader Asian community.
The Cameron House Board of Directors and staff have taken proactive steps to prevent future situations of abuse. Clear policies on what behaviors constitute sexual harassment and abuse, and a code of conduct are clearly defined in our personnel policy. This policy is also signed by the Board and other volunteer members. We also implement and require annual training on sex abuse and reporting requirements for all staff and volunteers.
At Cameron House, “We aim to break the statistics that children must approach many adults before they are believed,” says Laurene Chan, Director of Youth Ministries. We train our volunteers and staff to be approachable and to take notice if a child exhibits warning signs that he or she might be the victim of abuse. By intentionally teaching respectful boundaries and actively working to build a trusting community, children and adults can feel safe coming to us and talking about any kind of discrimination, harassment, or abuse they may be experiencing. We also teach our youth and families about the Healing Journey from a historical perspective and the importance of safety.
In addition to the work that we do to keep children safe, we also follow the California Department of Justice (DOJ) mandate of background checks and fingerprinting for anyone, 18 and older, who works with children. Fingerprints are electronically forwarded to the DOJ and to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine if there are any reportable arrests or convictions; identifying information is also checked on the Child Abuse Central Index. This is the law in California. But, for us, it’s merely one small step towards creating an environment that helps kids thrive.
Take Action: Break the Silence
If you are, or have been a victim of sexual abuse, or know someone who would like to participate in individual or group counseling, please feel free to contact the Executive Director, May Leong by phone (415) 781-0401, ext. 135, or email email@example.com. Please know that any and all communications with us on this matter will remain confidential.
- 2016 – Form – Request for Support for Psychotherapy/Spiritual Care Services
- 2016 – Form – Therapist’s Experience Questionnaire
- 2016 – Healing Committee Letter
- 2005 – DCH Board Letter to PC(USA)
- 2005 – SF Presbytery Letter
- 2004 – Letter to Alumni
- 2004 – Letter to Parents
- 2004 – Summer Current Article
- 2004 – PC(USA) News Release
- 2004 – GAC Apology Letter
- Responses to Healing Announcements
- A copy of the Final Report is available upon request.
Healing Artwork - From Darkness into Light
In 2012, a sculpture and two poems were installed at Cameron House, created by Noel Chun, to commemorate the Surivors’ and Thrivers’ 10-year journey toward healing.
This healing artwork and poetry are the personal expressions of his healing journey, which also reflects the shared experiences of the group’s support of each other on the road to wholeness. They have been purchased by Cameron House to be a visible, symbolic reminder of the trauma of sex abuse that occurred here and of the healing that is possible when a community is willing to name and confront an evil that has occurred. No longer must victims suffer in silence, as together we speak the truth and move from the darkness into the light.
There are future plans to commission and install artwork to commemorate the Spouses and Partners.
In the Light
By Noel Chun
We have traveled for many years
With the Truth unspoken.
We would gather in Sanctuary,
Divided by walls of Silence.
By our fears.
Then the Angels came,
and brought Light into
Our Fears released us.
And with new eyes and minds
We saw our wounds
Hiding behind fear and pain.
And Our Community
By Silence, In Silence, With Silence.
Walls of Silence with
Walls of Silence, with
Justice not given.
Walls of Silence, with
Our Community broken.
We were afraid of losing our stories!
We were afraid to speak our stories!
Afraid!… Blind!… Paralyzed!
Then the Angels,
Brought calm to us,
With the loving kindness of
Healing and Reconciliation.
And as a Community,
Divided for so many years,
Truth and Forgiveness,
Healing and Reconciliation.
We have traveled for many years,
The Truth now spoken.
And no longer living with fear,
We can choose to be,
Angels, In The Light…be
Angels, In The Light…be
IN THE LIGHT
Healing Workshop 2005
One hundred people attended an all-day Healing Workshop on April 30, 2005 to discuss openly the sexual abuse that occurred during Dick Wichman’s 30 years as Director of Cameron House. Led by Dr. Satsuki Ina, the highlight of the workshop was the open panel sharing by Buddy Choy, Willie Ng, Tom Pong, Elaine Chan-Scherer, and Noel Chun, who described the different ways they had been victimized by Wichman’s actions.
Members of the Healing Task Force (Andy Choy, Sharlene Hall, Henry Wong, Jeanne Choy Tate, and Bradford Woo) also added their personal reflections on the legacy of pain that Wichman had brought us.
Many who attended the workshop said this was the first time they had heard any victim speak personally about how Wichman had abused them. Because victims had always been unnamed, the devastating impact of Wichman’s molestations had never been heard, or felt, as personally as on this day.
There was tremendous appreciation for the victims who shared openly, and great sorrow to know the pain they had endured for years. There was also a deepening recognition of how Wichman had manipulated and seduced our entire community, both boys and girls, to passively give in to his power and control. Though the atmosphere was heavy in Culbertson Hall for most of the workshop, there was also a deep sense of relief and joy that the truth had finally been spoken.
A healing worship led by a team from The Presbytery of San Francisco, which conveyed its apology for the past and its support for the ongoing healing process concluded the day. Evaluations received showed participants were overwhelmingly appreciative for the day, and were eager to have future, on-going conversations.