I am only sharing this anonymously because there are other innocent parties involved from whom I have not received permission to share this story publicly. I wish I could. I find power in telling my story and I wish I could put my name on this. Maybe someday.
When I was around 9 or 10 years old, my grandfather began molesting me. He would lean over me or lie next to me on my bed as I slept and touch my vulva both over and under my underwear. This happened on multiple occasions, both at my house and his. I would freeze and pretend to be asleep. He would then use his power over me and tell me he loved me most of all, to not tell others our secret. I don’t remember how long the abuse went on, probably a year or two. After that was a mix of shame and secrecy, a belief that I had been the cause of his downfall, that it was my fault he wouldn’t be with my grandma for eternity. I didn’t tell a soul for years.
Finally, when I was a grown teenager, in a moment of vulnerability I told my mom. We had been discussing my “going too far” (heavy petting over clothes while making out) with my then boyfriend. It was in this moment of honesty that I told her that her dad had molested me. To her credit, she believed me and tried to support me.
However, I think my mom had no idea what to do with this information. She defaulted to her belief in the power of the priesthood and called the bishop for a meeting just an hour or two after my telling her. We both went in, she joined me in his office for support. The story of my abuse was discussed. The bishop had very few words, just that it wasn’t my fault and that he was sorry that it had happened. He also seemed to have no idea what to do in this situation. No call for counseling or therapy to my recollection. No call to the authorities.
Then, because this story was all entangled with my admission of “sexual sins” with my boyfriend, he proceeded to ask my mom to leave the office, wanting to keep my confession “confidential”. He asked very pointed questions. Did you take off clothes? Did you touch each other with hands? Did he touch your breasts? Have you looked at pornography? Etc.
All these questions after having JUST told him about my SEXUAL ABUSE! He had no advice or recommendations for how to deal with it. He spouted the usual, read scriptures and pray and ask for the Atonement to heal me. He then told me to skip the sacrament for a few weeks because of my actions with my boyfriend. I complied and took this all as a necessary punishment because of my sins, not realizing the toll it was taking on me spiritually and emotionally. The shame and guilt I felt were mixed up in a crazy tangle of my abuse, my deference to the power of the priesthood, my thoughts of my deviant sexual impurity, my parents and bishops ignorance as to how to handle the story of abuse. If they didn’t know what to do, I certainly didn’t. I followed the bishop’s directives, never questioning him.
Looking back on this, I now know this added to my trauma. Revictimization. Bishops are NOT trained to know that this behavior is unacceptable. These questions are at the very best invasive to someone’s privacy, but at worst can leave someone scarred and re-traumatized. I was not advocated for. My parents loved and believed me, but they were also shocked and devastated at the news and couldn’t properly advocate for or get help for me. Maybe they believed it could all be sorted out by the bishop? I don’t know. I don’t know what my parents did, if they consulted with the bishop and what he advised them to do about this. I was so wrapped up in the shame of my abuse story and my sexual deviance, that I hardly remember what they did.
There is much more to the story that I won’t go into because this is already very long. For brevity’s sake: my parents confront my grandfather, he denies it, they still believe me, I receive no professional help (because… Atonement), he attends my two sisters’ weddings, he later attends my wedding.
Before my wedding, I went in for my temple recommend interview with the same bishop who I had talked to about my abuse. At the end of the interview, I asked him his advice on whether I should tell my fiance before we got married about the abuse at the hands of my grandfather. He said it was up to me, but suggested that I could keep it to myself unless it was affecting our sex life. After all, what was the Atonement for, if not to forgive and forget? More untrained advice, more naivete about a situation he knew nothing about.
So, I chose to let the Atonement take care of it, and to just continue on my righteous path, to marry, to begin my life as a wife and future mother. In reality, I was just stuffing it back down into the dark hole that it had been in for so many years. If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. I didn’t let the man that I was soon to marry know of this dark secret that had been weighing down my soul for the majority of my life. I didn’t have the tools to talk about it, so I kept quiet. I proceeded, like a faithful handmaiden of the Lord, to do my duty to Him. Needless to say, it did affect my marriage and sex life.
Four months after my wedding, I went to my parents’ house to find them shut in a locked room. A few minutes later, my mom emerged, looking like she had seen a ghost. “What is it?” I asked, but I think I instinctively already knew. “More of the same,” was all she said. It is all finally laid bare, my grandfather had molested ALL of his female grandchildren, which included me and all three of my sisters. All of us cousins have a linked story of abuse. My whole extended family has suffered the consequences of a system that allows for these abuses to go unchecked, a system that is set up to (even if unknowingly) re-traumatize victims and does not help or advocate properly for them. My grandfather was finally made to answer for his crimes, but not by any help from the church. Again, way more to this story, which I won’t go into.
I am just now, decades later, confronting and dealing with this. After my faith transition out of the church, all the feelings and trauma re-surfaced, leading to deep depression and anxiety. The #metoo movement and all the stories of abuse have triggered me in a way that only abuse survivors can identify with. It’s incredible the power and damage this causes in every aspect of a life. But I refuse to let this define my life. I am taking back my power, and I am building a life on my terms.
The shame and pressure that I felt for years to just let it go and use the atonement to heal me are, in my view, harmful. The church allows this to continue with these interviews wherein shame-filled, abusive questions are asked behind closed doors. The power dynamic of these situations alone- a priesthood leader holding salvation/eternal life over someone until they have “properly” repented- should be enough to stop these interviews from happening, let alone all these individual stories, showcasing myriad abuses. Let’s cut this practice out of the church. Let’s protect the children.