I was inspired by former Bishop Sam Young’s campaign to end teen interviews with bishops for the plethora of reasons he has outlined. I have been wanting to share my own personal story on this topic for 38 years, but it has been very difficult to find the words, process the emotions, and not end up in a heap of depressive and suicidal thoughts after reliving and recounting the events. That said, I was able to get down on paper what happened to me several years ago and the lasting impact it has had on my life. I hope my story helps other victims feel less alone and might spur the church leadership into stopping their troubling practices when it comes to children and teenagers.
I was sexually molested by my bishop when I was nine years old. I was attending a ward party and was playing in an empty classroom. I was drawing pictures on the blackboard – something I was not supposed to be doing. The bishop came into the room and closed the door behind him. I was overcome with fear. He scolded me that I shouldn’t be drawing on the board. I said I was sorry. He came closer to me and I froze. He began touching my hair and told me I wouldn’t get in trouble if I didn’t say anything. He then began touching my chest and then his hand went down my pants, and he fondled my vagina. I just froze. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t run, I was so frightened. It seemed to last forever, but in hindsight it was probably only 30 seconds. He told me again I wouldn’t get in trouble. Once he left, I started shaking and crying. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to get in trouble for something I shouldn’t have been doing. A few weeks later I was asked to give a talk in church. I had to sit on the stand with him. I was terrified. I told my mom I didn’t want to talk. I couldn’t tell her why. I gave the talk and my voice trembled the entire time. He sent me a thank you note after the talk. He would try to shake my hand when my family would come to church. I begged my mom to let us sit in the back of the chapel as far away from him as possible. I made every effort to avoid him after that. I feared for my life as a child and found it very hard to be alone, especially at night. Social situations started to become very difficult for me. I didn’t want to be alone without my mom or siblings. I became more withdrawn in the few years that followed. My teachers would tell my parents I was very well behaved but shy and withdrawn. I would tend to play with other children that were also shy or that had disabilities. They felt safe to me and I knew they would not hurt me. For several years, I would sleep on the floor of my parent’s bedroom. I had long beautiful hair, but I kept thinking of him touching it and asked my mom if I could get it cut. She took me to the beautician and I cut it all off. I didn’t want to be reminded of him touching my hair. I tried to look as unkempt as possible for the next few years. I thought if I looked ugly he would stay away from me.
A few years later, my father was called to serve in a student bishopric. He started physically and emotionally abusing me and my younger siblings when I was a teen. I would wake up nearly every day to his voice screaming at me telling me I was a bitch, a whore, an asshole, etc. He would beat my brother with 2x4s. He threw rocks at me and my little sisters leaving bruises. These are just a few of the horrible things that happened in my home. (It was only as an adult that I found out he was having multiple affairs with college students during my teen years and I strongly suspect his terrible behavior towards his family was because of this.)
The abuse became so extreme that at the age of sixteen I reached out to the new bishop for help. It took so much courage for me to sit in his office and ask for assistance. I was deeply depressed and was having reoccurring nightmares about the sexual assault that happened to me when I was nine. I thought he might be able to help me and help my family with the abuse by my father.
I told him about the former bishop that had sexually assaulted me. His response was that it happened so long ago that I needed to forgive and move on with my life. I told him about my father and the current abuse in my home. He also dismissed me saying that I needed to be an example to my father. He told me that my dad was in a pit and it was my responsibility to help pull him out. I left his office receiving no assistance. No call to the police. No offer of counseling services. No effort to contact my father and help stop the abuse.
I left his office more distressed than I had ever been. I felt like he was my last hope of getting help and went home and attempted suicide by overdosing and trying to asphyxiate myself.
At seventeen, I could no longer take the abuse in my home and so moved out. I dropped out of high school to hold down a full time job to pay for my little apartment. I was able to offer sanctuary to my siblings from time to time. But, the abuse continued for my siblings and I was hated even more by my father for trying to help them.
I would like to end the story there, but childhood sexual abuse and the various other abuses from my father have had a pretty devastating impact on my life as an adult. While it’s difficult to untangle the abuse from the subsequent depression, anxiety, and PTSD in my life, I certainly attribute much of the mental health challenges I have experienced to the tumultuous childhood and teen years I survived.
There have been episodes of crippling depression and multiple suicide attempts during my adult life. In an effort to find some peace and healing from my past, I made the decision to resign from the church. While I was going through that process, I consulted my bishop and husband on why I was doing it. My husband was very supportive and told me he thought it was the right thing. The bishop, on the other hand, told me I was being influenced by Satan and was making a huge mistake by leaving the one thing that could provide healing for me. It was almost more than I could take and I attempted suicide again because I felt like there was no hope. I would be left without an eternal family if I resigned, but if I stayed in the church I knew I could never truly heal. Nearly every Sunday I would have a panic attack and end up in tears after the three hour block. I felt like there was no escape. At my husband’s encouragement, I finally resigned. I received a letter from my bishop saying he was sorry about the abuses in my past and again said I was giving up the most important things in my life and eternity by making this decision. A few weeks later I received the final letter from church headquarters telling me they had removed my name from the records of the church and that all my temple blessings and sealing had been cancelled. It was the final act of violence they would ever perpetrate on me.
It has been 5 years since my resignation. And while things are not perfect (because no one’s life is), things are getting better. And as my therapist reminds me nearly every week, I am a fighter and survivor. Not everyone makes it out of these types of situations with their lives, so I feel very fortunate.