I was sexually abused at age 4 and again at age 7 by members of the Church. I learned early that extreme compliance was the way to keep safe. I was also raised to believe that bishops represented God in everything they said and did and that I could not be forgiven without seeing a bishop. Between my parents and the bishops I encountered, I was thoroughly indoctrinated to be completely obedient to bishops and to internalize the shame that was repeatedly put on me by these men.
When I was 16 I went and told the bishop that my boyfriend had raped me. Actually, I don’t know that I was even able to call it rape at the time, but I told him that I was physically held and kept from leaving and that my repeated ‘no’s were ignored and that I cried through the whole thing. I remember desperately hoping at the time that my bishop would tell me that it wasn’t my fault and help me get help. Instead, he asked for explicit details. He then told me that men can’t be held responsible for their behavior because their urges are too strong and that it was my job, as a ‘guardian of virtue,’ to make sure that my ‘no’s weren’t ignored. He read me the passage from The Miracle of Forgiveness that said that it was better that a woman die defending her honor than that she be raped. I was told to read the entire book, which was a shame-fest in and of itself. The most painful thing was that he then told me that I needed to write an apology letter to my rapist for putting him in a ‘bad situation’. The whole conversation was thick with shame, and the cherry on top was that I was to be publicly humiliated in front of my congregation for seven months, not being able to pray publicly or take the sacrament, and having to relinquish my calling in YW. I left that night being absolutely convinced that God hated me.
I went home drowning in shame and, after helping my mom do the dishes and telling her I loved her as a goodbye, I went and wrote the apology letter to my rapist and then swallowed 150 Aleve, intending to kill myself and go to hell, knowing that there was no way God would ever accept me into heaven. After about 1/2 hour, I heard a crystal clear voice in my head saying, “Please don’t kill yourself, Mommy,” so I ran to the bathroom and made myself throw up the pills.
On a few other occasions after that, with different bishops, I was questioned in explicit detail about my sexual indiscretions (almost all of them involving men who ignored my ‘no’s.) I was asked if I had an orgasm, if they had an orgasm, if oral sex was involved, and many other sexually explicit questions. I was told that I couldn’t be forgiven until I had explained everything in vivid detail. Every time I felt dirty and humiliated. While I did have a couple of respectful bishops who were embarrassed at the suggestion that I should go into detail, the others made me feel like it was totally normal to have to share with a bishop every last dirty detail and to take their shaming pronouncements as gospel. Ironically, the fact that I was drowning in shame most of my teenage years (largely due to the actions and attitudes of these bishops), made me feel less and less like I even had the right to say ‘no.’ This shame carried on well into adulthood.
One other thing comes to mind, and even though it happened at 23, I think my early conditioning in extreme obedience to ‘God’s anointed’ contributed to this later problem. I had married an abusive husband who raped me when I told him I was leaving. After we were separated, he told me he was coming to kill me. I dutifully went to my stake president and asked permission to get a divorce. He told me that I should stay, even though I had told him about the rape and the abuse. I went home that night and fell on my knees and begged God to set me free, but told him that ultimately, I would do what he wanted, and stay in the abusive marriage, even if it killed me (which at the time, I was fairly sure that it would.) The fact that I believed 100% that this untrained clergy member’s pronouncements were the explicit word of God on the matter had everything to do with years of conditioning to ignore my own feelings and intuitions and to trust completely (and blindly) everything these men said and did, even if it seemed inappropriate to me. Eventually, maybe a month or so later, after seeing my abusive ex-husband’s behavior with his own eyes, the stake president finally believed me and told me to get a divorce. But that period was the most scary and volatile period in the marriage, since my ex was very angry that I had tried to leave him. Now, I have PTSD, partly from enduring extra trauma that I shouldn’t have had to endure.
I know that there are children in the Church who are taught by their families to be strong and stand up for themselves. My fear is for the girls and boys, like me, who are eager to please and are brainwashed early to treat bishops as if they represent God himself in all things.