When I was 17 I went to a “party” at a college-aged guy’s house. He was the friend of a friend of mine, a friend I’d expected to be there that night but never came. It was awkward just the two of us, drinking vodka he’d provided as we waited for more people to show up. In hindsight I realize no one else had even been invited, and that this stranger was a predator – but as an entirely naive teenager I stayed.
It has been nearly 13 years, and even though as an adult I’ve done everything from counseling and therapy to studying shame and shame resilience, I still can hardly bring myself to think it or speak it out loud: I was raped.
The details are pretty much as horrifying as you can imagine, and the next morning I was hung over and sick and came home to find my mom, waiting, furious. She knew I was going through a phase and that I had been drinking, and was at her wit’s end. Before I knew it our bishop was there – he was ALWAYS there when we needed “priesthood perspective” because my dad was not around. The bishop – this shy, mousy accountant – took me in to our home office and asked me if I had been drinking. I broke down, said I hardly even remember anything, but that I remember “having sex” and that I don’t even really know the guy, and that I felt sick. He asked probing questions like how many times we had sex, what I meant by sex (“oral on you, or on him, or actual sex.”) I told him I didn’t remember. He asked if he was my boyfriend and how long we’d been having sex, and I told him it was the second or third time I’d ever met him. As I cried and stared at my hands, he peeked his head out and asked my mom to join us. He told me to repeat what I had told him. When I couldn’t say it out loud to my mom, he told her. Their silent stares bore into me. Shame suffocated me. I wanted to disappear. He asked me to come see him weekly, to not take the sacrament until he said so, and challenged me to read the Book of Mormon. When he left, my mom didn’t say another word about it. To this day she has never said a single word about that night.
My parents – my dad was bishop for eight years – never spoke to me about sex, drugs, alcohol, or safety. What I knew about sex and drinking was what the Church taught, outlined in For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. I had heard the chewing gum and used car analogies, the weekly promises that no good RM would want someone premiscuous or troubled. They never told me that alcohol could be harmful and dangerous – just that I couldn’t have it. They never told me that there are men that prey on young women like me, that I must keep my guard up, to seek help in uncomfortable or scary situations – but only to dress modestly, and remain pure; that boys’ thoughts and behaviors were my responsibility as a young woman. I never felt like I could call on my mom for help because this was a place I should never be – and how incredibly damaging that has been in my life. My bishop, like my mom, has no formal training or education. He has had NO experience or education of victims of rape or abuse. He has NO ANSWERS other than the same tired challenge to “prayerfully read the Book of Mormon.”
The rage I feel toward him, my mother, the Church, has taken years to surface. Through years of regular therapy I now see that the only one who should be ashamed – obviously aside from the despicable rapist – with his pitiful attempt to “redeem” me, is the bishop. Let him delegate church callings, let him hold tithing settlement, let him sit up behind the pulpit, but DO NOT ALLOW HIM to destroy a child’s sense of worth and “worthiness” with his ignorant solutions and false authority. He has no answers, and has absolutely no right to speak to anyone about their experiences and traumas, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN, scared and hurting, desperately grasping for a safe and trusted hand.
As a mother I want to kick and scream over the abuse so many children are subject to behind those closed office doors. Shame is NOT the answer, it’s POISON – and it’s the only tool bishops have.