I grew up in Australia, where members from the USA, and especially Utah were highly regarded, honored, and looked up to in my childhood Ward. When I was 14, and my father was the Bishop, a family from Utah moved into our Ward. The father of which, who would have been 34, was soon after called as Young Men’s President (I was then 15). This man was very charismatic, charming, good looking, and (seemingly) incredibly kind. He was also young, fit, fun, and all the Young Women (and the older women) adored this man. He was always making activities and mutual fun and seemed to genuinely care about us. I came from a very orthodox (strict) and very large family (9 kids) and as a young woman who’s father was constantly busy with work and his calling, and a mother who had always struggled to be close with us.
I was very sheltered about boys and my body, and especially about consent, and what grooming looked like. This YM President showed attention to me, seemed to care about my life and interests, and began to text-book groom me. He began to email me, creating a story about how sad and lonely he was, in a love-less marriage and how amazing I was. He told me he loved me, he told me I was special and beautiful – something a very shy, tom-boy and insecure 15 year old relished hearing!
Soon this YM President asked to “hang out” with me one Friday night, to which I said yes. After all, since I was a young child, my parents had always allowed and encouraged men to spend time with us younger children alone, unsupervised (I know right?). I ABSOLUTELY trusted my YM President – I looked up to him so much, and adored him. He was like an older brother or even Father. That Friday night he picked me up and we went into the city. As soon as we got out of the car, he stopped me, put his hands on my shoulders and kissed me on the lips. I was shocked, confused, embarrassed, but didn’t say “no”. In fact, it was flattering that this AMAZING guy kissed me (I was a nobody). We then walked to a restaurant but inside he began to kiss me again. It felt nice, and I kissed him back. Again, I was so naive and trusted this man completely.
That night was the first of many outings where things steadily increased in sexual intensity. He would spoil me with gifts, loving words and gestures, and referred to me as his “girlfriend”. I would occasionally feel horrible guilt about the “relationship” and try to distance myself every few months from him, but this man was always at my church, at mutual during the week, and he was also called as our Seminary teacher the following year. Not only this, but he began to DJ at church Youth dances so that he could keep an eye on who I was spending time with. I felt trapped, but combined with the unhealthy fear and shame based chastity messages at church and in my home, and his constant presence and pressure for contact, I essentially gave up trying. At that age, I had no idea what was illegal, but he would tell me that adultery was illegal in some countries, so I was so afraid I would be in trouble! Also, he would tell me that adultery is the sin closest to murder, so again, I was petrified I would be excommunicated for being an adulteress (and my father would be the deciding “Judge in Israel” no less).
Add on-top of these fears, the message of being “accountable” after age 8, enjoying most of the sexual contact, not having any clue what “love” looked like so I trusted his explanation of it, and that people would ultimately believe this “amazing” guy over me. These are just some of the difficult walls that prevented me from coming forward. On top of this, I felt I needed to protect him. It was a mess. This “relationship” continued into when I was an adult – I was well and truly trapped by then, completely emotionally and psychologically manipulated into what he wanted me to be and do. After some time I was ready to come forward to the Bishop and confess my transgressions at age 21. At this time I still had no words or idea that what had occurred was “abuse” or that it was even illegal! I told the Bishop I had been engaged in a sexual relationship with this man (he knew him) since I was 15/16. He told me that while I was not responsible for the abuse when it started, I was definitely responsible for not stopping it and yes, being an adulteress during my adult years. He encouraged me to read “The Miracle of Forgiveness” which had so many disturbing messages in it which set me back from my healing for decades. I was put on probation for 18 months. The police were never contacted, neither was I encouraged to get counselling. I believe these 3 last things culminated in so much confusion and shame that I ultimately went back to the person who “loved me” – I married my abuser. I believe that if the Bishop was trained, or had at least referred me onto a professional, I would have NEVER married my abuser (which is a whole other issue in the lds culture about being divorced and sloppy seconds) and I would have begun my healing and treatment at age 21, not at age 34. Please, lets change these issues for our children and grandchildren who do not have a voice!!