When I was very young, my parents discovered I had been sexually abused by a female babysitter in our LDS ward. When they reported this to their bishop, he advised them to not report the abuse to law enforcement because the family was a reactivation project and these allegations would hurt his efforts in bringing them back to the fold. The bishop promised my parents that I would be fine if they obeyed his council. Long story long, I was not fine. In fact, a male in the ward later abused me as well. Had I received professional help after the babysitter abuse, I would have known what is and is not appropriate touching and I believe my second abuse experience (which was far more detrimental to me) would have been prevented or at least less traumatic. What ended up happening was I did not report the abuses (plural) until I was a teenager, which means the perpetrators (plural) never faced any consequences for what they did to me, due to the statute of limitations, and I never received help when I needed it most.
“The only thought I had, growing up, was ‘get… candy.’ That was my only thought, in my brain, for the first 10 years of my life. Just get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy. Family, friends, school, these were just obstacles in the way of getting more candy.” I can relate to this bit from Jerry Seinfeld once you replace the word “candy” with “sex.” Read the bit again and replace candy with sex and you will understand my childhood as a result of not receiving help and education about what had happened to me. My earliest memories of existence are the thoughts that crossed my mind nearly every time a woman would walk into the room—thoughts such as, “Is she going to touch me and make me feel good like my babysitter did?” or “I know exactly what we would do if we spent “play time” together.
Please stay with me if the connection between my experience and this march/petition is not clear yet.
Mormonism’s #metoo movement—sparked the Rob Porter situation in the White House—confirms that even 20 to 30 years later, bishops still give counsel that puts victims in harm’s way. Porter’s wives reported the abuse to their bishops who, in at least one instance, warned her that filing a protective order could harm her husband’s career. This story is hauntingly familiar to my own: a bishop protecting and enabling an abuser while ignoring the needs of the victim. I struggle to think of anything more despicable than that. I don’t believe bishops intend for this to be the outcome; however, the current policies of the LDSChurch lead to outcomes like this more than they would care to admit. I know these outcomes are contrary to what the Church aims to achieve; I just don’t think they realize their own policies are working against them.
As a teenager, I reported my history of abuse to my bishop during one of these worthiness interviews. Rather than encourage me to tell my parents or report it to law enforcement, he instructed me read The Miracle of Forgiveness and he put me on a repentance plan to purge me of the godly sorry that I was somehow guilty of bringing upon myself. He recognized it wasn’t my choice to engage in those sexual acts, but that my purity in God’s eyes had been tarnished none the less and, therefore, I needed to cleanse myself through repentance. I have reported my abuse to most bishops I have had ever since then and not one of them knew what to do.
My story bolsters one of the many reasons for this movement: lay clergy will never be a good substitute for professional help. Let me share one more story from the other side of the interview desk to illustrate this point. When I served in a bishopric, a sister tried to report spousal abuse to me during a temple recommend interview and I didn’t put the pieces together until reading about the experiences of Rob Porter’s wives. Thankfully, I counseled her to talk to the member of the stake presidency about it in her next interview, but I did not report it to anyone and I should have. I was never trained properly on how to identify and handle something like that, yet I am now feeling immense guilt for not helping that sister.
Under current practices, members put way too much trust in the hands of someone who is not equipped to deal with certain matters, leading to parents delegating their responsibilities to talk to their children about their bodies and the proper view and role of sex in our lives. This leads to youth (and adults) not receiving the professional help and legal protection they need.
Current practices also set members up to blindly trust bad counsel, to their detriment. From a young age, we are told to trust the bishop, as he represents God, and surely God would never give us bad counsel, right? As young members, we are put in situations, often, where we meet with the bishop alone, teaching us to trust him more than our own parents. And when we doubt the bad counsel from the bishop (as common sense often leads to these doubts), we attribute our doubts to our unfaithfulness, leading to more guilt for questioning God’s will: not a healthy way to view oneself.
To wrap up this story that has not been easy to share but worthy of the cause, I call upon the church to make swift changes. If a bishop would ask that I repent for my role as a victim of sexual abuse, I feel it is fair for me to ask the church to repent for its role in the many stories like mine. Therefore, I encourage top LDS leadership to:
1) Recognize that your policies have led to disastrous outcomes for many individuals.
2) Feel sorrow for your part in these outcomes.
3) Confess your mistakes before God and man.
4) Do what you can to make restitution to the people you have hurt.
5) Abandon the practices that have led to this march and petition and maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve to never put your members in these situations again.
Here is a Facebook post I made when I first saw the page from ProtectLDSChildren:
It frustrates me that so many in our community object to sex ed being taught in the classroom by a professional yet don’t think twice before sending their children into these potentially harmful situations. If the sexual behavior of children needs to be assessed, leave it to parents and/or professionals.
With the national discourse surrounding sexual assault, I feel it’s the appropriate time to say that I have to count on two hands the number of times I have tried to address my own childhood abuse with a priesthood leader who did not know what to do. No reporting. No referral to counseling. Just awkwardness and guilt.
I encourage anyone reading this post to take a look at this petition—if for nothing else than to keep the conversation going and to raise awareness that this is a problem within the church. Bishops and other priesthood leaders should be trained better on how to recognize and respond to abuse, but they should not be initiating these creepy inquiries—especially when a parent is not present. If this continues, it will make it easier for parents to think they can delegate their responsibilities to talk to their children early and often about protecting their bodies—leading to missed opportunities to help a child.
#ChildrensRights #TalkToYourKids #SexEdWorks #CreepinessDoesnt