This is my story for all the men and women who’s hearts and souls are broken because of men at church. This My story for you.
I didn’t know who he was until he was my leader, before then, he was the new kid’s dad. He told us stories about him, about his violence. I am ashamed I didn’t stand by the new kid.
Then my own father, the Bishop called him as the Young Men’s President (when I was almost 15 or just turned 15).
Sundays, Tuesdays, Friday night dances, Saturday ward activities, he was there, smiling, paying me attention, building trust. And he did an incredible job. “Grooming” does not even cut it. He was like a big brother I didn’t have, or a father who wasn’t around or interested, he was that to me. I loved him completely and wholly; he represented to me what every good, fun, charming, righteous man should and could be.
Then he began to email and chat with me. He convinced me his wife didn’t love him, that she was a closet lesbian, that he was incredibly and unfathomably lonely. That broke my heart, he was such a good man who deserved love! He convinced me I was beautiful and special; things I was hardly ever told and I never felt. He told me I was “special” – what a cliché! I believed him. I was desperate for love and validation, to be heard, to feel “special”.
I remember very clearly that night at mutual, where the Young Women and Young Men were playing and talking, and he sat next to me on the stage, our legs touching and our feet playfully knocking each other. He leant over and breathed into my ear… “I have a secret to tell you”. I was excited I was special enough for his attention and secrets. But I was not prepared to hear his secret… “I love you”.
He got up and left the room, leaving me to feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, flattered, confused. Love as in how? Like a daughter, friend? I didn’t know anything about love, or being a lover, I WAS 15, he was 34 (I had never done anything more than kissing, no boyfriend was anything more than a childlike, 2 week long “relationship” where him messily kissed and held hands and then broke up out of boredom like most normal teenagers).
After this confusing but flattering occasion, his emails increased with intensity; more “love” with things like “soul mate” and “best friend” and “never felt this way before about anyone”. These things undoubtedly felt good, although I was so naive about love and relationships I had no idea where this was all leading to, only that it felt good to be loved and wanted, to be someone’s best friend, and again, to be the receiver of so much flattery and attention. Here he was, this amazing man, very charming and handsome, telling me I was his soul mate (I was a huge loner at school, very shy, and a huge tomboy)!
One week, he asked me to hang out with him on a Friday night. Perhaps to any other 15 year old girl, this would have raised some red flags, but my parents had always allowed and encouraged us children to be alone and unsupervised with men. Either neighbours or men from church, so I did not see the harm in hanging out alone, like we always had done, with him, especially seeing as I was his “best friend” and he was a married priesthood holder.
That night, he abruptly kissed me. He didn’t ask me and he didn’t warn me, just kissed me and then held my hand on the way to a cafe. I can’t tell you the thousands of emotions I was feeling. But I didn’t say “no”. I was not raised to say “no” to a man, especially a man in authority at church, so that night, and every night thereafter that he requested to see me, I didn’t ever say no. I trusted him and I believed that I was safe – that he wouldn’t hurt me.
That night was the first of many nights he would instruct me on how to be a lover, how to be and do the things that pleased him. He bought me a mobile phone, saw me before school (he was my seminary teacher), and ingratiated himself into my family as a person of trust. He and his family spent Christmas with our family, my siblings loved him, and my Dad thought of him as a son.
But my body was not enough for him, he also became incredibly controlling – wanting to see me when and where it suited him. I soon dropped out of high school because I could not focus on school work or accept a date to the Year 10 formal/Prom. I couldn’t bare lying to my school friends and church friends so I distanced myself from everyone. He was jealous if I went on a date with a young man my age, so I never accepted dates. That was forbidden. He began to DJ at church dances, so he could keep an eye on who I danced with, who I talked with, even until I was 20 years old.
He convinced me I was an adulteress, a sin which was next to murder and that made me a very bad person, even potentially a criminal. In this way and many others, he isolated me from my family, friends, and even my God. Everyone would know I was a very bad, wicked person if I came forward, so that was not an option. My parents would be mad, and disgusted. No man would want me as a wife now. In addition to this burden, he compounded the secret with the guarantee that his wife would leave him, and take the kids back home to the US, and so I would be the cause of him being separated from his children.
I had NO IDEA that what was happening was abuse. I was incapable of seeing or understanding the abuse as “abusive”. The pain I experienced was great but I understood it as being caused by me – the isolation, loneliness, guilt, shame, the incredible pain of seeing him with his wife – all those things were my fault for being a sinner and an adulteress. Plus, who would believe a young girl like me against a man who everyone loved, adored, and believed as I had believed – that he was a good man.
I moved out of home at age 17 so he could have greater access to me. Working dead end jobs here and there. My life was now a shell. I was lies, I was the master of avoidance; always shifting so no-one became too close to me to see the pain and the cracks. I had no real friends, no life ambition, no one who I trusted who I could tell my pain to. Even my family had suspicions from time to time, but when they cornered me, full of spite and anger, I saw their disgust in me, I saw their fear of the tarnished family name at church, I saw their desperation that it wasn’t true, and I did what I had to do to not destroy everyone’s lives – I lied. My mother begged me to consider how his wife must feel (to this day, she still refers to the abuse as “the affair”). My father, the authoritarian, the punisher in the family, and still the Ward Bishop, petrified me. There was no kindness, love, offer of trust and help, just fear of getting into trouble, and of fucking up my family, and my abusers’ family’s lives. I was 17 and I wanted to die.
When I was 21, I eventually could not handle the control, the lies, the massive highs and lows of the relationship, and my massive shame and guilt at being a mistress – an adulteress, I went and saw my Bishop. I “confessed” to being “in a relationship” with him since I was Younger. The Bishop asked how Young I was when it started, and I said I was 16. This is for a few reasons.
- I only considered that the actual, penis-vaginal penetration event was the beginning of the adultery.
- I considered myself of equal culpability and wholly consentual to the “affair” so I wanted it to not sound so bad. This is incredibly common among most abuse victims – they lesson or omit details so the abuse doesn’t seem so bad. This is for many complicated psychological reasons.
- I had no idea that the relationship was abuse and illegal, so in my mind, the sex was the only serious thing worth mentioning.
While the Bishop was incredibly kind and loving, he was completely incapable of understanding the seriousness of what I was divulging to him. I still to this day do not understand what was going through his mind. His mind-set aside, he told me;
- The relationship when I was “Younger” was not necessarily my fault, however I would need to repent for the adultery which occurred while I was an adult, and for allowing the relationship to continue.
- I was placed on probation (could not pray, hold a calling, or take the sacrament, go to the temple etc. for 18 months.
- I was given ‘The Miracle of Forgiveness’ to read (which totally reinforced my suicidal ideation and self worthlessness).
- In order to repent, I had to break things off with him and stay away from him (the only sound piece of advice the Bishop gave, but for the wrong reasons).
I was NOT;
- offered counselling,
- told I was actually an abuse victim,
- told that I should go to police,
- told that what happened was criminal and I needed help and support, not the incredibly crushing shame and guilt that a repentance process would bring.
I do not blame the Bishop, I only wish he was more educated, asked more questions, persuaded me to undergo counselling, instead, because I felt incredibly shamed, isolated, and that I was a failure, and unworthy, and that no worthy man would want me now, guess who was THE ONLY person who wanted me and still thought I was occasionally great, at times lovable, and sometimes beautiful, yep, my abuser did. Besides, no good, RM, worthy man my age would want me now.
So I went back to the only place and the only person where I still felt even remotely wanted. I married him 6 months later at age 21. He was 40, (but I left 10 months after our wedding). I went back home to a home where everyone was silent (although one sister did verbally attack me for all my lies) and I was a mess. Not only was I a victim of long term sexual abuse, but I was also a victim of domestic violence – both of which I neither understood nor could see, how was I supposed to? I was a sheltered, nice 22 year old who had been fed a steady diet of manipulation, lies, and culpability since age 15. Add onto this that I was still on ‘spiritual probation’ and felt worthless. If someone mentioned “the relationship” I would break down crying. I had massive anxiety and I believe, PTSD, all undiagnosed because I did not know I needed it, I believed I only needed to be forgiven.
Yes, I translated my anxiety and PTSD as guilt for being a sinner.
THIS is why Bishops and clergy need training.
I strongly believe that either had the Bishop undergone training, he would have recognised what I was telling him was abuse, and would have taken the steps to get me help, or support me in getting help. I would not then have gotten married to a monster, and would have not delayed my healing and recovery for 10 years. If Bishops are not to receive training, then someone WHO DID have training about sexual abuse and/or the laws of the country/state should be there, or have been consulted. Surely there is at least ONE police officer/ lawyer/ child protective services officer/prosecutor/social worker/psychologist in each stake who could be consulted on such matters?
Even if I could have brought a friend (member or non-member) in with me, who could have supported me during and after my “confession?” It was offered that I could bring in my parents to the disciplinary council, but there was NO way I was going to have my parents know what a disgraceful, dirty, unworthy Young woman I was and the atrocious “sins” I had committed. Plus, they had shown me over the years exactly what kind of “support” I would receive from them!!
Bishops are fallible. My own father for example; why he thought a man who had cheated on his wife in the past couple of years made for a good role model to his teenage children I do not know. Or was it God? Was it God who whispered to my father that he was always destined to be my “leader” and be in a direct position to abuse me? If that’s the case, as we Mormons believe God calls men and women to these callings, then I don’t know if I want to know that God.
My experience is not an isolated one. Since that occasion when I was 21, I have also had other matters where I have been groomed and attempted molested and this man is currently a convicted child sex offender and I have tried telling his church leaders, and my father, but he has been labelled as “changed” and “repented” and basically left alone.
This man, and my past abuser are active, believing, temple recommend and attending men. They could be your Home Teacher and you’d never know it.
Perhaps they will be called as your next Bishop. Think about that.