My story starts outside of church. From the age of seven, I experienced sexual assault and harassment from multiple sources. Other children, adults I knew, perfect strangers. As an example, without revealing some of the more traumatic experiences, when I was eleven or twelve, I was out shopping and the proprietor of the store approached me, praising the skirt I was wearing, a long sarong that covered me to my ankles. He then grabbed my ass. I froze. Even though I was quite tall for my age, compared to him I was tiny. My sister was fortunately there to see and rushed me out. She coached me on what to do the next time it happened. And happen it did. I’ve been stalked, cornered, and scared out of my wits. And there were more traumatic experiences as well, many of them at a younger age. The sad thing is, my experience is not unique. This is rape culture and most women I know have stories like the one I shared.
One thing that sexual abuse and assault survivors do to help heal is take control of their own sexuality. So, since I was a normal teenage girl with a normal sex drive, I masturbated. But being born in the covenant and raised in the church, I felt extreme shame for doing so. This was extraordinarily confusing for me. In many ways it was healing, but because I had been brainwashed to believe that my worth was less–the chewed gum lessons on chastity certainly played a part in this–for having explored my body by myself, which is a very emotionally healthy thing for kids and teenagers to do, I had intense self-hatred and anger that I couldn’t control myself.
Over the years, I attempted to absolve my ‘sins’ with my bishops. During several years of torment, my father–and then my surrogate father, when I moved to a new country–was my bishop. I never went to them about this, but that meant that I was going to the temple and doing church things whilst being ‘unworthy’. What a damaging thing to tell a child who is doing something natural and healthy.
But, adding to my considerable misery, when I did go to bishops (and I went to at least three over the years about this), I was asked questions like whether or not I had used a hairbrush, how long it would take me to cum, how often I would touch myself. I was asked how many fingers I could fit inside myself and what kind of porn I liked. I was told I wouldn’t be a good mother because women who were nurturing didn’t enjoy sex. I was told that this emotional immaturity. It was implied that I brought the abuse and harassment on myself. These interviews went on for years, until I was in my early twenties.
There is no way to explain the damage these teachings on chastity does, much less putting a young girl alone in a room with an adult man who asks about her sexuality. And then teaching her that she needs to do it to HAVE WORTH. My trust had been breached many times before, but the LDS church is what told me that I was worth less for having been abused.
What this petition is doing is necessary and wonderful. But I don’t think it goes far enough.
Please don’t tell your children that exploring their body is morally wrong. Sexuality is a good and healthy and necessary part of life, and exploring it on your own first makes you more emotionally prepared to explore it with someone else. It allows you to learn what you like, what scares you, what you want to stay away from. Here is a video with an expert on what is healthy and normal for children in exploring their bodies. Please watch it: https://youtu.be/PqMADZB6Ecw
And please, PLEASE, teach your children boundaries. Tell them that no one gets to touch them, even in seemingly innocuous ways like giving a relative a kiss, without their express permission. I know that seems silly, but having them give out hugs and kisses without thinking how they feel about it first teaches them they don’t get to decide what they do with their bodies. It leaves them open for opportunistic predators who will groom them from that point to much further.