I was sexually assaulted by a brother when I was 9 years old. I froze, didn’t know what was happening and was threatened that if I ever told it would break up my family and it would be my fault.
As I turned 12, I began having the standard’s night lessons on chastity and morality. I realized then that I was already damaged goods and that no good person would want to marry me. I also took on the responsibility for the assault. I had been taught that at 8 years old, being the age of accountability, I should have known right from wrong because I was 9 years old when it happened, I should have known better. Prior to each temple trip I dreaded the interview process when I would be asked if I was morally clean. I had to lie that I was because my Dad was in the bishopric and I knew the bishop would tell my father if I confessed this horrible thing and my family would be broken up. Each time I went to the temple I felt so unworthy, like I was defiling the temple by my very presence.
I began BYU in the summer of 1981, right after I graduated high school. I was excited to be there. I soon met a man who I deemed was a very good person. I hoped that somehow his goodness would rub off on me. We became engaged and I was looking forward to my temple recommend interview with my BYU bishop so I could finally unburden myself from this awful weight I’d been carrying for over half my life. I wanted to be considered completely clean and worthy to be married in the temple on my wedding day. I was finally having the opportunity to fix things.
I was so scared, and when he came to the question “Are you morally clean?” I somehow managed to get the words out, explaining what had happened to me when I was 9. The first words out of his mouth were an angry “Why didn’t you confess this to your homeward bishop during your ecclesiastical interview?” I was stunned. I was expecting a measure of compassion, not condemnation. I stammered on about my Dad being in the bishopric until he then asked “Have you forgiven your brother?” Again, I was stunned. I had never even said the words out loud, let alone processed the experience to the point of forgiveness. I honestly replied “I don’t know”. The bishop then went on about how it was my responsibility to forgive my brother and then he said “I’ll agree to sign your temple recommend if you will promise to forgive your brother.” I was getting married in two weeks, what else could I say except “I’ll try”.
On my wedding day I still wasn’t sure if I’d forgiven my brother. Due to the condemnation and forced forgiveness that the bishop required, I entered the temple that day still feeling unworthy, unclean, and that I was defiling the temple by my mere presence. This feeling continued throughout my life until I was in my late 20’s and had recently given birth to my 5th child. I was overwhelmed and broken. I lived in Portland, Oregon and the time and was serving in the Ward relief society presidency when Chieko Okasaki came to speak at our stake. This was in 1992. She writes about this experience in one of her books. She spoke about childhood sexual assault and how it had become such a problem in the church. She explained what it was, that it wasn’t our fault and that we needed professional help to process and recover from the experience.
I spent the rest of my life trying to recover. I was doing everything I could to do everything right. I held high demand callings at both the ward and stake level and I even taught early morning seminary. And still, I carried the shame of that experience due to the doctrine of the age of accountability and the truly heartless way the BYU bishop handled my “confession”.
I’ve since lost my testimony and my 35 year marriage. It’s the first time in my life, as a now 54 year old woman, I can now say I feel completely worthy, just exactly as I am.
These “worthiness” interviews need to stop. The church needs to practice what they preach and come clean about everything. The history, the lying, the cover ups all to protect the “good name” of the church. I deserve an apology along with the countless other people who’s lives have been ruined.