As a child I experienced repeated sexual abuse. I knew that I didn’t like what was happening to me, but I didn’t know exactly what it was and I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. Due to my experiences I became sexualized in my early childhood and I began to explore this new sexuality. It wasn’t until I was in Young Women’s that I was old enough to understand what had happened to me as a child and that what I was doing alone was a huge sin.
We had many lessons in church and during Bishop Youth Discussions about keeping ourselves morally clean and we were strongly taught not to masturbate. This was taught so often and was so ingrained into the youth that I remember thinking it was much worse to touch myself than it was for someone else to touch me. This led me into a deep personal shame. By this point I was unable to stop what I was doing. I wanted to do what was right and so during my bishop interviews, starting around age 11, I confessed about my sins when asked if I was morally clean and if I masturbated.
It is very intimidating sitting on the other side of a desk in a small room, alone with a man being asked these questions. You can’t get away from it. I remember that sometimes I would bring my pillow to an interview with me so that I could hold onto it and hide behind it. Looking back now I realize just how sad this is. That I, as a child, would feel the need to place something in between me and my bishop to help protect me from what I felt during those interviews.
I hadn’t yet told anyone about my sexual abuse, but when a new bishop was called in our ward I felt that I was finally able to share this secret. My parents and friends didn’t know, but I trusted that Heavenly Father would be able to help me and He had called this man as my spiritual leader and so I could trust him. I thought that the Lord would be able to let him know what to do and how to best help me. The abuse had long stopped, but the effects had not and I was struggling. I met with my Bishop and after sitting in silence for a while, I finally told him of the repeated sexual abuse that I had endured earlier as a child. I did not find the help I needed. My bishop did not believe me. He said that he knew this person, and they would never do that. He made me doubt myself, my experiences, my pain, and my constant struggle. I left feeling completely defeated. I had been violated as a child and after finally telling someone about it, I was violated in a whole new way. I felt utterly alone. My bishop said that I hadn’t been sexually abused, I should trust him, right? He is the authority, he is my spiritual leader and he is there to help me and so I must have been mistaken if he says it wasn’t so.
After that my teenage years were extremely difficult. The list of the potential harmful affects you wrote about in your petition, I experienced almost all of them. I gave up on myself, and I felt out of place in the Mormon world. Being sexualized at such a young age brought a myriad of issues. I felt like a thing, a thing whose purpose was to please people. I let people do what they wanted with me. This then brought me into a devastating cycle. I would sin, feel guilty, confess to my bishop, sin, feel guilty, and confess to my bishop. Over and over. It was humiliating having to sit there and tell the bishop everything that I had done. And because I couldn’t stop, I felt completely worthless.
In high school I suffered from eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and repeated suicide attempts. I also started having very detailed flashbacks of my abuse. They were so real and it would all come flooding back to me, the setting, the feelings, the tastes. The flashbacks became too much for me and I finally decided to talk to a seminary teacher that I trusted. He believed me and I was able to start going to him when I felt troubled. It wasn’t very long before he decided that he was going to tell my parents. He called my parents and told them that I had been sexually abused. My parents sat me down and asked me about it. My abuser was away at school or on a mission and they asked if I wanted to have him sent home. This was completely unfair, to put that decision on my head. I did not want to be responsible for ruining someone else’s life. I said no and they left it at that.
I was told not to refer to the experiences as sexual abuse. Being told this by a second adult that I trusted made me begin to doubt myself again which lead to further depression. My parents made an appointment for me with the LDS Social Services and took me to see a counselor. I had one appointment with this man. I sat there, on the other side of his desk. It felt very much like the bishop interviews I had had in the past. Only this man wasn’t my bishop, I didn’t have to tell him anything. And I had learned what happens when I told people about what happened to me. I said nothing. We sat across from each other for the full 60 minutes without speaking. Afterwards, when my mom was driving me home, she asked if things were better now. I said yes and that was the end of it.
For the rest of my high school experience I remained withdrawn, depressed, and in such great internal torment. When I finally graduated, I left for college as soon as I could. When I was at college I began to experience my flashbacks again. I became so depressed and things were getting worse for me. I sought help from a college counselor. It took me multiple appointments before I was able to open up to him, but I finally did. He told me that I had in fact been sexually abused, and not just that, but that what I had experienced was actually rape. I finally felt listened to, and validated. He acknowledged my experience and my pain.
Although I was in counseling, I continued to struggle with immorality and soon became pregnant. I was kicked out of school and I was sent to live in an LDS foster home for pregnant teens so that I could place my baby for adoption. After I returned home, I had to write to the college to explain how I had repented of my great sin and I was then able to return to school. It wasn’t long that I fell into a depression again, and with good reason. I had lost a baby, and was not allowed to speak of it. I become extremely depressed and once again fell into the arms of others for comfort. This started that same cycle of sin and repentance that I had experienced growing up. My bishop at the time was the worst possible person for me to meet with. I would leave his office feeling as low as a person could feel. He would let me know, quite clearly, how awful of a person I was because of my sins.
On the way home from one of these interviews, I decided to take a drive to cry it out before I returned to my apartment. It was winter and I ended up getting stuck in the snow on the side of the road while turning around. I tried to dig my way out of the snow, but I could not. I got a blanket out of my car and just sat there in front of my car and cried. I starting thinking maybe this is ok. My bishop had just told me what an awful person I was, and after everything else I had experienced, I decided it was ok if no one came along. I was out there for hours. At some point I passed out and fell over in the snow. Eventually I was found and I remember being picked up and placed in a truck. A couple had found me and drove me back to town.
After that I didn’t want to go see that bishop anymore. But I still felt like I needed help. I was so lost. I felt awful for my sins and I wanted to change, I just didn’t know how. I continued to have suicidal thoughts, self-damaging behaviors, and no self-esteem. I felt worthless. I knew that I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it. My bishop reported my actions and I was removed from school. I then went to work in another state and there I met with my new bishop and we discussed the things I had done while I was at school. I was then disfellowshipped for my immoral behavior. It took me awhile, but I tried to do what I was supposed to and eventually I was able to come back to full fellowship in the church. I later met a man in my singles branch and I became engaged at 20 years old.
During an interview I had before I was married, my Stake President asked me the most in depth sexual questions that I had ever been asked. He wanted to know about my past sexual relationships, ones that I had already repented of. He wanted to know how many times in a day I have had sex, and what was the most times I have had in one day. He asked if I was able to orgasm each time and it the man was able to ejaculate each of those times as well. I felt completely uneasy having to answer his questions. And they didn’t stop, he just leaned back in his chair and kept on going, asking me some of the most disturbing questions I have ever heard. I felt as though I had to answer them. Here he was interviewing me for a temple recommend, and I felt that if I didn’t answer his questions, then he wouldn’t give it to me. I knew that as soon as I was married I would be in a different stake and I wouldn’t have to see this man again so I answered his questions.
As an adult, I have since heard from some other women that were members of the ward that I grew up in. I learned that they too had suffered sexual abuse and it was made known to the same bishop that I had confided in. That bishop was instrumental in keeping an abusive father at home which lead to the continued rape of that man’s young daughter. That man also physically abused his wife. The police were never contacted, and the victims were left feeling alone, unworthy of help, and tossed aside by the church just as I had felt. I don’t think these bishops even realize how much damage they have caused to so many people.
It is funny to me that bishops are now counseled to call a church helpline if a member of their ward reports abuse. Why not call the police? How many adults knew about my abuse? My bishop, my seminary teacher, my mom, my dad, a church counselor, and a church college counselor. How many of them reported it? None of them. Looking back at all the church interviews I have sat through, I can’t believe how blindly I trusted these men. We were taught to always seek help from within the church. Being raised to put complete trust in these men, just because of their church calling, has changed the course of my life. These men had no formal education on how to deal with the issues I was experiencing, and their responses affected me negatively.