My name is Joanna C. and I am ready to go fully public about the lifetime of abuses through the mainstream Mormon Church and the fundamentalist sects of the church have perpetuated against not only me, but several key others. What was done to us by the church was monstrous and atrocious, and was always managed to be covered up.
My birth mother was born to a family in Washington state with ties to fundamentalist Mormon sects, similar to the polygamist Blackwater clan that broke away from the Warren Jeff’s LDS to settle in Washington. She was an unwed mother who felt very heavy pressure to give me up for adoption in an effort to spare me from being raised in any version of the church and to ensure I would avoid the treatment bastard children often receive in Mormon communities. Unfortunately, children from these backgrounds are hard to place for adoption, because many families don’t want to take on a child that might’ve otherwise ended up in a polygamist child cemetery from the health problems they often suffer, and sure enough my entire birth family was rife with it. However, after 4 families in a row fell through so close to my due date, the lawyer handling my case made the decision to not disclose my birth family’s situation to my eventually adopted parents, and failed to tell my birth mother that the only family left willing to take me were Mormon themselves. And so it was I was taken from the fundamentalist side of Mormonism to the very heart of the mainstream church in the dead center of Utah state.
The church made my life and the lives of those closest to me am absolute living hell for the next 20 years. While I could go on and on for hours about all the things I’ve suffered, I’ll try to make this particular account about the bigger cases of injustice.
When I was about 6 years old, a group of boys averaging about 10 years old, one of them the son of a bishop, pulled me into the back of my school bus, and proceeded to taunt me with tales of dragging me into the field by a creek behind my house, doing what they wanted with my body, and leaving me there for dead, as a joke. When I rushed home in tears to tell my father what had happened, he immediately went to confront the father of one of the boys. It turns out that these founder families in the small town I was raised in in Utah considered me as some kind of mutt, or dangerous half breed child, like an animal, because I was adopted, and their vicious words and attitudes behind closed doors empowered these boys to bully me however they wanted my entire childhood, because to them it was OK, it wasn’t like I was a human being to them anyway. Nothing was done and no report of the incident was filed.
Immediately after this, I made the choice to try and spend most of my time with adults, because the cruelty of the other children was often too much for me to face. In my bus route home, there was a neighbor I knew fairly well from my ward, and every few days I would stop at his house on the way home from school and he would give me bags of box tops and milk lids to redeem for money for my school. While I never felt comfortable enough about this man to stay very long or even go all the way into his house, I trusted him as a member of my church and neighbor. I will never forget the first time he tried to touch me. As I was turning to leave his front porch, he reached out and firmly grabbed my bottom while saying “make sure you get home safe”. I was completely unnerved. When I mentioned it to my parents, it was explained away as a familiar gesture, not meant to be sexual, but that I should always be aware regardless. I was not told to stop collecting the tops.
About a week later, I went to the house again, this time taking my dog on a leash with me purely because of how nervous I was. When I got to the house, I was instructed to tie my dog up on the porch and come inside while he looked for the bag. As soon as I was inside, I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. He tried to lure me to a back bedroom, but I refused to leave the living room of his home. Sensing my hesitation, he brought it a big shiny remote control toy boat for me to look at and play with, and I was instantly distracted and delighted. I didn’t even notice him start to undress in the background.
All of the sudden I was pulled up from the couch and pushed against the wall by the front door, facing him. He was wearing nothing but his temple garments. I was frozen, terrified. He began to grope my chest while breathing heavily with one hand while his other hand went down into his garments and began fishing for his penis. I managed to make a half scream half gurgling noise from the sheer terror, which was enough to alert my dog, who started barking and scraping at the door. This offered just enough of a distraction for me to duck out from his grip and run for the door. I didn’t even bother with the leash, I just pulled the whole collar contraption off my dog to free her from his porch and took off running. When I got home, I was so ashamed I couldn’t even tell my father what had happened for several days. But even when I did come forward, I was told there was nothing anyone could do. As my bishop at the time explained it, he was a senile old man who had no control over his actions and was going to die soon. Since I was the only kid to come forward, it was assumed to be a one time accident and nothing was ever done about it, by the church or authorities. That I knew at age 6 what temple garments and full grown men’s penises in them looked like wasn’t even enough to warrant counseling for me.
Now we jump ahead to when I’m 12. I was made president of the beehives in my ward for young women’s and went on my first girls camp trip. During this trip, I confessed to knowing about my dear friend who was being heavily abused by her Mormon founder family and her wanted polygamist guardian who was constantly beating and abusing her. The adults pretty much tried to silence me and told me off for going into inappropriate commentary, but the reaction amongst many of the young women was a complete turnaround. All of the sudden I had entire handfuls of these young women coming to me and confessing about what they were all experiencing. At least a third of the girls in our entire ward were being sexually molested or abused by family members and neighbors, and in every single case nothing was being done about it. If anything, these men were being explained away and justified at every turn. I started to realize what a farce the entire church was, to allow this level of sickness in its ranks, unchecked…it was mind boggling. But I still didn’t want to openly dissent, for fears of repercussions and losing everything that mattered to me. So I kept in line, quiet and mostly obedient.
When I was 13, I began to realize what a lie my entire life was, and I started to explore and experiment like any teenager. It was at this time I started to turn to substances to cope. For 8 months, I became chemically dependent on a small group of people I thought were my friends. During this time I was repeatedly taking large amounts of drugs, passing out in a specific house a lot, and as I came to figure out, I was also being sexually abused and molested by several people closest to me. The biggest perpetrator was a female. On 2 distinct occasions, I was raped with foreign objects by this woman until I bled. The only reason the abuse stopped was I went cold sober and tried to catch her in the act. When I confronted her about it, she immediately moved on to her next target, a boy with mental disabilities who would not be able to understand what might have happened to him. It was at this point that I was finally fed up with the entire story of my existence and I felt I HAD to do something about it.
So, I went to my schools seminary teacher and told him about what was happening to me. I thought surely, faced with this kind of undeniable inexcusable situation, that the church would help and protect me….to no such avail. After he shepherded my complaints to the front office, I was told there was nothing he could do for me and that I needed to leave church property.
I then went to the front office, where I had to sit and describe every gruesome detail I could possibly remember in a room full of male police men who all had bad history with me and the principal. One of the officers even laughed at me, in my face, when I raised my concerns about being gay bashed or attacked by her family members who were reported to be in a gang just for coming forward. Needless to say, I wasn’t believed. I was taken to a safehouse the next day to give my account, but they didn’t even ask me about much of the assaults, and it was clear that no one thought what I was talking about was legitimate. My parents and I were told my case would go to court and we would hear back from the sheriff’s office, and the church was going to get me a permanent therapist and some real counseling. Neither of those things happened. We never heard from the officials again and later found out the case was dropped after calling only one of my witnesses. The church had me go to ONE half hour counseling session with a church counselor, but all he did was compare my life to an episode of the Simpsons, tell me that female on female sexual violence isn’t considered rape or assault and isn’t a real thing, and when I asked for help with my suicidal ideation and attempts, self mutilation and severe depression, I was told to turn to my scriptures “stop being so sad all the time”. No talk of further counseling, medication, or any kind of help. I was unbelieved and on my own.
Skip forward to my junior year of high school, the last year I could bear going to school before dropping out because I just couldn’t handle any of it anymore. My English teacher at the time was Keith Gillins, a homophobic, sexist, racist, and pedophilic little man. Unbeknownst to us students in Millard County Utah, he had been caught groping an underage student in Beaver Utah before, but of course the entire incident was swept under the rug and instead of losing his teaching license and being kicked out, he was simply moved to Millard County, where he not only became an English teacher and coach, but A BISHOP AND THE MAYOR FOR 12 YEARS. The church knew. During one of his classes, the subject of prop 8 came up, and the church’s support for banning gay marriage. He launched into a homophobic ranting tirade in front of the entire class on which he used the slur “those damn Queers”, causing another student with a gay relative to burst into tears. I was boyond shocked and appalled, and I immediately stood up to him and left the class with my fellow student, demanding to the principal that something be done. After the lightest reprimand I’ve ever witnessed in my life, he was placed on watch and I was told to drop the subject. However, because of that incident, enough people were watching him and paying attention to his behavior that he was finally caught red handed abusing another female student in his classroom. FINALLY, it looked like one of these sick men was going to be taken down. He was eventually arrested and his case is a simple Google search away, Keith Gillins Fillmore Utah, but the actual details and what happened were still just as full of injustices as every case to come out of the church here. The victim was literally chased from this town and saddled with the brunt of the responsibilities for what happened, and all his other victims went back underground to avoid the same persecution from their friends and neighbors.
This pattern of behavior is a never ending cycle that perpetuates every level of the church and its communities, and it is high time they were fully exposed for what they do to people, ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN. Me entire life has been beaten down, abused, taken advantage of, and destroyed from every angle, and the church is never too far behind with its direct influence to these kinds of tragedies. The sickest part is knowing that not only am I not the only one, but these stories are FAR from uncommon. I cannot count the number of people who have personally confided about the exact same atrocities to me throughout me entire life. Nobody else seems to want to stand up and call for an end to this behavior. But not me. I refuse to be silent anymore. I will dedicate the rest of my life to Exposing The Truth of that’s what it takes. If our stories and our efforts can save even ONE child from the horrors I’ve endured, can stop ONE person from self harm or suicide, saves even ONE soul and encourages them to find real professional help outside of this church’s influence, then it will ALL be worth it.