I will share with you, reader, a story of a girl. This girl experienced a lifetime of sorrows from as young as three, maybe even younger, as memories still return to her in a haze. Her body and soul remembers everything, though her mind fights to remember, she must remember. She must remember to heal. She must remember to seek to hold those who have harmed her accountable, for them to apologize. She must remember so that it no longer comes in pieces as nightmares, both awake and asleep. Even to this day she struggles with thought cycles and patterns that were continually fed to her, that the sheer fact that she having been born an innocent and kind soul, was her punishment-that she would continue to be abused until she became barely functioning. Unsure of things such as her sexuality, individuality, drive, guilt, apathy, anger, will to live, healing, fearing that even in death she would be terrorized. Continually in and out of this cycle, fearing that even God had abandoned her.
This one particular experience I will share with you, reader, is only one of the unfortunate many this sweet young girl experienced. This particular incident was the only one she ever sought the aid of law enforcement, whom even they did not give her the justice she deserved. She was twelve or thirteen at the time, there had been at least two incidents she could remember happening to her of sexual abuse at this time (is now having flashbacks of possibly more), and she had opened up about this with a few others that night prior to this current event. The incident happened at a Boy Scouts of America camp, she was told that if she ever shared what happened that her and her abuser would both be in trouble. She was sexually assaulted that night by a young man who was nearly eighteen, one of the others she had opened up to about her abuse that night, prior to being taken advantage of by him through sodomitic acts.
She turned silent and self violent, for months, until she worked up the bravery to write her sister a letter disclosing everything that happened that night. Her sister, shocked and not knowing what to do with the information, handed the letter over to her parents. She reported her assault in every detail to the Children’s Justice Center, having to relive the experience, and all the young man received as punishment was that he could not return to that BSA camp. That did not stop him from returning, and why she returned the following year she still questions, but there he returned as well. That evening she dissociated to the point of hospitalization, the boy was not reprimanded for his violation, she just wanted to forget.
The following years she fought to regain her sense of self, and thought that perhaps this particular incident would be behind her. She had even moved counties and was thankful to begin a life far away from all the haunting memories. Life was seemingly smoothing until one day at fifteen or sixteen she was called in to her Stake Presidents office of her then practicing faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), without any context of what the meeting would be about. Her Stake President said there was an incident involving a young man who wished to serve a mission that needed my forgiveness if he were to be allowed to serve. Here again she faced this haunting memory of many, but this one in particular, the one she sought justice for, was being held in question-retraumatizing her and leaving her more broken and shattered. She lost her faith that day in the LDS church and priesthood. Out of shame ridden conditioning she said something along the lines of, yes but only if he had shown true repentance and only if that’s truly what God felt would be right to allow him to serve.
She tried to remain faithful in the church by getting involved on a history tour to try to rekindle her faith. She continued to have experiences of shame, being taken advantage of, and silenced that she rebelled all together. She became subject to more abuse, and more shame, even in leaving the the church. It wasn’t until the birth of her own child that she began to shift her focus to her self worth and dire need for healing. In and out of extensive therapies both mandated by law and in self help hopes to steer from ending her life. This girl is me. I am telling my story to give the younger me a voice. I am telling my story, that is still in search of answers, so that others may have the bravery to give their younger selves a voice. I have reached out to the Stake President who called me in to that meeting since participating in the Protect LDS Children march, and this has begun a ripple of healing for me. I will share our email transactions below, devoid of names, and I intend to reach out to the other stake president, eventually the children’s Justice center and those who handled my case, and maybe eventually I’ll have the courage to face the man who used sodomic acts of abuse against me. The email conversations go as follows:
Dear President (Name), You may, or may not, remember the interview you called me in to when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old. That meeting was a major turning point for me in my faith in the LDS church and my faith in Patriarchy. Granted I did try very hard to keep my faith by going on church history tour, going to seminary, young single adult wards. However that interview alongside many other experiences with other high authority in the church, continued to fill me with doubt in myself and my experiences. Would I ever be believed? Would my perpetrators ever be held accountable?
When you asked me if I could forgive my abuser, so that he might be able to serve a mission, if that was the what God felt was right-I said yes, and oh how I wish I would have been brave enough to say no. How could you or other high authorities know if God would forgive my perpetrator? What God would allow someone who sexually abused a young girl to go and serve a mission where he may be able to act again on those impulses? I have forgiven the shame I have felt for so long for the abuse that has happened to me, I have forgiven that it happened, I have done that so that I might be able to start to heal.
I need to know if (Name of Abuser) was allowed to serve a mission. I need to know how you even came to know of the incident when it wasn’t even in the same county. Why didn’t you give myself or my parents any context prior to the interview what the purpose of it was for? I was shocked to be sitting in your office being asked to forgive my abuser for what I thought was a very sacred calling. I need an apology from you, though it may not take all the pain away, it would be somewhere to start. I have had a lot of anger and pain and suffering over this, and unfortunately this interview with you is not the only one that has brought me so much suffering throughout my life. I have survived abuse from infancy in to near adulthood, I am worthy to be at peace, I am worthy to receive answers.
Sexual abuse is a CRIME. You re-victimized me with your actions, I should have had no part in that meeting, none. (Name of Abuser) assaulting me is what should have kept him from serving a mission, not my forgiveness. I hope you will never consider asking this of anyone ever again, or if you already have, to apologize to them as well.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope to receive a truthful response in the near future.
Good morning (My Name), I saw this come in last night. I was very excited to hear from you until I read your note. I am so very sorry. I am just sick. I have been up much of the night….I have been working on a response. It is very long. I wonder if you have an email that I could use to send it to you, I think it might be easier for you. If not, I will paste it here. No matter how long it is, it isn’t long enough to express how sorry I am that you are still suffering from this. I am very, very sorry for adding to pain to you. Of all the people I know, you, as sweet as you are, deserve peace and healing.
Thank you for taking time to respond so quickly. I realize that us as humans are doing the best we know how with the information and understanding we all have, and I would like and hope to believe that is the case in this situation. Though I wish I would have spoken sooner, I had not yet come in to understanding of myself and my grievances until more recently. I am actively working to heal, and thank you for saying that I deserve to. I am just looking for answers to put together the pieces of my puzzle. Please forward to my business email so I won’t miss it: (EMAIL)
Dear (MyName), Where to even start. First, I am so impressed and touched with your courage. I am so glad that you reached out. I had no idea….how I wish we could have talked more then. If I could, I would like to start by sharing a couple of thoughts about you. You are one of the kindest, most gentle people that I have ever met. Your spiritual nature is Christ like, and your desire to be good and to do good and help others is a part of who you are. I sensed that from the first time we met when you first moved here. Second, I am deeply sorry. To have caused you pain causes me great pain. I absolutely apologize. I love your family, I love your parents…I am so sorry that anything ever happened to you and am I equally sorry that I have contributed any amount of pain to you. No one deserves that, but certainly not anyone as loving and innocent as you. Though our interview time was many years ago, and though I have since been in literally thousands of hours of interviews, I remember this experience well. If I could, perhaps I could share a few thoughts. Please understand, I am not trying to absolve me or anyone else, I am just trying to help you understand, from my memory what happened. I am sure that I don’t have every fact correct in my head, but I do remember the experience. I received a call from a Stake President explaining that a young man had confessed to abusing you and that he wanted to serve a mission. The Stake President wanted to know how you were. He wanted to know if you had received help. He wanted to be sure that IF this young man were allowed to serve that you would not feel….like you do. The entire reason for his call and our subsequent interview was to keep what you are going through now from happening, and to keep what you mention in your letter, further abuse, from happening.
That is why I asked for you to come in. As I recall, we didn’t discuss the events you had been subjected to with much detail. I believe I asked if your parents were aware and if you had received help. You told me that they were. I didn’t ask any details precisely because I didn’t want to cause you to relive them. Even then, I could feel your spiritual sensitivity and I had no interest in adding any pain. What I wanted was for you to feel that you did have a voice. Seeing that these many years later that you feel unheard; seeing that you still feel “revictimized”, I clearly handled it poorly. I obviously did not handle it well. I am so very sorry for that, (My Name). You deserved and deserve better.
The reason I remember the events so well, was because of the feeling that I had about you as you left. I was struck by your goodness and kindness. I was amazed at how well you seemed to be doing with such a traumatizing background. I could feel that the Lord loved you. I was angry about what happened to you but humbled by how you seemed to be handling things.
I called the Stake President back. I told him what I have told you. I told him that you were amazing. That you were a miracle. I told him that you were one of the kindest, most tender people that I knew. I told him that you had remarkable parents, that you had received support and that you seemed to be moving ahead well. I told him that you were humble and willing for him to serve IF he had truly been changed (I believe that you stipulated that in our discussion).
I also told him, however, that there was no one more innocent than you and no one that deserved what you had experienced. I told him that though you seemed to be handling your past, that you would have to bear these wounds for a very long time. I told him what you said, that though I would support him serving, there should be some deep payment made that reflects a deep change of heart. He understood my feelings. He did not explain much to me, only that the boy had also been a victim and that he was trying to get his life right.
That was the end of our discussion. I have no idea what happened after that. I don’t know if or when he was allowed to serve or what ever happened to him. I know that the handbook says that he shouldn’t serve. I also know that the Stake President was very concerned, so I expect that the answer was no or at least that it would be a very long time before he did….but I have no idea.
(My Name), I clearly did not handle this situation well. I clearly should have handled it differently. Please understand that what I was trying to do was EXACTLY opposite of what happened. I am just so sick about it. I would love to help you in anyway I could. There is a woman who I have worked with who works with abuse victims. She is very good and helped many, many people, including people very close to me. I would be happy to arrange for you two to meet with her and pay for your sessions if you would allow me. Clearly, these wounds are very deep.
Perhaps you don’t want to hear this, but I believe with all of my heart that Christ is the only true way for you to find the healing that you so desperately need and deserve. Contrary to what you may think, I am positive that you are truly one of God’s most valiant children.
As a young bishop, it is evident to me that I mistook your own spiritual strength and goodness for healing. They are not the same thing. How deeply I wish that I could have been a part of the healing process and not a part of hurting you. I am sorry.
I love you and I care about you and your future. You deserve the happiest life that mortality can offer.
I truly am touched by your heartfelt response in attempting to recognize and take responsibility for how your misguided and maybe inexperienced position lead you to counsel in a way that you now recognize caused harm.
In the tone of your response, I do truly sense your empathy and desire to cause no harm. I also empathize, that bishops and other high authorities are placed with a lot of responsibility in which they have been given a great amount of authority, yet often are overwhelmed. I believe that is the case in our own experience.
I have been in therapy on and off since I was thirteen, addressing various abuses. While I appreciate the offer to suggest a therapist and to pay for sessions, I cannot accept it. I have some therapists in mind that I may choose to go forward with, as I have been without one for nearly a year.
Throughout my experience as a therapy goer, I recognize the complexities of trauma and had it not been for my own healing journey, I am not sure how I could be qualified to make the claim of its complexity. Thank you for recognizing that my strength and goodness are different from my healing. I know it could take my entire lifetime to feel “healed” and even then I will still have the painful memories.
Traumatic injury from abuse leads to many complications in spirituality and identity. For some trauma survivors, including myself, if someone were to state that Christ or God was the only way to healing, it would only bring hopelessness and despair. I can not personally believe that a loving Christ would not allow for other methods of healing trauma, if his name had been used as a weapon to reinforce abuse and authority in a manner of aggression and torture. This is what happened to me, over and over, for most of the entirety of my life. I understand your intentions, but I wanted to make it clear that I still have a lot of spiritual and identity complications. Though that does not mean I have not sought a higher power than myself to give me strength, it’s typically not Christ that I envision.
I would like to think a loving Christ understands and would allow for those survivors to find other ways to find healing than just through His name. In healing abuse, it is often premature to suggest Christ as the healer, until the trauma related to Christian-based spiritual abuse has been healed. Which I am working on.
In some cases, the healing may lead to an individual seeking Christ through a clear view without the traumatic injury attached to Christ. In other cases an individual may find a completely different path in spiritual identity, yet still achieve full healing of traumatic injury. I have found many different paths of spirituality, at this time I have chosen not to give power to one deity or organization, that there is good and bad to be found within both.
I believe the problem lies in the belief that you are responsible for fixing the problem you may have unintentionally contributed to. What I really needed for healing is for you to say: I see you, I hear you, you are important, you have always been good, I’m sorry” which you did all this, but you still offered a solution. The solution lies within myself and in trauma healing, what is most empowering and healing is being supported in finding my own resolutions from within.
My solution that I have concluded for how you may assist: I still need answers to the questions I asked you. I would like to be able to contact the stake president who contacted you to ask the same questions I asked you. To inform him that such situations should be handled differently. Maybe he never knew the harm it has caused to myself and potentially others, just like yourself. Would you be able to provide me with the other Stake Presidents name? Are you aware if he is still serving in high raking positions within the church?
Each moment is an opportunity to learn from ourselves or others, had I not made you aware, you would have continued in life unaware. I believe in a positive force of change, and true change comes from understanding and affirmative action. I have no intention to be malicious in my efforts to find truth, my intention is only for truth.
Thank you for your continued response and efforts in understanding to help evoke change. I’ll await your response with patience. (MyName)
Good morning (MyName),
Thank you for this response. I will respond as best as I can. Please know that whatever is said, I am trying to be open, honest, supportive and harmless.
There is a great depth to you. I have dealt with many victims, but few who have the insights that you have. I love your approach to growth for yourself and others; including me. I am impressed with your insights. Though I don’t know this, it appears to me that you have found the ability to acknowledge and address your past abuse while still not allowing it to define you and your future. It has obviously impacted you in the most painful ways, but it has not stopped you from choosing to live a positive life; serving and helping others.
You are also correct about me. I have never been a victim of such horrible things. As a new bishop, I wasn’t equipped sufficiently. Since then I have sought out much more information so that I could help more. I think, perhaps, my biggest mistake was assuming that since your parents were aware and that you were in counseling that you were being “taken care of.” I should have at least tried to be more involved. I am sorry for that. I think we could have been good friends and that, perhaps, I might have been able to help.
As for the healing process, I agree with you. You are entitled to walk your own path. Every path is different. I also agree that the Lord is completely supportive of that and that He suffers with you and is perfectly patient. I meant no harm by referencing Him, only that I have seen people on different paths find healing and peace through Him. This is all I want for you. For what it is worth, I am completely supportive of you and the path you choose to walk. What’s more, if there is anything that I can do to walk with you, I would be pleased about it.
Those who would inflict harm in His name are the most vile. It deeply disturbs me.
As for the Stake President, I am sorry that I can’t help. I did not keep such information for you or others. I have no idea who he is or even where he is from. Not being in a position of authority, I have no access to the information that you would like. Please know that Stake Presidents normally serve around 9 years, so I am sure that he is no longer in service there and it is not likely that he is currently serving in a position of authority. Generally, after serving as a Stake President, men are released to serve in their wards as I am currently doing. Further, only Bishops and Stake Presidents would typically find themselves in a position to discuss or counsel people on these sensitive issues.
You are a tremendous person. Though I am so sorry for the pain inflicted upon you, I have great hope for you and your future. You are a person of great internal strength and I believe deeply in you.
I am here now, and always will be, if I can help.
I want to see and hear you. You are important. Your voice matters. Your life matters. Your future, I hope, is filled with hope and love. You deserve that. (Name)
Thank you for your truly heartfelt responses. I do sense that you are intrinsically good and desire only for good. I understand that your ignorance of actions do not define your true nature. Thank you for taking accountability and for the apology.
I want you to know I am not singling you out, if I hadn’t mentioned that already. I intend to face all who have caused me harm, be it their actions towards me were by inexperience or ignorance, and if their actions towards me were just malicious and evil. To give you a little more context of this particular situation, the young mans parents would call my parents several times leading up to this interview trying to get me to confess that I had lied, and my parents would tell me/ask me every time they called. Yes my parents knew, but they didn’t understand the depth of my pain at the time either, I have addressed them as well and am still working to rebuild my relationship with them.
Thank you for recognizing the goodness in me, it has not always been recognizable for me. Thank you for recognizing my strength, again, that too has taken me my lifetime to recognize that it can be used for a positive force. Thank you for encouraging me to find my own path of healing, and for supporting that. Thank you for being willing to grow in understanding alongside me and so many others in this world who are desperately needing to heal. This gives me hope that not all who have caused harm are doing so because of bad intentions. Thank you.
I understand that you do not have any further information in regards to the other Stake President at the time, if anything that seems helpful might spark your memory of feel may be beneficial for me , please let me know. I am certain I will be able to find who it was, since I know where my abuser lived at the time of the event. Eventually I will address that young man, I need him to be accountable to me, he should have been accountable to me prior to ever seeking going on a mission. If the handbook was followed then I will be able to know that he did not serve, but with even the slight chance that he did, I need to know for my own understanding. I also think such topics shouldn’t even be in one on one meetings, nor do I think one on one meetings should happen between children/youth. The police report should have been enough. I am grateful, at least, you did not have me come alone to that meeting.
Thank you for listening, for responding, and for your offerings to help. I too wish for only your future to be filled with light, continued growth and understanding, and most importantly peace. All deserve joy, peace, hope, and love, including yourself.
Kind Regards, (MyName)”
Ignorance is deeply ridden within the LDS church and current politics do not go far enough to protect the children. I was not protected, even after involving law enforcement. As a survivor, I will be taking affirmative action within myself to see what I can do for the community, to help provide a safer space for not only my own child but all children and survivors. Abuse happens in religion, it happens out of religion, it happens in the name of God, and it happens in no ones name, it happens in Utah, it happens out of Utah, it happens. Leaders and even non leaders need to stop protecting sexual predators, it happens more than you may think. My hope in speaking more of my experiences, it will encourage others to speak more of their experiences. To all other survivors, I believe you, I am here for you, I see you, you are valuable, you are important, I love you. I will continue to uncover my story and face all those who have harmed me, for they could not destroy me. They do not control me. I am free. I am coming back to life.