I was 14 and in an interview with the bishop, a trusted neighbor from up the street, when I first felt violated. I watched his eyes shift from my face to my breasts as he told me, “Never let any boys touch your breasts. Many of them will want to.” I instantly felt uncomfortable. Why was he staring at my chest? Was he also telling this to the other Young Women who weren’t as developed? Why was the comment necessary when I had already disclosed to him that I wasn’t sexually active? Why was I sitting alone in a windowless room with this man? My parents had dropped me off at the building, leaving me defenseless. I hesitantly agreed with him and fled as soon as the interview ended.
A few years later, I was raped by a person I knew and trusted. I laid there, frozen, feeling as though my virtue was being torn away from me. Immediately after, instead of considering my own self-care, I was plagued by thoughts of how I had sinned. I didn’t realize that “freezing” was a common physiological response to trauma. Instead, I feared that because I hadn’t fought back hard enough, I had subconsciously wanted it to happen. After all, my body responded physically to some of these advances. If any part of me had enjoyed it, then I had committed a sin only second to murder. I figured, despite the lack of consent, that I had “let” a boy touch my breasts—and more. Ruminating over my possible culpability, I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next morning, I had a Patriarchal blessing interview with the bishop, now a different trusted neighbor from up the street. I had been taught that sexual sins and sexual assault should be disclosed to the bishop, and I figured that he could tell me objectively whether or not I was in the wrong. As I relayed a basic outline of the event, the interview took a turn for the worse. He pressed for more details—“Where were his fingers? Where was your underwear? Did he touch your breasts?”—and as I forced out answers, my eyes closed, I found myself wondering why these details affected whether or not I had sinned.
He told me that by seeing him, I had started my repentance process. He told me I wouldn’t be able to get my Patriarchal blessing and that I should see him monthly to ensure the situation didn’t happen again. He told me that once boys reach a certain level of arousal, they have no choice but to keep going. They can no longer stop their sexual advances. I knew that my body had done the arousing, despite the modest clothing I had been wearing. How could I disagree with a man operating under God’s authority?
He thanked me for confessing my sin. I came into his office emotionally numb. I left suicidal.
I’ve spent far too much time trying to undo the emotional damage that these two men have caused me. I’ve battled PTSD for years, exacerbated by feelings that I “let” this happen to me. In a critical moment when I needed to hear that being raped was not my fault, I was blamed by a man acting under the inspiration of God.
I’m not sure that the thoughts of my body being disgusting, tempting, and wrong will ever subside. The “licked cupcake” analogy that I learned at church worked far too well on me. I still struggle with feelings of guilt, even though I now recognize that I was not at fault. I’m grateful that the things my bishops told me didn’t cause me to lose my life, but they came too close.
I cannot believe for one second that an all-loving God would direct the men acting under His authority to continue with an interview practice that routinely hurts children in such a way. These horrific and abusive practices must end.