I was born/ raised in the church, and growing up I took my religion very seriously. I was attending a Young Single Adult Ward, and I’d been carrying around tremendous guilt for years. As a kid, I was repeatedly molested by my older brother. My memory on when it first started and ended is hazy, but I think it went from late elementary school into early high school. It only stopped when I threatened to tell our Dad; (an empty threat as I was fearful what he’d do, but the threat worked).
I wanted to feel clean and felt compelled to confess to my Ward’s Bishop about my past. I asked to meet with him after church on a Sunday. I was so incredibly nervous, emotional, and ashamed at the whole thing. I sat across from this man in the private room, and timidly confessed, which turned into sobs, how my brother used to sneak into my room to lay on top of me in a sexual manner over the years. I noted it never led to full on sex. I kept the details to a minimal, as the shame I felt was unbearable.
He smiled kindly at me and commented that I was lucky it wasn’t worse than it was. He opened his scriptures and prompted me to read a passage aloud. “Isaiah 1:18: Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” He said I was forgiven of my sins through Christ’s atonement. I felt relief at hearing I was now clean from my church authority figure, and like some of that weight had been lifted by confessing and trying to let go of my loathsome secret.
My Bishop then asked me something unnecessary and uncomfortable: “Did your brother rub up and down on you when he laid on top of you”? The question rattled me and made my insides squirm. Staring blankly at the floor all I could mutter was “a little.” Unpleasant memories flashed in my mind, I didn’t want to think about it. The truth was more extreme than I cared to share.
He could tell I couldn’t speak of it further and decided to wrap up the meeting with a prayer on my behalf. I don’t recall all that he said at that point, though he mentioned the power of forgiveness. He thanked me for coming in, and I went home in a heightened emotional state. I tried to tell myself I was pure now, and could move beyond my past.
As a young adult, I didn’t want to lose that purity, and I adhered to the strictest of rules surrounding sexuality. I only saw it as acceptable if I was married in the temple. However I’d have setbacks where I’d be tempted to masturbate. I tried to stop this deplorable habit by praying for strength, and would sleep with scriptures on my stomach to guilt myself against doing it. I was reminded from my church upbringing, that ‘the only sin worse than sexual sin is committing murder.’ I felt one step below that of a murderer, and literally feared whenever I caved that I risked inviting an evil spirit presence in my room.
I went to confess to a different Bishop later on, that I was struggling with self-gratification issues. (Using the word masturbation felt too dirty and embarrassing). My Bishop looked shocked and disgusted with me. He said as a woman, it was up to me to control myself, as men have even less control and it’d be up to me to prevent things going too far when dating. He said I needed to be clean a minimum of 6 months to be temple worthy, or to even partake of the sacrament.
I was dedicated to being clean again, and did my best, but kept falling short of the church’s expectations, feeling like a truly terrible person. I thought my past abuse made me weaker, as I’d been exposed to the sensations of sex before marriage. I did not feel compelled to go to a Bishop again, and just tried to be obedient privately.
Years later, after I completely lost my faith in Mormonism (from church history issues, and other mounting reasons), I turned to therapy. I was experiencing a serious existential crisis and loss of my identity, values, beliefs, and where to even start adjusting into mainstream culture, while facing pressures from family to remain Mormon. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. Overtime, I revealed to my therapist my past incest abuse (once I learned my younger sister was also a victim), and how my Bishop was the first person I ever told. She was very alarmed at how poorly he handled my trauma. She was shocked he failed to report the sexual abuse to the police, especially as it was within a legal time frame where it should have been reported. Instead, my Bishop protected the guilty party, and placed blame on me by labeling me as a sinner instead of a victim, and he said nothing of my brother being at fault. He also tried asking me intrusive details, after he’d already “forgiven me.”
I no longer see myself as a sinner or guilty. Seeing a professional therapist was what I needed from the beginning, instead of an untrained Bishop. He may have meant well.. but then again maybe not. His intrusive “asking for details” never sat right with me.
I’m doing better these days, but still have difficulty forming healthy relationships and trusting men in general. However with therapy and being better informed, I’m ready to try. I maintain love and respect for those who choose to be religious, but I am against church figures asking youth sexually inappropriate questions, especially without their legal guardian(s) present. I also believe Bishops should: have background checks, be professionally trained, and/or should refer church members to licensed professionals whenever appropriate.
Thank you for reading, and thank you to this website for changing things for the better.