My three sisters and I were abused by my mom’s Mormon best friends sons for many years. When the abuse was discovered, our mother shamed us into KNOWING that it was our fault. How does a 4 year old get blamed for a 12 year old playing doctor in the Mormon role of men and women? Mormon women are supposed to be sweet, docile, and mindful of the priesthood holder and all the glory that goes to that particular role in Mormon society. We expect, even at a young age, that anyone who holds the priesthood has a direct connection to God. In my family, the roots ran deep and we girls were not to question priesthood authority. Indeed, we were severely disciplined if we forgot. Despite this fact, my mother kept the information from my father. Perhaps she was afraid of how my father would react. Perhaps she already knew we girls would be blamed for encouraging the behavior and would rather handle the situation her way rather than the priesthood way. I don’t know the answer nor will she ever provide me one, I suspect. This subject has always been off limits in her mind, even now. The effects on secrecy and discussions behind closed doors have negatively affected all four of us girls in various ways.
I was molested the next year in a pre-kindergarten program by one of the teachers. It was as if she knew I had a history of having to keep secrets. It wasn’t until I came home with a large cut on the side of my head that my mother took any notice of my pleadings to not go back to that school. Even then she sent my sister to watch me the next week until school ended, rather than have to readjust her visiting teaching schedule that week. Had she done so, she might have found out I had been knocked unconscious after refusing to perform a sexual act on this teacher. After this event, anytime anyone looked at me with a weird look in their eye, I understood and ran.
Skip forward to 12 year old interview and questions of chastity. My mom and dad were now divorced and I lived with my mom. I was asked the questions and denied I had anything to talk about related to chastity. In my mind, I HAD ALWAYS BEEN CHASTE. I had been a good girl. Those other people were the ones doing the wrong. Even as a child I KNEW THIS. Imagine my shock and horror to have my bishop ask about my culpability in the doctors play when I was a wee child. By this time I had almost completely forgotten about the doctors play or abuse when I wouldn’t play, and most of what occurred at preschool. To me, it was an awakening of old wounds in an unsafe place. This bishop did not want to protect me from further abuse, or keep my rose white; this man wanted the details. Details I no longer had or wanted to have, but he kept pressing. He wanted me to skip taking the sacrament until I “could be honest with him”. I skipped the sacrament and was called out by my older sister to report as to why. Mom didn’t ask me, she just lowered her head. When I told my sister what happened, she told me to lie to them if I did ever remember anything. She was older, and wiser and reported they wouldn’t stop asking if I ever gave any details. She told me it wasn’t my fault, that it wasn’t her fault, but it was the molesters fault, and we should have never been exposed to the molesters after our mother found out about it.
When I was 15 I met a Mormon boy from a city many hours away and we began dating. Puppy love stuff. At one point we engaged in some light petting and I was shocked I had let anyone that close to me, physically or mentally. But I thought I really loved this boy, and I let emotions I didn’t understand get away from me. After this I met with the bishop. He didn’t do much in term of discipline, instead he advised me on the feelings we humans get when we meet someone we are attracted to and how strong those feelings can be when we are teenagers. He then reminded me to never be alone with a male until marriage because that’s how young women and men raise babies instead of going on missions or going to college. It was the best advice I had heard in a long time. He didn’t bring up what had happened to me as a child. I was relieved, as my memory of events was still very sketchy. (Later in life I began to recall the trauma from my youth in a safe setting with a trained professional as I began healing the wounds remaining from the trauma.)
At 16 I needed a temple recommend for baptisms for the dead. I met a new younger bishop for this event and was feeling good. My Mormon friend and I had parted ways as we had decided we were too young for such a serious relationship, and he was going on to a mission and college after school and I was going to college. I started dating a local Mormon boy. I followed the letter of every church rule. We double dated only, and even that was a rarity. Mostly we hung out in large church functions and practiced scripture chase, and were good Mormon representatives in our community.
Cut back to the younger bishop temple recommend interview. I felt like I was floating into his office. My first opportunity to get to be in the presence of the spirit in the temple and I was so excited. The bishop started light and friendly and then his eyes narrowed and his tone dropped. He started shuffling through papers and finally got to the point. The point that I had never really been forgiven for tempting those young boys, the point that I was now wearing makeup and cutting my hair and wearing higher heeled shoes and according to his perspective tempting numerous other young men. Yes, I wore a lot of dresses in those days, but they were all church modest dresses. Was I supposed to not cut my hair, not wear makeup and wear nun flats? More important, it appeared my dad still didn’t know about the abuse, however my mother had eventually reported her own version of the “doctor play” placing blame incorrectly on her own daughters.
The bishop moved on to the discussion about the earlier petting. I told him that had been a mistake because I was unaware of how strong those feeling would be, but that my new boyfriend and I had that under control and were following the law of chastity. I explained about double dating, group dating and just being together only when large groups were chaperoning. He retorted back that sometimes people couldn’t get past those feeling once they experienced them and told me he couldn’t help me unless he knew more. He started asking me very sexually explicit questions. My face turned red and hot. He wanted to know everything, and as his questions went on, I noticed his eyes shifted. He was getting aroused by asking me questions about an issue I was seriously focused on resolving. I left that meeting with my temple recommend, but some damage had been done to my self esteem and my view of the godliness of the priesthood had been severely tarnished.
That week I talked to my best friend about her interview process. Her interview was worse than mine. She had been in a shower situation with a boyfriend and she stated the bishop had also spent hours asking detailed questions: “what did he do then, and what did you do then” type of stuff. I felt better after that because I thought she had been a better white rose than me and I was learning her rose had wilted more than mine. Crazy as that may seem, I needed to get validation I was on the right track, according to the “one true church”. I felt the bishop had sabotaged my progress with his bad behavior. Six months later my Mormon boyfriend moved, and eventually we fell out of touch.
The next year I moved with my family to another location. Apparently, although I had followed the laws and been a good upstanding Mormon, my records followed me. All the upstanding Mormon boys with good family names wanted to date me in this new location. My mom was so pleased. Her family Mormon ancestry has very strong, deep roots. Once the dating started, I was shocked to discover they knew about my small transgression and wanted to make more transgressions with me before they went on their missions. I don’t know why I trusted these good priesthood men just because they had “Smith” like names. By the third attempted rape, I gave up and quit going to church. (By then I had doctrinal issues as well, I had just ignored them previously and had more “faith”). I was done being groomed to be their whipping victim. Men of God should not create victims, they should be helping them.
Although I have not been a member for 45 years, no child deserves to be groomed or abused by those who hold power over others. Reading the stories before mine convinced me that the propensity for abuse behind closed doors of a clergy or Mormon does not change until the abuse is KNOWN, UNDERSTOOD and HEARD. Here me now. I have been silent too long.