I have three major incidents in my life within the church that I feel strongly compelled to share. I want my story to be heard so that it can be a force of change among so many others.
My story began sixteen years ago, at the age of six. I was molested by my primary teacher. I believe it should be shared briefly, as it shines lights on the underlying, recurring problem within the system – that adults are considered divinely inspired to preside over young children whether they are qualified or not. They’re called to these positions disregarding experience and background. The safety of children should always come before anything else.
I was fourteen when my seventeen year old brother sexually abused me. March 14, 2011. It continued for months before I had the courage to blurt it out after family home evening. My parents were skeptical of my accusations, had the courtesy to give me the space to speak, but it was hushed from then on. Years later, after my brother had moved out, I brought it up with my mother. She let me know that she had taken my brother to the bishop to “confess his sins” shortly after I brought attention to it. She told me that what my brother did to me was a natural curiosity that all young boys experience. From this I learned: my parents knew and did absolutely nothing to protect me from my abuser, and the bishop knew and did nothing (or at least not enough, because I was left alone in the dark) to protect me from my abuser. The lack of consideration from these adults resulted in my brother receiving absolutely no consequence, as well as allowing him full access within our home to continue to do what he did to me over and over again. Adults knew that I was being sexually abused by someone who lived with me, but failed to take further action to protect me. The bishop, a man who “has overall responsibility for ministering the temporal and spiritual affairs of the congregation”, did not fulfill his duty. I grew to believe that what happened to me was not serious enough to stop, that bringing attention to the abuse was the wrong of me to do, that bringing attention to the abuse was more detrimental to my abuser than the actual abuse I endured, and I grew to believe that my brothers’ well being was more important than mine. I developed an eating disorder, started self harming. Depression and suicidal ideation, anxiety and isolation. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD.
Within the past four years, I attended BYUI. I was sexually assaulted by my boyfriend at the time. I became pregnant, and sought out a private abortion out of fear. A year later, I met with my bishop and asked for guidance with what I had done. It’s well known within the church that “some exceptional circumstance may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape…” I was not asked about my wellbeing, about my safety, about support. I was asked “did your sexual relation happen on school grounds”, “how many times has this sexual relation happened”, and more horrifying, “how many other sexual partners have you had”, and “were any of them women”. I understand that bishops are not trained professionals (maybe that’s part of the problem), but for someone’s first reaction to be “she had sex and sinned, how many times, and with whom” rather than “she made a choice, even knowing the wrongness of the choice, and I wonder why. Is she okay?”, there is something deeply unsettling here. A woman comes into your office, obviously disturbed and seeking guidance, and you ask how many people she has slept with. First reactions should always be one of concern and unconditional love, not interrogation.
The culture of abuse and protecting abuser all while blaming the victim is not just a worldly thing. It’s prevalent within the church, and the claws are deep. Whether or not we want to hear it, the church has created silent survivors of non-blatant, unconventional, and secretive abuse. It needs to be exposed. Perpetual abuse has many faces: placing abusers back into the same positions after they have merely “repented of their sins”, allowing abusers to continue to have contact with survivors, hiding the abuse of abusers because they are “good, righteous men who made a mistake”, and grown men asking children questions of sexual nature. It’s creates a skewed perception of what abuse is, where it comes from, and what it can do. The idea that forgiveness should be an immediate response for a survivor does more harm than good, and it’s toxic. The idea that self exploration and pleasure is nothing but a sin, rather than a healthy and natural experience, as well as a healing experience of personal reconnection for a survivor of sexual abuse is toxic. The idea that a survivor is responsible for the impure thoughts of their abuser is toxic. Placing any amount of blame on a survivor, prioritizing the abuser, and allowing children to be put in harm’s way is toxic. Let it all crumble and fall if that’s what it takes to stop allowing these people safe places to abuse their power.
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”