When I turned eight years old, my parents took me to the bishop’s office to have my baptism interview. Before I went into the room, I asked my parents if they would go with me. They assured me there was nothing to worry about, the bishop was a priesthood holder and could be trusted. Then they asked me what my decision was, making it clear that I had to have this interview to be baptized.
My parents told me there was nothing to worry about because the bishop was ordained to the priesthood. Yet they were unknowingly placing me in the care of priesthood-holding child molesters at home, and trusted me to their care for the same reason the bishop was trusted – they were ordained to the priesthood of the LDS Church.
That moment outside the bishop’s office seemed to last only a couple of seconds, but the effects of unconditional and unquestioning trust in church priesthood leadership in my life proved to be long-lasting and detrimental. Trusted church leaders that give in to the temptation or inclination to sexually abuse their congregants use this aspect of church culture to open a sickening door of opportunism that should have been dead-bolted shut by responsible and sensible church leaders long ago. Regrettably, many parents in the Mormon church subscribe to this mentality, and their children can and do fall victim to the deviant sexual desires of the leaders and other priesthood holders they trusted. My childhood is sad proof of the harm that can befall a child when a parent’s trust is so woefully misplaced.
My mother didn’t believe me when I told her that the people she trusted were abusing me. I know many women that experienced the horror of abuse and then the subsequent feeling of desperation when the version of events told by their molester was believed over their story, their cry for help. For many years my heart was repeatedly broken as I watched the church knowingly put other children in harm’s way. The offenses by trusted church leaders and priesthood holders toward those children and me likely were preventable if the parental warning alarm wasn’t programmed out of our parents. They were neutered of their instincts to protect their children from this kind of danger.
Receiving the priesthood, in my parent’s view, is equivalent to receiving knighthood. Children in the church are taught that priesthood holders and leaders are people worthy of their trust, no matter what. My parents allowed four men to babysit and/or live in our home as they travelled for work, sometimes on a weekly basis. Three of the four men were priesthood holders, and so I believe it was very natural for my parents to feel comfortable having them in our home. I was sexually molested by these four men from the ages of 4-12. Two of them abused me on a regular basis. These men convinced me that God created me to be a sex object. And what teaching did I have to fall back on to refute their claim? I never heard a talk in General Conference or Sunday School or a conversation with my parents telling me that adults shouldn’t treat other people, especially children, this way. It wasn’t until I heard Elder Richard Scott give his General Conference talk “Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well” while on my mission that I heard a leader describe how priesthood holders should treat women. I felt like the men at church had control over me because of the church teachings telling me that I had no authority over theirs, so saying no to them felt incredibly rebellious.
Those harmful teachings depleted my self-worth and influenced the relationships I had as a teenager. I dated a priesthood holder that raped me and violently prostituted me to his friends. After this relationship, I entered another that involved rape and eventually a restraining order. All of this happened before I graduated high school. I moved to another state to protect myself and my siblings. This was the beginning of my road to healing.
I viewed the difficulties in my life as opportunity for growth. I received a priesthood blessing that said Heavenly Father made me beautiful because I was preordained to experience prolonged abuse in order to become the woman He needed me to be. I couldn’t see how twisted that was. I accepted the counsel from the blessing and decided I would turn this stumbling block into a stepping stone, and do so gracefully.
Significant healing came after years of therapy. I served a mission for the LDS church and this was so helpful for me. My mission gave me the time to embrace a piece of innocence that was tragically absent from my childhood. I realized that if my parents woke up to the danger of placing more value on church beliefs instead of their children, my mission wouldn’t have been the first time I experienced what it was like to truly be innocent. I had never known a life without sexual abuse.
Very few people know about the pain and trauma I experienced growing up, mainly because I believed the lie my abusers told me: Who would believe you? I observed how other women are treated when they share their story of abuse. It seemed like the more abuse they endured, the less credibility they’re afforded, and they’re attacked. I didn’t want that kind of attention, and considering how much I have gone through, who would believe me?
Earlier in my life I would share my story with others and it felt like peeling off a scab. I didn’t want to relive the experiences with every retelling. The extreme nature of my abuse tended to make people uncomfortable and not know what to say. I didn’t like it when they looked at me with pity. I spent my life building myself into a healthier woman and I didn’t want their knowledge of my past to change the way they see the real me. I also have held these things in for the sake of my parents. I felt that they weren’t emotionally equipped to handle the weight of what happened to me without going into self-destruct mode. I kept these things private except for family and a few friends for these reasons. I didn’t even participate in the #MeToo movement. So please understand why this is extremely difficult for me to write and expose myself in such a way.
I felt an unanticipated shift following the church’s handling of the Joseph Bishop rape accusation and Sam Young’s Protect LDS Children movement. Learning just how far church leaders will go to protect their own image above all else inadvertently and unexpectedly threw me into an internal battle that I was not prepared to fight. A battle that shifted God allowing the abuse for a higher purpose to realizing I had placed disproportionate importance to what had happened to me. Accountability. Holding those accountable that played a part in my abuse. I was told in a blessing that it was God who wanted me to go through the trauma, and because of that I never once held my parents accountable for their choice to unknowingly place me in danger. I never held the church responsible for teaching such sick and damaging principles and doctrine that my parents would then absorb and believe to the fullest degree.
For the first time in my life, I realized that if the church would teach caution above loyalty, if my parents weren’t so damn orthodox in Mormonism and taught me to be cautious around men, I could have bypassed most if not all of the shit I went through. If those things did happen to me throughout my childhood, I would not have formed the belief that God created me to be a sex objec. This belief is what made me think I had zero rights in my teenage relationships that put me through such extreme abuse; I had no right to escape. If I hadn’t learned in church during young women’s class that I was a chewed-up piece of gum (for losing my virtue even though it was because of abuse) and that nobody wants a chewed-up piece of gum. The teacher taught this lesson without a single mention of the Savior.
I also learned at church the importance of patience, loving those that hurt us, and turning the other cheek. I can’t recall a lesson that gave exceptions to these rules. Naturally, I applied what I learned to my relationships with my abusive boyfriends. Whenever I would think of leaving, the scriptures were always there to convince me to stay. I wish the lessons I heard in church had taught me that the scriptures would give me the inspiration to think clearly and get out. On a side note, for all the indoctrination and programming young women receive to be obsessed with marriage and their worth being tied to it, I find it incredibly irresponsible to not have standard teachings of what the red flags are for signs of potential abuse. I know so many women who have walked right into abusive marriages completely naïve and oblivious. As each of these women looked back on the course of their relationship with their husband, it is very painful for them to realize that the red flags were there from the start.
There are scars on my face from where I cut myself with a razor blade. A counselor in the Young Men’s presidency in my ward approached me about doing a photoshoot. He told me that my pay depends on the amount of clothes I had on. I didn’t do it. He didn’t recognize me at first, but when he did, he realized I was in his ward, my mom taught his daughter piano lessons, and my dad often referred patients to his wife. He bribed me with $100 to keep my mouth shut. A couple of days later, I told my parents and they gave the $100 to the bishop and told him what happened. Turns out this was not the first time he had done this to teenage girls. I was told that everyone involved thought he was in remission from his addiction. I never heard if anything ever happened to him. The bishop never met with me about it. I couldn’t help but think about that blessing and believe that my body caused priesthood holders to do sexual things to me as God’s will. So, I took a razor blade and I cut my face to force them to not want to look at or do things to me. I still remember looking in the mirror while I did it. I was sobbing uncontrollably and screamed over and over, “DON’T TOUCH ME! DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Five years ago, my shelf broke when I learned about the messiness of church history. My husband and I took a step back from church attendance six months ago because there is simply more pain than I can bear. Going through a crisis of faith and the poor treatment that follows due to a lack of understanding and gas lighting from members of the ward and family, has inflicted so many wounds on me that I eventually and heartbreakingly bleed out. I loved this church and dedicated my life to it. I served a mission and in leadership callings. I put more time into the church than I did my own family, because that is what was required for me to magnify my callings. It’s just not safe for me to be there anymore. For these reasons, God led me out of the church and I’ve been healing and thriving ever since, until learning about the MTC president that raped McKenna Denson, the history of negligence by the church and the cover up of sexual assaults by priesthood leaders, and the way Sam Young has been treated. These things changed everything in my journey of healing. It feels like a second shelf broke. The shelf that held the coping skills to process and handle the terrible things that happened to me. Another faith crisis. The little hope and faith I had left in the church withered and died. I spent so much time in my life fighting to be comfortable, healthy, and at peace. I thought I achieved it. I did! And then this happened. There is no room left within me for the church to fill with hurt, anger, and heartache. The scripture says, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and the church has had much poisoned fruit that I have had to partake of.
Removing myself from the church is my way of protecting my children so that they will never be indoctrinated with the same unhealthy beliefs that I was exposed to. I understand that there are no guarantees of keeping them free from sexual abuse in this life, whether they are in the LDS church or out. The difference is if anyone ever tries to approach them to repeat the same atrocities that I experienced, they will understand why that person is bad instead of accepting it as an acceptable reality.
The statistical probability that my life would be long and end on a positive note was abysmal. I fight every day to beat the odds that are clearly stacked against me. I endure the daily struggle to learn boundaries, self-worth, communication, and dealing with flashbacks almost every time I am intimate with my husband (we got married six years ago). The harm from my abuse didn’t stop when the molestation and rape stopped, I’m reliving the pain every day. I didn’t kiss my son on the lips for the first two years of his life because I was terrified that the amount of abuse I experienced increased the likelihood of becoming an abuser myself. Thankfully I never felt this temptation, but I carried that fear with me. Can you see how it affects so many areas of my life? I don’t believe that God wanted me to go through this anymore. I believe that it happened because of the irresponsible teachings and overly trusting culture of the church that my parents completely believed in. LDS church, you failed me. And over what? Over your precious ego. You can’t stand when people question.
Please don’t think that my life now is completely consumed by pain and anguish. I get to spend my days in meditation and peace with an incredible spouse and good friends who encourage me as I free my mind from the toxic beliefs of my youth. These people, along with my drive to improve, are my source of healing. This walk is where I feel the Savior.