My story has layers of complexity, but I’ll do my best to share it.
I’ll start out with the simple facts of being asked about masturbation as a teen some 34 years ago when I was 14. My mom died when I was 11 and I was the oldest of 6. So exact obedience was expected and taught if I was going to see my mom again after this life. It is a horrible teaching and quite traumatizing.
As an adult I’m trying to undo the layers of shame and guilt piled on me by well-meaning adults and leaders. Being asked questions about my immoral behaviors instead of providing emotional support only added heaps of depression. Although every day I would welcome death – suicide was never an option for 2 reasons. 1- who would take care of my dad and who would take care of my siblings. 2- if I killed myself that would only leave me more desperate, lonely and motherless still.
I served a mission and then married in the temple. I have had at least 4 bishops ask me if I wore my garments while I had sex with my husband. It became so common I thought it was a question all bishops asked. I never brought it up to my husband because I assumed it was a question he was also asked. I learned a few years ago that I was only being asked those questions. I have done modeling in the past so I’m not sure if that clouded the bishops questioning but I find it very odd and inappropriate.
After years of therapy I very strongly believe that those sexual questions led me into the trap of a rapist. For me those interviews were the beginning of the breakdown of trusting my intuition.
In 2013, my husband suffered severe financial setbacks. I entered the workforce from the bottom even though I had a bachelor’s degree. I’ll spare all the details but while working for my boss I was raped. 5 minutes before the rape I had been listening to a conference talk by Elder Holland about staying strong, leaning on the lord, trusting in his protection and in our covenants. I was horrified with the upmost confusion at what had happened.
I didn’t tell anyone because I felt guilt, shame, disgust and denial. Tragically because I blamed myself, I remained working for him. I had 4 children at home and two with constant medical needs. I felt if I could stay vigilant and non-sexy, then I would be spared any additional attacks. I completely trusted that my garments would save me.
Side note – We were in desperate need financially and one day I went to the bishops storehouse for food. While i was there a few older gentleman were fighting over helping me with my order. One insisted to take over and help me to my car after we shopped. It was on the way to the car that he told me the old men like him fought over pretty ladies like me because there weren’t many that came in and it made their day. I know his comments were only meant in kindness but again I felt disgusted with myself and that there was truly no safe place for me.
Back to my employer. In retrospect, I became a game to him because I didn’t want him or pursue him like other woman. I was attacked 2 more times before It clicked what had happened to me and that I worked for a predator. During the rapes he locked the office and had a gun in his pocket. A most terrorizing experience. Perhaps the most terrorizing though was putting my garments back on in the aftermath.
During this time our bishop had taken our temple recommends away at tithing settlement in front of the kids because “God wanted us to repent and be more righteous.” In the 22 years since my endowment I had never let it lapse. When he took it from me I was again devastated.
A few months went by and we were called into the Bishop’s office to be interviewed to get it back. I refused it and so bishop asked to see me separately. I then blurted out to my dismay “How do I repent for being raped?”
I’m still haunted by that question. I completely felt responsible for what had happened to me and the bishop reinforced that belief by his response to me. He said everything wrong and all the things you should never ever say to a victim. This happened in 2014.
He asked and said the following : “What were you doing wrong in your life to not feel inspired to not let this happen to you? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you pull your skirt down? Why did you let him take your clothes off? Were you wearing garments? Why did you stay working for him? You must’ve liked it! You could’ve gotten pregnant!! You could have SDTs!! And if you don’t tell your husband I will tell him.”
That’s when I broke and had some sort of mental breakdown. The fear was debilitating and it took me years to go into the grocery store by myself or sit in a crowd without my back to a wall or go through a drive through without feeling stuck or being stopped at a red light in the middle lane of traffic without having a panic attack.
I told my husband and that escalated into a whole new level of trauma. Since this is about bishops I will not include that part in this story but we are still together and working through things as they come but it’s been rough. The bishop called repeatedly for me to come back in. He wanted to help me repent before Satan got a hold of my heart.
I declined his desire to “heal me” until 6 months later where our ward was to split. He told me he wanted to meet with me so he knew what to tell the new bishop. I met with him with fierce confidence and self-love. He again begged me to get my temple recommend so I could have true healing. I thanked him and told him my path to healing was different than his and God is good with me and I him.
I knew this was above his ability to understand. He began asking all the horrible details of my rape and I refused to engage and told him he needed to get proper training because his questions were adding more harm and I refused to be blamed for what took place.
He then said “please don’t take this the wrong way,but what are you going to do different in your life so you aren’t tempted to get raped again?” How the hell does one not take that the wrong way. By the grace of God I was tapped into the bishops powerlessness and told him what lead me to a predator. I told him the teachings of the church were what “tempted me”. If anything I had been too Christlike – too selfless and those other mom, woman things.
He was taken back and still tried to tell me that I needed to admit to him that “I’d be better off homeless in the street with my 4 kids than to staying working for a predator.”
While in theory that sounds great but how disconnected is he that he thinks the streets are safer? As we ended the interview I told him under no circumstances was the new bishop to know about what I had gone through. He agreed that he would keep it confidential.
A few weeks went by and we met with our new bishop. During the interview he mentioned that he knew what had happened and he was very sorry but that God wanted us to read the Book of Mormon together to find healing. That was the last time I entered a bishops office.
Reading the Book of Mormon after trauma is like reading a horror book. It reinforces God letting horrible things happen to humanity in His name. I will never read that book again. Also, I felt a sickening feeling of distrust again for the bishop who told me he’d keep my story confidential. In order to protect myself from further damage I requested not to visit teach nor to be visited.
I tried to settle into this awkwardness gracefully and then one day I was approached by a counselor in the Relief Society. She told me that she had a sister in our ward she wanted to visit teach me that could help me through my struggles of being raped. She then told me the name of the sister she was referring to. She has very little self-care, isn’t approachable, and very withdrawn. I contacted the relief society president and kindly let her know she was out of line and my husband contacted the bishop.
I am still utterly dismayed at the lack of respect for my requested space needed for healing. The relief society replied to me that “it’s the Bishops mantle to know my business and that superseded my need for privacy.”
As you can imagine many other experiences have emerged as a result but the absolute truth is that none of this was okay and bishops are put in a precarious situation. I don’t blame the bishops but I do hold the church accountable for holding onto such destructive teachings and practices. The beauty in this madness is that there is now awareness for me and my family. Thank you for creating this space for me to share my story. It has affected me profoundly and provided healing I didn’t know I needed. Anna