When I was fifteen years old I had a boyfriend who was manipulative, coercive, and abusive. I was confused because he told me he loved me and he bought me flowers. He made me feel special. Behind a closed door, he started to force me to do sexual things that I didn’t want to do. He was stronger and more powerful than me. He would apologize when I would tell him “no” and make me feel like I was crazy for being upset. But then he’d do it again.
The more sexual things he made me do, the more my self-esteem was damaged. I had been told by my parents and the LDS church that committing sexual sin was as bad as murdering someone and I believed them. I felt trapped, confused, and alone. I said the words, “stop” and “no” so many times but then I would have an orgasm so it must have been my fault. I was a licked cupcake, a chewed piece of gum, a slut, and a “murderer.” So, I stayed with him. And then he raped me.
Somehow, my parents suspected or learned that I was sexually active. Their anger and disappointment in me was devastating. I had lost my virtue and my value. My dad yelled at me over and over again, “Did you ‘let’ him touch you? What did you ‘let’ him do to you?” I felt victimized, again. It was my fault, again.
My parents made me go confess my sins to the bishop. My dad told me I had to go to the church building immediately for an appointment they had scheduled. I was hysterical and terrified that I had to go and talk to an old man, a stranger, about what had happened to me. I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed the car keys with plans to go anywhere but the chapel and told my parents that I wouldn’t go to the meeting. As I headed for the door my dad said if I didn’t go to the meeting they would call the police and report me for stealing their car.
I sat in the bishop’s office numb, traumatized, and defeated. Again, I was trapped behind a closed door with a man stronger and more powerful than me. The bishop explained to me that my body is like a piece of bread. Every time I “let” a boy kiss me, it was like letting him lick my piece of bread. “No one is going to want to marry a soggy slice of bread.”
He told me that fornication was the worst thing I could do. That my virtue was the most important thing I had. The bishop never asked me if I was ok or if I needed help. He never asked me if my experiences were consensual. He wasn’t trained for that. He didn’t know how to identify signs of abuse and so he didn’t know I was abused. He was just a regular guy who lived down the street from me. A regular guy who thought he was doing the right thing by punishing and shaming a rape victim.
I wasn’t allowed to take the sacrament. Now, everyone would know that I was evil and dirty. I crumbled under the weight of the guilt and the shame. I became a shell of myself. I didn’t talk, didn’t laugh, didn’t eat. I cut off all of my beautiful hair so boys wouldn’t look at me. My perfect grades deteriorated. I started to cut and hurt myself. Watching the blood pool on my skin felt appropriate for someone who had “committed the sin next to murder.” I imagined different ways I could end my life. My virtue was gone and I wanted to be gone too. I was broken.
No one helped me. But I hope my story will help the LDS church change their policies and messaging around sexuality. These ideas are damaging for, not only abuse victims, but humanity. Sexuality is a part of the human experience. Sexual feelings and expressions are a natural and healthy part of human development for men and women. Causing fear and shame behind closed doors alone with a powerful man is abusive and has to stop. Instead of teaching LDS children to fear their sexuality, let’s teach them about loving themselves and their bodies. Let’s teach them about consent.