My church upbringing taught me that sex was something to feel guilt and shame for. Starting around age 12 My Bishops regularly asked sexually explicit questions regarding my sins. I was sexually abused from the ages of 8 to 11 by a family member who was also a member of my ward. The perpetrator’s father was my bishop at the time of the abuse.
No bishop inquired after my safety or my sexual well being. repeated explicit interviews constantly reminded me that the secrets I kept were my damnation. I was worthless.
After a failed suicide attempt at 16, my mother read my diary, and I’m grateful that she did. A tiny sliver of the truth of my abuse came to light. My parents understandably reached out to our bishop for help and guidance. He was a wonderful man, my best friend’s dad who raised five lovely daughters. I trusted and respected him. He could have saved my life. He failed me. Dramatically.
Disclosing my abuse to this bishop would prove to be disastrous and deeply traumatic. My abuser was serving a full time mission at the time and was brought home pending review. When he arrived home, he and I were interviewed together with only the bishop present, despite the fact that I was a minor. I was overwhelmed with the flashbacks and triggers flooding my mind. I was trapped there, drowning in that horror until the bishop released me.
After the many interviews I’d been through I expected to have to answer some explicit questions. There were none. My abuser reassured the bishop that he had repented and was a changed man. He stated repeatedly that if he could take only one thing back in his life, this would be it. (I later confirmed that he abused at least one other family member, and attempted to abuse another). There was no attempt to uncover the depth and breadth, the four years of repeated rape and abuse that I suffered. No attempt to determine the state of my mental health or the effects of the trauma, which I have spent years in therapy recovering from. The bishop asked, with no knowledge of how horrific my abuse truly was, “Do you think you can forgive him?” I responded immediately, “I already have.” The poison of that lie lived in my throat. The bishop smiled with satisfaction.
If a parent or a female leader had been present in that room, this experience may not have been so nightmarish. Perhaps another adult would have ceased the awful discussion and asked how baby of this was remotely helpful to me. But it was just me. All alone with those men. Sixteen, and swimming for my life through a sea of terror.
At no point was this intervention about healing me. Nor was it at any point about healing my abuser. Therapeutic support was not offered or discussed at all. Police reporting was never mention or considered. Afterward, an area 70 called me to ask how I felt he should be disciplined. Wanting my abuser as far as possible, and fearing for my soul, I told the gentleman I felt he should serve out his mission. He was returned to his mission.
After that, no one followed up with me. I had been entirely torn open, re-traumatized, and was then left all alone with my horror that no one had cared enough to do anything at all. I felt as though the flesh had been picked from my very bones. I wanted to die for a very long time. I tried to. It’s taken years of hard work in therapy to heal those wounds, and some days that deep despair still hangs around me like a wet wool blanket.
The bishop took every step with love in his heart and with the intention of doing the right thing. My heart breaks for those bishops who, like my mine, sought to help but have instead furthered trauma. Many of these men are good people who do not want to take up starring roles in our trauma histories. But they do.
Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault. At least one in six females, and at least one in 71 men will be raped in their lives. Kids ages 11-17 are most likely to die of suicide in Utah. Why are our children being killed by mental illness? They’re being traumatized, and even the people they’re supposed to love and respect don’t seem to care about that. The church is failing them by not using interviews as opportunities instead of trials.
We must seek to teach and protect our youth. It is the nature of the young to make mistakes. Instead of interviewing to determine where guilt lies, let us instead seek to determine where growth and education can be applied. Focus on helping the youth to be safe, and to grow up to be better people that will carry light and love. We are losing our youths to suicide. We must seek every adaptation and adjustment that may save lives. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah children as young as age 10. We are literally dying out here. We beg you to see us, and •love us enough to trust us• when we say that we need this policy change to survive.