I was eleven years old. I had been called in for a pre-YW/Primary graduation interview. Towards the end of the interview, the bishopric member asked me if I obeyed the law of chastity. When I responded in the affirmative, he asked if I knew what it meant. I responded in an age-appropriate way, something along the lines of “You shouldn’t go too far before you get married.” He chuckled and said, “Yes, but it’s that definition of ‘too far’ where people get stuck.” He then asked me the following questions:
– Have you masturbated?
– Have you let a boy touch your breasts?
– Have you let a boy touch your genitals?
– Have you touched a boy’s genitals?
– Have you had vaginal sex?
– Have you had oral sex?
– Have you had anal sex?
Again, I was *eleven.* I was a child. I hadn’t so much as held a boy’s hand, and my sexual knowledge was limited to the biological basics of reproduction. I didn’t know what most of the terms meant. I was deeply (and, I’m sure, visibly) uncomfortable. When I didn’t understand something, the bishopric member explained it to me – clinically, but explicitly. I had no way of knowing this was not normal. I had been raised to trust my church leaders implicitly.
I was humiliated by the experience, both because I was uncomfortable with what he was explaining and because he’d “needed” to explain it at all. At the time, a lot of my sense of self-worth came from feeling like I was smart and knowledgeable. I was ashamed of my ignorance. I thought I should have known what all of that meant. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in an interview again, so I decided I needed to thoroughly research human sexuality. So I went to the library and I did. I threw myself into the research project as thoroughly as any I’d ever attacked before. At eleven, though, I was not psychologically mature enough for the level of detail and explicitness I was reading. I knew everything I could find information on about sexual practices, techniques, and fetishes long before I had any sexual interest of my own. I do not doubt that this deeply affected my own sexual development.
Several years later, I had a temple recommend interview with another counselor for an upcoming youth temple trip. During the part of the interview about chastity, he informed me that I had an “immodest body type.” I had developed fairly young, and at 14 was already very busty. He told me that I would need to be particularly careful with how I dressed and moved. He called me naturally provocative. He said that others would need to be protected from me. The shame lasted for years.
I recently told my parents about my childhood experiences when talking to them about the Protect LDS Children movement and about my concerns for my teenage siblings. They were understandably shocked and wanted to know why I hadn’t told them at the time. I explained to them that at that age I had no concept of what was supposed to happen during worthiness interviews. I had no way of knowing that explicit descriptions of sexual acts or commentary on the physical sexual development of minors was not normal or appropriate. I was taught that church leaders were trustworthy, that they were stand-ins for God. I assumed any discomfort must be my own fault. Sex was a taboo in my home, as is true for many Mormon families, and so it never would have occurred to me to talk to my parents about the chastity portions of my interviews. I would have been very uncomfortable doing so.
If I had been given the option of having a parent in the interviews with me, I never would have requested it. At that age, I did not know enough to understand what I needed to be protected from. That is why the current policy of allowing a parent to sit in on request is insufficient. By making interviews one-on-one except on request, children are put in the position of being made responsible for their own protection before they have the maturity to understand what is and is not appropriate, and are then blamed for failing to protect themselves if they get hurt. One-on-one interviews facilitate abuse. They are dangerous and need to stop.