It is difficult to express the damage that is done to children who are, in all other aspects of their lives, protected by laws that rightly prohibit adults from inappropriately questioning a child to protect their innocence. Yet, when it happens at a church we shy away in fear of being called persecutors of the church because that is how we have been trained.
Just before I turned 8, I went to my first worthiness interview after being incredibly protected from ‘worldly things’ my whole life; we didn’t have TV and music was church or classical. I had no knowledge about sex, I don’t remember hearing the word before that interview. I was asked if I lived the law of chastity, I didn’t know what it was but I had heard it at church so knew the answer must be yes. Like a good girl I answered in the affirmative. He then asked if I knew what it meant, I said no and he sort of explained sex and why it was bad. It was uncomfortable but he didn’t go in to too much detail and I didn’t really understand it other than it involved our private parts so we should not think about it, I got off lightly at that point.
Not long after I was deemed worthy and baptized, the man who had baptized me subjected me to repeated sexual abuse and rape. I didn’t understand what was happening beyond the words I had learned from bishop a few months earlier, but I knew it was bad and I had clearly sinned.
I sat through many interviews over the years always full of shame and guilt. I was asked about my worthiness, my sins. I hated myself that I had to lie to keep the abuse a secret especially knowing that everything was being recorded in heaven and one day all the world would know my lies, as I had been taught, but that was still better than talking about it to bishop, or anyone. After the interviews I would self-harm over the lies but deep down hope my self inflicted punishment somehow cancelled out the lies; Heavenly Father would surely understand my reasoning and see my true intention? I was very messed up but with every interview hammering home how evil I was, every church meeting reminding me I would never be pure or worthy it just fueled my delusional thinking. For many years I lived in fear of being found out, all the teachings told me I was evil so how could I have known otherwise?
At 16, I learned the words abuse, rape, and child molester. It was that day, when I finally knew what to say, that I first told another person. I went straight to Police after reading it was a crime and hoping they would take me away to safety. I wasn’t taken away and instead I was soon interviewed by bishop to “determine whether I was a liar”. I was alone with a big old man asking me things I only knew as sinful. I know many 70 year olds who would still shrink in fear at such questions from authority. Yet as a naive and self-hating teenager, I had to explain exactly what my abuser had done to me, how I had felt about it and had I enjoyed it. At no point was I told it wasn’t my fault, wasn’t my sin. I was threatened that Heavenly Father knew the truth and would punish me if I harmed the church member and consequently the church itself, by lying. I was sent to a church therapist but later discovered everything I had disclosed, in what I assumed was a confidential meeting, had been shared with my priesthood leaders and parents. The shame still cripples me.
I was not believed at church and was – from then on – a liar. The priesthood circled round my rapist and protected him. I spent the rest of my time as a member trying to find forgiveness for sins I still felt were mine while also being told that I must forgive my rapist because it was vital for my salvation. Unable to psychologically cope with the self-hatred and fear I attempted suicide a number of times.
My story improved by leaving church and its false and damaging teachings behind, I found my way out and over time my mental health improved but I am still affected by my experiences many years later. These days I try hard not to blame anyone except my rapist for his evil actions. But I wonder whether I might have told someone sooner and avoided years of further abuse, if I had not felt I was sinning and would be punished.