For whatever reason, an article that was published by the Church in 2010 titled Effectiveness of Church Approach to Preventing Child Abuse reemerged on the LDS newsroom on February 1, making many believe this was a new release. The Church is stating this was a technical glitch and not purposeful from their end. Regardless, the reemergence of this article has caused for much needed dialogue on this topic – specifically from victims of child abuse themselves. And many are reporting deep distress as a result of reading it (issues I will address in more detail in a future post). I wanted to make a space on this blog for these reactions and stories to be shared safely, which are often kept in spaces of secrecy, shame and even dismissal – exactly the opposite of what needs to happen for healing and growth. These stories can be difficult and painful to read – and I would encourage those of you healing from your own trauma to proceed with caution – giving yourselves permission to not read at all, or stop when feeling triggered. I will share 2-4 stories at at time (some may have been edited as far as length). I will try and make room for as many of the stories I’m receiving as I can.
I recognize that for many, the church has played a healthy, supportive and affirming role in the healing of childhood trauma. At the same time, I recognize that for many it has not. And this is a space for those stories.
Some of the stories will relate instances of direct ecclesiastical abuse. Others will relate how reported abuse was mishandled. Most will address systemic dynamics within our culture that play a role in current messages, assumptions, traditions and beliefs that further retraumatize victims instead of playing the healing role our church should and can be.
Some of the stories are recent. Others are from long ago, prior to some of the positive efforts the Church has made like the hot-line development in 1995 reported in the article. Regardless, all these stories occurred within our community – and they all deserve to be heard.
Comments will be heavily moderated.
I was sexually abused by my brother for a period of three years. I was 6-9; he was 13-16. No one in my family had any idea this was happening, and my brother threatened to kill my mom if I said anything, so I stayed quiet. For the first couple of years of abuse my brother was on the straight and narrow. He passed the sacrament, advanced in the Priesthood, and did his duty. Closer to the end of the abuse, he went “off the deep end,” as my parents called it, and stopped going to church, delving into drugs, alcohol, and probably more I don’t know about.
The abuse stopped at some point during that time, but because I was worried about my mom, I didn’t tell anyone for a couple of years. It’s a miracle that she believed me when I finally spoke up. I had taken to lying in the interim, and would not have been surprised if my mom laughed the confession off as one of my stories. By this time, my brother was being rehabilitated from his lapse, coming back to the path. I can’t imagine my mom’s heartache as the parent of the abuser and the abusee. Ultimately she went to the bishop to find out what to do.
This would prove to be the answer to prayer for my mom and my brother, but devastating for me. The bishop instructed her to focus on my brother, who, as a priesthood holder, needed rehabilitation from horrible sin. But as for me? “Don’t worry about her,” he said. “She will get what she needs from prayer and from participation in church and Young Women’s meetings.”
So my brother started intense therapy, weekly meetings with the bishop and Stake President, and an immense amount of attention from my mom. As for me? I was left alone to deal with the aftermath of horrendous events, most of which I didn’t even understand as a 12-year-old. No one ever talked to me. I approached a special YW leader about it; she said she would need to talk to my mom and it never came up again. If I tried to broach the subject with my mom, she’d change the subject. I stopped trying after a while. I learned, through their responses, that my brother was the only one who needed help. I should be able to handle it on my own.
Fast-forward 30 years. My brother is an active member, with a very successful career and a large, happy family. I am likewise, happy, and finally dealing with this devastation from my childhood, but no longer in the church. I didn’t learn about my mom’s conversation with the bishop until recently, and didn’t feel really mad about it until I saw the release today. My life could have been so much different, had this been dealt with in an appropriate way.
I grew up in a small Utah/Idaho town. During high school, I joined the wrestling team and at that point a cycle of physical/quasi-sexual abuse began. The older wrestlers thought it was funny to stick their fingers in my anus (through my clothes) while wrestling. The abuse continued and I was more and more traumatized. I found that I wasn’t the only one. Others had it even worse with one young man being penetrated with a foreign object in addition to the other ‘initiation’ acts. Eventually, legal action was taken on his behalf and I was temporarily involved. The local bishop brought me, my parents, and the parents of one of the accused into his office to try to work out a case of sexual abuse via his LDS calling (i.e. he tried to mediate the issue outside of the legal system). All parties, accused and accusers, were LDS, the whole community was LDS (including the coaching staff of the wrestling team). I was forced to try to come to agreements outside of the legal route via church mediation. This meant sitting in meetings with the parents of one of the people who had raped me over and over again. Due to the popularity of these students and the prominence of some of their families in the community, I was completely ostracized at school, church, and in the community. Classic case of attacking the victim. I was eventually blackmailed into dropping charges and have never had any real closure. The claim that the LDS church is the gold standard of child abuse prevention is laughable while at the same time makes me sick to my stomach. The way the bishop and the LDS community handled these initiation rapes tore apart my teenage life. I later turned to drugs and alcohol, though I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t have done this otherwise. It certainly didn’t help to have experienced what I did. I am now in my late 30’s and not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on how alone, hurt, and abandoned I felt. I am so grateful that I had loving parents, but even their overwhelming love for me couldn’t protect me every time I stepped into the high-school, every time I stepped into the church. I was never the same. I am extremely worried by the arrogance of the recent news release and I hope that we, as abuse survivors, send an overflowing message of rejection concerning this claim and its stance. Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to express myself safely and anonymously. I have not had justice for these acts against me and it is largely due to LDS leadership inaction as regards my abuse.
Laurie BushI was sexually abused by an older brother when I was 9. When I went into YW I was taught all sexual sin had to be confessed to the bishop to be considered morally clean and qualify for a temple recommend. I was over the age of accountability when the sexual abuse occurred so I thought that somehow it must have been my fault. My dad was in the bishopric during my YW years and I was afraid if I confessed, the bishop would tell my father, my father would kick my brother out of the house and I would then be responsible for breaking up our family.
I finally had the opportunity to “confess” the abuse to my BYU bishop prior to getting my temple recommend to be married. I was so glad to finally be able to get rid of this heavy burden I was carrying and I wanted to begin my life with my husband pure, clean, and worthy in every way to enter the temple. I was SO afraid but still managed to tell the bishop what happened. His first words to me were “Why did you lie to your home ward’s bishop when he asked if you were morally clean?” (He was visibly upset that I had). I sputtered my fears about my dad being in the bishopric. He then asked accusingly “Have you forgiven your brother?” I had never even said the words out loud, let alone consider forgiveness. I hadn’t processed any of it. I told him I wasn’t sure. He then said “I’ll sign your recommend if you PROMISE me that you will forgive your brother.” I was getting married in two weeks, what else could I do except say ok, I would try.
Two weeks later on my wedding day I knew I hadn’t yet forgiven my brother so I still felt unworthy and like I was defiling the temple by my presence there, just like I had felt on every youth temple trip while I was a YW. This has caused considerable damage to me in my life. The childhood sexual abuse was bad enough, but it was compounded further by the bishop’s accusations and condemnation. I was given no resources to get help nor was I told it wasn’t my fault. In my late 20’s Chieko Okasaki came to our stake in Portland and spoke about sexual abuse. It was the first time I heard that I wasn’t responsible and she gave local resources to get help. I went through therapy to process the abuse, yet I still have emotional pain regarding an overall sense of worthiness at age 52.
The bishop who knew about my father nearly killing my brother told me I had done good by lying (and not telling investigators what really happened) and protecting my father. I didn’t want my family broken up, but I feared for my siblings’ lives. I took it on myself to protect them from my father when he was angry.
The fear and uncomfortableness I felt at the idea of doing a temple recommend interview with a bishop when I was 16. But feeling like there was something wrong with me, instead of the system, that I didn’t want to do it.
The bishop who did nothing when my home teacher assaulted me (at least he was aware enough to tell me it wasn’t my fault, but that man stayed my home teacher and I was told to forgive him).
The bishop who told me my husband cheating on me was my fault for not being in the home more and doing my duty as a wife (i.e. keeping my husband happy, implying offering more sex).
That same bishop who took my recommend away when I told him he was wrong and I disagreed with him.
The bishop that gave me a book on communication when I told him my husband had thrown me into a wall, tried to strangle me with a scarf I was wearing, and told me I was lucky he didn’t kill me.
The bishop who told me a husband couldn’t rape his wife, because… HIS wife.
The stake president who told me God would never tell me to get a divorce, no matter what.
The bishop who told me I didn’t need therapy. I just needed to pray and pay my tithing.
And, the bishop who saved my life by telling me to get divorced (which goes against the handbook instructions). He also helped me get into therapy and eventually inpatient treatment. He studied abuse and abusive relationships, so he could understand and help me. One bishop that went against what the church told him he should do, because he cared more about me than about the church.
And that stupid hotline that would have told him not to get involved… Please don’t tell me the church as an organization cares about the victims. I was one, and the church didn’t care. One individual cared. Just one.
If you would like to share your story please contact me at natashaparker.org.