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.
When you published the article last week about the church’s website accidentally re-posting their article about their handling of abuse, I was surprised and curious to see what had been written 6 years ago. I didn’t realize how angry it would make me feel.
My father physically abused my mother; my mother abused her children. It was a terribly dysfunctional family that made me scared to have my own child for years after getting married, and has made me promise myself and my husband that my child will never spend time alone with either of my parents.
What role did the church play in all of this? One argument had gone so poorly that my father ended up tearing the phone out of the wall so we couldn’t call the police. My mother piled us in the car and drove to the bishop’s house, who told us, in effect, to stay away for awhile to let things simmer down. I think the bishop was going to go talk to my father. Nothing more.
Later, my father hit my mother in front of us children, police were called (and an LDS member was the responder), my father was charged with domestic violence and assigned to months of anger management courses by the city. The weekend of the domestic violence incident was the weekend of one of my siblings’ baptism. He was allowed to perform the baptism and confirmation, even though he was reportedly blaming me for the incident against my mother, saying I essentially egged him on until he’d snap. Later, that bishop met with my parents and us children and told us that we should respect my father because he held the Priesthood (also a line my father used repeatedly). I talked to a stake president that Sunday about all the events that had transpired; I still don’t know if my discussion with the stake president was the cause for the bishopric being reorganized the following Sunday. However, my father kept his temple recommend.
My mother hit us so hard that she left marks. Those marks were seen by a schoolmate of one of my siblings (the schoolmate was LDS) and reported to the school. Authorities were called to the house to investigate my mother. However, no authorities from the church ever did anything. My mother also kept her temple recommend even after that incident (there had been plenty of incidents before, but nobody had reported them because the marks hadn’t been left on visible parts of the body – and doctors appointments always happened when our bodies were mark-free).
I grew up being told by my mother that I was always faulty. When I fell in love with my first boyfriend, I was accused of not knowing what love was. I never had grades good enough. I never was skinny enough; yet I also never ate enough. I was never the person my mother wanted me to be; I was never the leader she expected me to be, fast enough at doing anything, smart enough, strong enough. Always being told how fat and stupid you are takes a toll, with scars that are not seen by anyone. My father never corrected her.
When I read the article on the website, you can image, then, my surprise. Really? The church has done so much to stop abuse? By having talks over pulpits saying it’s wrong? By making it nearly taboo to speak out about such actions? By continuing to give temple recommends to those who are guilty of abuse of any type, even when local authorities have been called in on situations? By providing — I’m sorry — a HOTLINE? No. There is no safe house for abused women. There is no safe place for abused children. I was terrified of talking to anyone about the abuse, because the church is all about the family. Heaven forbid I do anything that might tear the family apart. Church is where you look and act like everything is perfect, not a place of refuge. No. The church has not done the most about abuse among its members. Words are easy. Actions are tough. Excommunicating, disfellowshipping, withholding recommends, reporting to authorities – those are things that should be done. Not just talks across the pulpit.
I don’t want to downplay the physical/sexual abuse that happens in the church, but I think it’s also time for the psychological sex abuse of the very teachings of the church to come to light. I’m still working to recover from the feelings of shame for my very identity as a woman from when I was a teenager being taught modesty as my responsibility to keep boys and men from thinking improper thoughts. When men put the blame for their thoughts on women the message it sends us is that our very identity as women is something to be ashamed of. When I was growing up I was taught modesty to such a standard that if a boy or man looked at me and was aroused *I* was pornography. I grew my hair long and always wore it down to try to hide my developing chest behind it. I was often distracted by my own endeavors to NOT be porn. I felt that growing from a girl to a woman was something to fear and be ashamed of. Then all the while thinking I must be exceptionally ugly because I never went on any dates. This is what these ideas do to women. It teaches them that they need to hide who they are and can’t even embrace the shape their body takes because our shape is evil and turns us into porn if a man chooses to look at us wrong. If guys have a right to not be distracted by girls, shouldn’t girls also have a right to not be distracted by whether or not they have sufficiently concealed their identity as growing women? Men have no idea how hurtful and damaging this mentality and message really is. The rare occurrence that I might receive a cat call meant I had failed in my attempts to be invisible and had become porn and was therefore evil. Not because of anything *I* had done, but because a man had chosen to acknowledge my presence in an inappropriate manner. Teenage years are hard enough for girls without putting these extra burdens on them. There was essentially no win for me. If I was attractive I was porn and evil, if not I was ugly. No matter what I had no self worth because I was taught indirectly that what I did and who I was inside didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was what boys thought when they looked at me, and it was MY job to make sure what they thought wasn’t inappropriate.
Mia Chard writes about her experience on her blog for.the.one and part of that post is shared here with her permission:
I have often heard individuals marvel as to why children don’t tell when abuse is taking place and for me it’s not a mystery. For me it was all wrapped up in shame and an inability to communicate what it was that had happened. An author, Kirsty Eager, defines the type of shame I’m talking about in this way: “Shame isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”
That is the type of shame I faced when I was 11 years old and was sexually abused by two adult women.
Yes, that is correct, I said women.
We don’t want to believe that a gender that we consider most apt to nurture, protect, and mother children could include beings capable of abusing a child in any way, least of all sexually.
But it does happen, and I know this because it happened to me.
When we refuse to believe it can happen, we allow those female pedophiles to carry on with their abuse because their cover is our inability to comprehend that they exist. They are free to hurt and damage because more than most they can say to their victims, “No one will believe you,” and be right.
I was a shy, self-conscious eleven year old who didn’t have many friends. I finally found some friends and in that process, two adult women came into my life. These women were skilled; they knew what they were doing. They became friends with my family, my parents. They became caring adult “mentors” that I could look up to. After months of grooming the opportunity presented itself, as I was to be in their care for a few days.
During a four-day period I was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused—I was called names, I was made fun of, my body was made fun of. I was told I was fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting, that no one would ever love me, and because of this they would have to sacrifice and overcome their own disgust with me to show me love. I was a witness to their sexual acts, then drugged and sexually abused by one of them.
It was a hell unlike anything imaginable to a child. How was I supposed to tell what had happened when it was too much for my little mind to process, let alone find the right words to explain what exactly was happening? I had recently been given the “sex talk” by my mom, but it was explained to me in a much different way than what was happening—a person was supposed to be married and in love.
I had been taught that danger came from strangers and that those strangers were men. What had happened was from people I knew, women I knew, and women who shared my same religious faith. I had been told during those traumatic days that it was my fault. They shamed me into believing that what had happened was my responsibility and that I was so dirty and wrong now that if I told anyone, they wouldn’t believe me. I thought my family would kick me out, my church would shun me, I would be alone forever.