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.
My abuse started when I was thirteen. It was an older boy at school, not a member of the church, but the way the church leadership repeatedly and consistently reacted to my disclosures of abuse, ensured that I was so ashamed and traumatized that the abuse would last for another ten years. I began self injuring, and developed an eating disorder because of the abuse.
When I was 14 my elderly bishop told me that he had been prompted to ask me if I was “frequently masturbating.” He told me that he believed that was the reason for my “self-loathing” and that he could help me repent. I was so shocked and triggered by this question that I threw up in his trash can. He took this as a sign that he was correct and began calling me into his office regularly to discuss my “sexual addiction” which I consistently denied.
A year later, I confided in a young women’s leader that I was being abused by a classmate, and without asking, or warning me, she went to that same bishop and told him what I had told her. When he confronted me, I was so terrified that he would tell my dad (who was also in the bishopric) that I told him I had fabricated the abuse. He believed me in that, and began to ask to meet with me even more frequently. Those meetings were traumatizing to me, as an already fragile and abused child, as he accused me almost weekly of sexual impurity. He was finally released, and I never told another soul until I was 21 and in a singles ward.
I told my relief society president, who advised me to tell my home teachers, who advised me to tell my bishop. I was so desperate for help that I took their advice and asked for a meeting with my bishop, where I told him what had happened to me, and what was still happening to me. The thing I will always remember him telling me is “if you’ve been lying about this, I would advise you to stop it now. Just stop it. This is not becoming of a young lady.” I was devastated. I insisted that I was telling the truth, and he recommended that I see a counselor who worked (and still works) with LDS Family Services.
That bishop frequently spoke with that counselor and advised her to “make sure I was telling the truth.” she did more interrogating than counseling. She asked me to tell her specific and triggering details of what had happened to me, and as my memories were distorted by time and trauma, she often “caught me in my lies.” I cannot begin to tell you what kind of effect this approach to “therapy” had on my healing. I literally started to believe, because of her and that bishop, that maybe my memory was wrong. Maybe I WAS making it up, or at the very least, blowing things out of proportion. I was so lost, and so vulnerable, and so desperate for help, and they abused their power. I quit therapy with her after I was raped and became pregnant, and she asked me to “prove it” to her, as she placed a pregnancy test on the table between us.
The next bishop I told, was gentler in his approach but he still told me I needed to take responsibility for “my part” in what happened, so that I could repent. I’ve left the church now, and gone through years of therapy to try to undo what these leaders did to me. I’m in a better place, but it’s in spite of, not because of the LDS church.
I was a shy child and deeply respected the men I saw at the pulpit every Sunday. Our stake had a Christmas party just after my ninth birthday. As kids do, I ran through the church halls and found a classroom that had a chalkboard and chalk. I drew pictures on the board and was having a good time when one of the men that I saw on the pulpit came into the room. He asked me what I was doing there. I thought I was going to get in trouble. I pointed to my drawings on the chalkboard. He then closed the door to the classroom. He then sexually molested me and told me I would not get in trouble for being in the room and drawing on the chalkboard as long as I didn’t say anything. He left the room and I started crying. I didn’t wanted to get in trouble so I didn’t say anything. At the tender age of nine I felt scared and awful inside.
I was asked to give a two minute talk in church and had to sit on the stand with the man that had sexually molested me just a few weeks before. I was so scared. After I gave the talk, the man sent me a note saying how much he enjoyed my talk. My mom said what a nice man he was. I was so confused because he scared me. I was horrified to go to church. I would make every excuse not to go. I begged my parents for us to sit in the back of the chapel when we attended in an effort to avoid the man. I remember him greeting our family as we went into the chapel. He wanted to shake all of our hands before church. I would try to sneak past him so he wouldn’t touch me.
I was plagued with nightmares and thinking about what had happened in the classroom. I would spend nearly every night sleeping at my parent’s bedside until I was around twelve. I would tell my parents that I had a bad dream and they got used to me being by their bedside.
My teenage years were tumultuous. My father, who served on a student bishopric, began emotionally and physically abusing me and my siblings. I was suffering from severe depression and had a hard time functioning. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings. My father was so frustrated with me that he would swear at me nearly every morning. My depression grew and I began to think about suicide. In desperation, I went to my bishop to ask him for help. I thought if he talked with my dad the abuse might stop. I also felt that I needed to tell him about the sexual assault that happened to me when I was younger as I thought it might be contributing to my depression and anxiety. I was unprepared for what he was about to tell me. He told me that the sexual assault had happened so long ago and it was up to me to forgive him and move on with my life. He then defended my father telling me that everyone makes mistakes – that my dad was a good man. He shared the analogy that when someone is in a hole those that are not in the hole need to help pull that person out. My father was in the hole and it was my responsibility to pull him out. If I could be an example to him and love him, he would change. I told him how depressed and hurt I was by what my father had done and was doing to me and my siblings. I told him it took a lot of courage for me to reach out for help and that I didn’t think he was helping me. He dismissed me and told me to pray for strength. I left his office devastated.
I went back home and continued to be abused by my father. He would grab at my stomach and ask if I was pregnant. He called me a slut and a little bitch. I fell deeper and deeper into the abyss of depression and tried to end my life at seventeen. It was at that point that I knew I would need to get out of the house or die. I went to my grandparents and asked for their help. They were so incredibly supportive and gave me money for my first month’s rent for an apartment. I dropped out of high school and began working a full time job. I was living on my own and was free from the daily torment of my father. I was able to offer my siblings a safe refuge when they were fearful of more abuse from my father.
At 45, I am still feeling the impact of my childhood abuse and relationship with the church. I have had challenges and triumphs in my adult life. I have been married to a wonderful and kind man for 25 years. I have an adult son that I treasure. I have a college degree. My siblings and I have very close and loving relationships. We have all talked about breaking the cycle of abuse in our homes and have done a pretty good job. That being said, I still have to beat back the demons of my childhood. They rear their heads all too often. I ended up resigning from the LDS church a few years ago because it was too triggering for me.
It was only recently that I saw a study that enumerates the devastating impacts of childhood abuse on adults. “Children who are abused early are flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, impacting on how the brain develops and the stress regulation method. This in turn impacts on the hippocampus, the area which controls feelings, meaning that adult survivors will be more likely to be highly stressed, have difficulties with anger and emotions, and be prone to self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression.” I feel now that I am starting to understand some of the challenges I have had as an adult.
No child or adult should ever have to go through this.
If you would like to share your story please contact me at natashaparker.org.