I have told “Sandy” -who was willing to give an interview to Mormon Mental Health about her experience of childhood sexual assault in the context of worthiness interviews- that she can use this blog as a platform for as many writings as she would like to post. This particular piece is written in response to the very common question she (and other victims/survivors) often receive… have you gone to the police? Please understand that this can be an inappropriate and triggering question for many. For a variety of reasons. Also, as I publish Sandy’s work… please remember that every victim/survivor has an individual story, with individual responses and thoughts about what the best way to go about treatment, support, boundaries, legal procedures, etc. Also be aware that details of the assault are shared in this piece and may be difficult reading for some.
As I get ready to board a red-eye flight to Houston in preparation for the protectldschildren.org press conference that will take place in the morning, I want Sandy to know that I will “go” with her as far as I can. In whatever context I can. And she has reached out to offer her thoughts and prayers for me and the others who will be present. To “go” with me and all those this movement represents… as far as she can. And so we all lift each other in the ways we can. Doing our covenanted work. Fulfilling our baptismal promises of advocacy, love and responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. May we always find common ground in those beautiful principles of human decency.
You Say You’ll Go With Me…
You say you’ll go with me.
You’ll sit with me in court.
And maybe you would.
Maybe you’d hold my shaking hand as we walked together through the threshold,
Into the same room as the man who held me down when I was 8 years old and…
Maybe you’d notice my breathing quicken, and my palms get clammy,
As we sit across the aisle from him.
Maybe you’d squeeze my hand tighter when he looks at me and has his chance to ask, tearfully, “Why are you doing this? Why do you want to hurt me?”
You won’t be allowed to hold my hand when I sit at the front of the room,
And am asked to recount my memory of…
You say you’ll still be right there with me.
That I won’t be alone.
But I know how my own voice will feel too loud,
And at the same time far away.
Will seem like thunder in my ears, and shake the rest of me,
And how the words will sound muffled and indistinct as they leave my own mouth.
Like how standing too close to the bass speakers at a concert,
Both overwhelms your senses,
And makes the song unrecognizable.
Maybe we’d win.
Probably not, though.
I asked that question, too.
“This hurts, and I don’t want it to be happening. I don’t understand. Why are you doing this?”
Or I tried to.
I WANTED to ask him,
But somewhere between the question forming in my mind,
And vocalizing it,
It was distorted so thoroughly by terror, and too much pressure,
That it escaped my lips as a scream.
He clamped his hand over my mouth and nose before he started.
He knew before I could, that…
When he entered me, all of the air inside me was expelled,
Forced violently through my vocal cords and the gaps between his fingers.
And when my lungs were empty, deflated balloons,
And that scream became a silent echo,
Somehow still reverberating in my ears,
Along with the hammering of my heart,
I tried to take a breath, to make the spinning still,
To try again to ask him why,
To beg him to “please stop hurting me!”
But I couldn’t.
And now all I can remember is the suction created beneath his palm,
And my mounting desperation,
As he refused my lungs the air they sought.
Searing white-hot pain.
Will you go there with me?
If they even LET me sit across from him in court,
The courtroom isn’t where I’ll be.
So, will you follow me all that way, and hold my child hand, and soothe that trembling, frightened, broken girl?
Because THAT is who you will need to comfort,
If you ask this thing of me.
Not just in that courtroom, while I’m forced to share my air with him again,
But in every moment that follows where…
Now I’ll remember what his face looks like,
And the sound of his voice,
And the smell of him,
All of which I’ve finally, mercifully, forgotten.
Will you go there with me every time for the next…
Months, maybe? Years?
Will you go there with me as many times,
On as many nights,
For however long it takes me to feel like I’m allowed to take a breath again?
You say you’ll go with me, but you can’t.
No one can.
Because we’re not talking about a handful of visits to a chilly brick and tile room.
You’re asking me to go back to the place I have spent the last 20 years of my life trying to escape.
This is heart wrenching and my heart is heavy with the many stories I carry with me on this trip. Please do not see me as the aggressor in this story. Please do not tell me my attitude is oppositional. That I can’t leave my own church “alone.” That I am bitter or trying to destroy the church. If that’s how you perceive me… then I dare to say you haven’t been willing to listen to me. More than likely you haven’t even talked to me. And most definitely… you have either not heard… or have not been willing to hear… the stories I sit with on a regular basis that mirror Sandy’s. If you are in a position of leadership in my church… then I’m guessing you’ve heard these stories too. And so you bear responsibility here. We all do.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine, is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.