Let me tell you a story. It’s a story I’ve experienced a few hundred times: I’m standing in a room full of people. Maybe a classroom where I’ve just finished teaching a college writing course or the Relief Society room at my local chapel, where I’ve just finished teaching Sunday School. A man walks up, friendly, intending to open a conversation with me. He steps close.
My heart rate speeds up a little. I catch my breath. My muscles tense.
I know this man. He’s an acquaintance, or maybe a student, or even a friend. He’s someone I trust.
My subconscious is less easily persuaded.
So I take a step back.
Oblivious, he steps toward me again, still talking.
I step back again.
He takes another step toward me. He’s still talking, hasn’t even paused.
My heart is beating just a little too fast, but I keep a neutral expression on my face. What was he just saying? If we’re in church, maybe it’s a quote from Spencer W Kimball. Or something about how a particular Hebrew word should be translated?
After he leaves, smiling, unaware of my discomfort, I eye the room to see if my husband is still there – assuming I’m at church, that is. If I can just hold his hand for a second, it’ll help me relax. If he’s gone, I slip off to the restroom and take a few breaths. Get a drink of water on my way back to Relief Society.
I don’t mention what happened to anyone. It doesn’t even seem consequential enough to mention to my husband. I know it’s nothing, that the man was just being friendly, that I’m safe. I know that my subconscious is an overzealous guard dog who thinks every UPS truck is filled with mass murderers. By the end of the day, I’ve put it out of my mind, and when I try to recall the incident a few weeks later, I can’t even remember who the man was.
And it isn’t nearly as bad today as it once was. 15 years ago, I’d have been in a full-on panic. I’d have hidden it, but to anyone paying close attention, it would have been clear that I was tensed, my body ready to flee a situation something deep in my subconscious perceived as an immediate threat. It didn’t matter that I knew better, logically. My body is a lot less trusting.
But here’s the thing – if a man I know and trust stepping too close to me in public can set off that reaction, what do you think it would do to me, if two men cornered me in a public meeting and pressed their bodies against mine? If they blatantly, publicly, broke Church policy by grabbing me and dragging me away from the pulpit?
Imagine if the men who did that to me, did it in the name of protecting the reputation of a man who had confessed on tape to sexually assaulting me? A man who had only been protected from charges by the statute of limitations? And imagine if a room full of observers watched in silence while two men physically overpowered me?
Because that is exactly what you just did to McKenna Denson.
And I have some firsthand knowledge of what that betrayal might have felt like.