Family First?

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Dear AMG:

Three and half years ago, our then 4-year-old daughter was molested by someone in our ward. This was reported to the police. We don't live in the U.S. The legal proceedings are very slow and ongoing, and it will probably take 18 to 24 more months before the trial is finished. This person and his family now attend another ward in our stake.

I have great difficulty seeing this person and his prominent family at stake conferences. Some members of the family are kind to us, but others (including the offender) are angry and hostile with us. In addition, the offender's whole family is hostile to another family with two children molested by this person. Because they don't want to create a scene, the hostility we see is limited to scornful looks and well-placed sneers. It is a small stake, and we inevitably run into them. Complaints about this treatment to our stake president and to church headquarters have not resulted in a response. I think it is because official church policy is that the church doesn't undertake any reconciliation activities (trying to be strictly neutral) until the legal proceedings are complete. We have shown a lot of restraint and have not discussed this matter publicly, shielding this family from the kind of embarrassment that they fear.

For me, this situation is much harder to take than for my wife. I feel like I should not care this much about this little injustice, compared to other aspects of this mess. For example, the day we got a negative psychological evaluation of our daughter was one of the worst days of my life. This mess is worse because my father was a child molester -- I am more sensitized than the average person, though not a victim myself. For the last few years I have returned from stake conference upset.

After this last stake conference, I proposed to my wife that we start to skip stake conferences so we don't have to see this family any more. She agreed. At the same time, I feel like I should not be affected by this family. Is skipping out a cowardly decision? At the same time, I think it will be easier to move on and to forgive if I never see them again. Should we be open about this decision with our stake president? He is a total stickler in temple recommend interviews and being open about this decision could result in a declined recommend or him using the temple recommend to try to force us to agree to go. If we don't tell him, our absence will be noticed. We also have to decide what to tell our kids, and how to best skip out. We are leaning toward going on vacation and then attending church there, without explaining to the kids why.




Dear RG:

What an unspeakably difficult situation. You're a devout member of the Church. But your experience at church has been changed by the fact that a member of your ward molested your daughter (and other children in the congregation) when she was just 4 years old. For you, an additional level of complication comes from the fact that your own father was a sexual abuse perpetrator. It's no wonder that seeing the perpetrator and his family at stake conference generates a great deal of feeling. I've known people who skip stake conference just because it's boring, or because it's impossible with young children. Is it okay to skip stake conference because you'd like to avoid fielding negativity from the family of your daughter's abuser?

Let's reframe the question:  Don't abuse victims and their families have a right to feel protected and respected at church on Sundays? And shouldn't everyone (including abuse perpetrators) be able to experience church as a help and support to their spiritual growth and wholeness? These are the more profound questions you're really asking, and I'd like to speak to those.

The first thing I want you to know is that you and your daughter are not alone. I want you to know that lots of us -- and I say us -- who have been molested as children turn out to have happy and fulfilling lives, including successful intimate lives. Have faith in your daughter's resilience and in your own continuing ability to support her wholeness. I'm gathering that she was able to articulate what happened, and that you have been able to connect her with appropriate therapeutic resources. That's so important. Many abuse victims are not capable or do not feel able to share what happened with others and they carry their burdens in secret for decades. I applaud your family for making sure your daughter has access to appropriate resources.

12/7/2010 5:00:00 AM
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