The earliest I have a memory of abuse was at the age of six. At age seven, I remember preparing for baptism (into the LDS church). I was excited; I was optimistic that my sins would be washed away so now I could start a new life. Such a fairy tale I told myself! Of course, that wouldn’t make the abuse stop!
I was abused by a neighbor on at least several occasions, who had kids my age and younger. I was relieved when they moved. A stranger molested me in the public pool. However, my abuse had started years before that. So in my mind, these men were just additional males who had rights to my body. I thought this was just the life I was subject to, as if God condoned this behavior.
After all, who was I? I wasn’t important, or at least, the actions of many had shown me this. My abuse started when a neighbor boy shared porn with my older brother. They were seven years older than me. So they were 13 years old, passing the sacrament (a Mormon ordinance). Imagine this: I was six years old, a star in Primary, and in kindergarten at school, possibly younger. This is just the earliest I can recollect. Both would sexually abuse me and make me do things I didn’t want to do. There was one time where, at the hands of the neighbor boy, I thought I might die. I’ll just say it involved electricity.
Of course, the abuse by my brother was more frequent. It’s hard to escape when your abuser has so much access: while your parents drive the van on family vacation; under a blanket while the whole family watches General Conference (a bi-annual churchwide function). That was particularly brazen, but proved to me that he had control over me and could get away with anything! When a family member is your abuser, you aren’t even safe in your sleep!
My younger sister, in fact, has a memory of waking up when my brother was by my bed in the middle of the night! I was scared!
If she said anything to my parents, I was going to be in big trouble, or so my brother had convinced me for years.
In what should have been, in childhood, the joyous world of wonderment, I had always felt dirty, less than, ugly, unimportant, insignificant, and ignored.
I felt alone.
I would play outside as much as possible and try to avoid my abusers. I suffered from depression and disassociation. I’d walk to school feeling like I was having an out-of-body experience. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s much like watching a video taken by someone’s GoPro attached to their head. Everything feels like a cloudy dark day in slow motion.
Concentration at school was an issue. My teachers would tell my parents, at conferences, that I was always daydreaming. I would run away from home for hours, hoping someone would miss me. In reality, back in the 70s, kids could play outside in the orchards and neighborhood, a square mile from their home, and never be missed, as long as they were home by dinner or nightfall. I didn’t know how to feel loved. If couldn’t tell my parents, who could I tell?
The abuse would continue until I was about to enter the church’s Young Women program. At that same time, my brother was about to turn 19 and wanted to serve a mission. He told the bishop what he’d done. Of course, I don’t know the whole of what he shared, or to what extent, at the time he confessed.
The bishop called me in to talk to him, to confirm that what my brother had told him was true. (Why would a bishop not believe him? I mean, who and why would my brother confess to something like that if it isn’t true? This was intimidating to me to go into a room with a male—let alone that I felt scared when I had to tell him such a sordid, detailed secret! After all, I had spent the prior six years being intimidated by multiple males who threatened me about keeping this secret!
I told the bishop it was true, and he sent me on my way home. It was at least a few weeks where I worried every day that he had told my parents and I would be in trouble.
He never did tell my parents about my six years of sexual abuse.
The evening I met with my bishop, when I walked home, I felt worse, not better. My bishop had acted as if he just needed to know this. That it was just a matter of fact, and I should just go home as if nothing had changed. I feel like my bishop was complicit and protected my abuser (my brother) from punishment, justice, and shame.
Instead, my abuser would be sent on a mission two months later. He would be looked on as righteous, stalwart, and returning with honor. Never mind what he may have done on his mission to girls. The important thing was to preach the gospel for the Lord! In my 11-year-old mind, my abusing brother would now be rewarded. He was more important. There would be a big farewell and open house, accolades and congratulations, a big trip to see him off at the (church’s Missionary Training Center) and airport. He would be sent to a far off country on the mission, but no one would help me.
I was inconsequential, collateral damage. I didn’t know how to feel love at home, and now not at church, because the bishop taught me that it is a secret! That it is OK—it’s just my life.
The only silver lining was that I could finally start over. Like I was re-baptized, and finally free of sin. How sad is it that we put so much blame, shame, and guilt on ourselves?
But (through baptism), I could create a new me! Now, I was free to start a new life!
But not so fast.
I entered Young Women. There were the lessons on chastity. “What were they talking about?” I asked myself. “Licked cupcakes? Being worthy to enter the temple (my brother and bishop entered the temple), and being worthy to have a returned missionary marry me?”
I once again felt unworthy. I never felt I was of “great worth” (a Young Women mantra)—that always felt like an empty statement to me!
I remember watching “The Love Boat” and wondering what “making love” meant. “Maybe on the next episode, I’ll find out,” I thought. “Because it sounds wonderful to be treated respectfully and romantically by a male, and feel loved.”
I really had no idea that the abuse that happened to me had been in any way, shape or form, something that should be wanted, sought out, desired or enjoyed. It instead was never something I wanted nor had any positive feelings about.
Well, I did survive! I did find a way to make lots of new friends amidst my continuing depression. I started playing the violin and doing some things that were an escape for me. Art was therapeutic. When my brother returned from his mission, he was interested in getting married, so that was a relief!
Later, the newly coined phrase of ”Return With Honor” would forever be a soiled, empty, fake phrase to me. I could see no honor for my brother or my bishop in what they did.
When I was 19, I had been dating my boyfriend for three years and planning on marrying him, when I was raped by a guy. This guy was a bodybuilder—very strong and much larger than me. Seeking counsel, I told my bishop. I felt guilty only because I couldn’t and didn’t fight back hard enough. I just froze because he was so big and strong. I felt small and weak again, like when I was a child.
I ended up in a bishop’s court!
Yes, I was once again a chewed piece of gum (another Young Women analogy). I guess the bishopric must have felt I wanted “the sex,” and that I must have felt guilty. When they asked if the guy had a weapon, and if that was why I didn’t fight harder, I realized that this is what they were thinking.
Only this time, I was older, and I knew it wasn’t something I wanted! So I lied, and said, “yes, he had a knife.” I realized in that same moment, I was on trial for “sin,” and once again, they weren’t there to help me, and be a support to me, call cops, or do anything responsible, as wise, adult males would do for their own daughter. They only said, “Well, we think you should tell your fiancé.”
Maybe they thought he wouldn’t want a licked cupcake or a piece of chewed gum.
But because my soon-to-be husband was emotionally abusive, he ended up using it to abuse me mentally, accusing me of “wanting the sex” just as the bishopric inferred. Again, it wouldn’t be shared with my parents, who I lived with, so I could feel support or get therapy.
I honestly didn’t know I could get therapy. I didn’t even know it was something that could be done. I was always interviewed for years about chastity and felt like if something happened that was sexual, I should talk to the bishop.
That’s just what you do.
Fast forward to when I was about 35. I had an experience that caused a major trigger, by my older brother. He had pinned my 14-year-old son down on the floor and yelled at him for telling my brothers’ younger son to stop bugging him.
“Who’s older; who is more mature?” my brother said to my son. I wasn’t there to see it happen, but when my son told me, I had a nervous breakdown. My older brother was saying to my son what I wanted to say to my brother for so many years, and it was all too hypocritical!
I finally told one of my siblings about the abuse because I was exploding inside! I was going to either kill myself or be admitted. I had always felt like it would do damage to my family if I did share my past. That my mother would feel tremendous guilt and shame.
After all, the bishop kept it a secret from them, so it was shameful thing to talk about, right?
I felt I needed to protect my family from this dirty secret that not even the bishop would share! It made me feel so alone. I often felt that it would be better if I just died! Then I would read church leaders’ remarks, including one saying it would be better that your child die than lose their chastity. I would think to myself, “I could end all of this pain that was so recurrent in my life! I could just be sealed on the other side (in heaven) to someone, because it had been decades, with no proposals, and no temple-worthy man would want me!
“Surely God found me not worthy,” I thought. I have tried to live worthily and do everything I could to find someone to be sealed to. But I was told that I couldn’t even be sealed to my two sons until I found a stranger to make my family eternal!
I saw a therapist for the first time. She said I needed to tell my family so that I could be supported. I was so lucky to be believed by my other siblings. I was also told that I should reach out to my brother to help me with my memory of things. She said because I was so young, getting answers might help me resolve things in my mind, and also give him a chance to apologize, and for both of us to heal our relationship.
I sent him an email with my questions, and he replied that he had blocked most of it out of his mind.
How convenient! He said that when his first child, a female, was born, he had vowed with God to never molest a child. He didn’t answer any questions or apologize. (He has served in many leadership positions. He was lately a Gospel Doctrine teacher and a first counselor in his bishopric.)
There are times when I feel angry about it, and I still cry and get emotional. I don’t think it’s something you get over; you just learn to deal with and manage it. Not to mention how people have hurt me along the way by not acknowledging how it has affected me. Just ignoring the fact, by expecting me to forgive and forget when he hasn’t even repented, when this has affected my whole life and a large part of my life is serving in the church. The church that showed me no support, but swept it under the rug!
I thank God that my bishop wasn’t a pedophile. Things could have gone down a really bad way! I still have a hard time going to church. I avoid bishop interviews, even if it’s routine.
There were many years in my adult life, where I worked in the primary either as a teacher or chorister, and the experience was a love/hate relationship for me. I loved the children; perhaps it made me feel that I got a part of the innocent childhood that was stolen from me. I gained a lot of joy from the children, but it would cause triggers! I would think about how many of these children were having a childhood that I never had!
But I was also thinking about how many of these innocent children of God were being abused. (A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, and Utah is the highest in the nation in child sex abuse rates.)
The seven-year-olds would soon be baptized. How many want to feel clean from abuse, “Clean as earth right after rain?”, as the Primary song says. When I would lead the children in songs like “I Love to See the Temple,” I would start bawling. I felt like I was never good enough and would never find someone to take me there. I was a chewed up piece of gum—on top of a licked cupcake!
I’m doing much better now. Luckily, my brother has always lived outside of Utah. So my interactions have been limited to no more than once a year, but his visits are always awkward and triggering for me. The complicit bishop died. I don’t ever have worry about running into him again and being triggered. While I was growing up, there were four pedophiles living on my street. Three of them were my abusers. (The other, I found out later, had abused all of his six kids yet never served jail time. The same goes for another abuser in our ward (congregation) who lived a few streets away.)
Thank you for giving me the platform to help the church’s First Presidency, bishops, Young Women Leaders and all leadership between to understand how policies need to change! I know there are some great bishops out there—I’ve had some stellar bishops. Things need to change across the board to make the church a fail-safe place for our children.
I want parents to be in full charge of their children’s sexual questioning! God gave parents stewardship! In case they have poor parenting, I want the church to only teach who children can talk to in case they don’t feel safe. All abuse (crime) should be reported to authorities! We can’t say as a church that there is a zero tolerance, yet not report every time, whether the law requires in that state, or not!
I know God loves me; I don’t understand why he didn’t save me when I offered prayers for so many years that I would be saved from my abusers.
I don’t understand why an inspired LDS church leader can ignore the needs of a child while protecting a criminal. I continue to feel that the church is on the side of the abuser. I don’t feel like an accepted member of the church because I am really never “clean” or “whole!” This thought is reiterated because as far as church records are concerned, leadership knows about my past.
I love the Lord Jesus Christ and all he stands for! I wish I felt that church leadership emulated his teachings, “suffer the little ones to come unto me.”
As scripture says, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” As the song says, “who’s on the Lord’s side, who?”
Originally posted on Protect LDS Children. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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