Sex Abuse, the LDS church, and Utah

The month of April is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month .

To say I think about child abuse on the daily wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Currently I am a social worker working on the macro level to prevent and educate against pediatric abusive head trauma. I also volunteer several hours a month as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) with foster children in my community.

As part of my ongoing continuing education as a CASA, I recently attended an in-service training at a local Children’s Justice Center. The CJC is a center were law enforcement officers interview children who have been abused in a safe environment. They use a multidisciplinary team approach to address individual cases in the most effective way possible.

I was at this training the day after the Elder Joseph Bishop scandal broke and rocked the LDS community. At least for those of us who believe victims. I don’t want to get into the specifics of this individual case, only because it’s been written about many times over and I don’t feel entitled to retell Jane Doe’s story without her consent (unlike Mormonleaks).

Every time I learn a new statistic about child abuse, I am shocked to the core. Which is pretty ironic considering I spend more than 40 hours a week immersed elbow-deep in horrific child abuse cases. During the CJC training, we learned that according to Prevent Child Abuse – Utah, nationally 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 and that Utah’s child sex abuse rate is 3 times the national average.

Yes, you read that correctly. Utah has the highest incidences reported of sexual abuse of children per capita than any other state in the United States.

sexual abuse

So, I am not shocked by this Joseph Bishop story at all. Sexual abuse, assault, and rape is an epidemic in Utah. This state claims an LDS church membership of about 60%. That means the majority of the citizens of Utah identify as LDS, so it’s not a hard extrapolation to assume that majority of children sexually abused in this state and the majority of their perpetrators are LDS.

I could probably write a dissertation in which I analyze how our repressive sexual culture leads to sexual abuse, but I’m sure someone has already done it and done a better job.

But I will say, as still a member of record, I am disgusted that the LDS church claims on one hand to have “zero tolerance for abuse” and that they have the “gold standard for protecting against abuse” when for the last decade and a half I’ve been involved in the Mormon feminist movement I have read over 1,000 stories from (mostly) women about how they were abused either as children or adults and were not believed by their priesthood leader, or were abused BY their priesthood leader.

I hate to tell anyone’s story that’s not mine, but I feel like since this story was shared in public and there is no pending litigation regarding it, I’m going to share it here now.

In January 2007 I started my internship as an Adoption/Birth Parent caseworker at LDS Family Services in Ogden, Utah. As part of my internship my supervisor asked me to attend the Adoption Educations classes we were, by law, required to give to our potential adoptive couples. I enjoyed these classes immensely. On the 3rd or 4th week, the teachers of the class organized a birth parent panel, where 4 different young women shared their stories of relinquishing their baby for adoption.

One story especially stuck out to me and still sickens me to the core 11 years after hearing it. When Jane* was a 17-year-old Laurels President in her ward a returned missionary asked her on a date. Jane didn’t want to go, but felt obligated because LDS girls are conditioned never to say “no” to a priesthood holder. On that date, John* raped her. As any good LDS girl has been taught to do, she immediately went to her Bishop and recounted her story hoping that Joe would be punished. Instead the Bishop called her to repentance for being a liar and told her that a returned missionary would never RAPE someone and she must have seduced him. She was not allowed to take the Sacrament for several weeks. In that time she found out she was pregnant and went back to the Bishop. The Bishop parroted to her what it says in the Handbook, which is when an unwed pregnancy occurs every effort should be made for the couple to be married. So, essentially this Bishop encouraged Jane to marry her rapist. She and her parents were outraged and went to their Stake President. The Stake President backed up the Bishop and encouraged Jane and her parents to obey their priesthood leaders or else face eternal consequences.

At the behest of every adult Jane had been taught to trust her entire life, she married the 21-year-old man who raped her. When she was close to delivering her baby, her new rapist husband left her. I guess being a family man isn’t as much fun as raping underage girls. The stress of the situation put her into labor and she ended up delivering her baby. In the hospital she decided, because she had no visible means of support, to relinquish her child for adoption.

I sat there on that cold January night listening to Jane’s story with my jaw agape with total horror in my heart. I went to my supervisor with a total “wtf” look on my face and asked what do we do when as clinicians bishops give our clients completely wrong advice. Not just wrong advice, but damaging, abusive, gaslighting, spiritual detrimental, commands from a place of ecclesiastical authority? He told me he usually calls them and talks to them one-on-one. In my 6 1/2 years at LDS Family Services I talked with many Bishops and more than a few discounted any direction or training I tried to give them because I’m a woman and don’t hold the priesthood.

I actually ran into Jane just last year. We talked about how she is doing 12 years after relinquishing her child and how she’s dealt with the PTSD from both that and the rape. She’s doing well, but not as well as she could be if at any point in her life SHE WAS BELIEVED.

And this is just one in a thousand stories where a victim was not believed by their trusted ecclesiastical leader that I have heard in the last decade. I’ve heard so many that I’m not shocked anymore. I’m not shocked anymore by the patriarchy that covers up abuse and promotes predators within it’s priesthood ranks. I’m not shocked, but I feel so malignantly betrayed. I could tell you several more from people I know personally, but since they were not told in public, but just to me privately, I will not repeat them. But let’s just say, men can be victims of predatory priesthood leaders too.

Recently I had a Facebook friend post a #humblebrag about the “awesome” Bishop in her ward who requires the Young Men (ages 12-17) in his ward to text him every time they masturbate.

Excuse me, what?

IN WHAT OTHER CONTEXT WOULD IT BE OKAY FOR AN ADULT MAN TO ASK YOUR TEENAGE SON TO TEXT HIM EVERY TIME HE MASTURBATED?!

Let me tell you right now, I have a 14-year-old son. If he had a Bishop who required him to text him every time he masturbated, right after I got through throat punching this man, I WOULD CALL THE POLICE. I would report him to child protective services for sexting with underage teenage boys.

THIS IS NOT OKAY THIS IS NOT NORMAL THIS IS NOT OKAY THIS IS NOT NORMAL

I get it my fellow LDS peeps — we’ve been indoctrinated and told that it is perfectly normal for our Bishops to interview us about our worthiness, and part of that is if we are chaste. I’m here to tell you, it is never okay for an adult man to sit alone in a room with a CHILD and ask them about their sexual practices. What if that were their coach? What if that were their teacher? What if that was Bob from down the street (who is basically your Bishop – a random, every day Bob assigned to be your spiritual leader for 5 year)? In those instances you would be horrified and you should be horrified now.

I don’t know what the answers are. I know that sunlight is the best antiseptic and we need to expose the rampant child sex abuse and also sexual assault and rapes that happen to LDS people if we ever want to clean it up. For those of you who want me to just shut up about this I will tell you one thing – you are only as sick as your secrets (the church being the “you” in this scenario) and I refuse to be sick with anyone. And I will never shut up when a child needs protecting.

The last two weeks I have sat and reflected about Joseph Bishop and the coverup of him being a sexual predator by the LDS church and all the other stories I know, and the stories I don’t know, and am so glad that four years ago I made the decision to never to return as a practicing, believing member of the LDS church. And I’m debating about whether I will stay as a member of record lest I be complicit in this tolerance and acceptance of abuse. I can tell you that none of my children will ever have the experience of being sexually abused or assaulted and will go to a Bishop to be blamed, shamed, and not believed. THAT will never happen, and I’m so eternally grateful for that.

My dear LDS friends, you can no longer point fingers at Catholic Priests,

You can no longer point fingers at the FLDS,

You can no longer point fingers at the archaic notion of a rapist in the bushes,

You can no longer point fingers at any group as the one with the problem of sexual abuse in their ranks.

The LDS church is also the problem.

And it should end now.

It will end when you rise up and demand that your leaders act like the Men of God you believe they were called to be.

To report child abuse in the state of Utah please call 855-323-3237

To report child abuse in the United States please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

*Names changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

 

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