Before I share the details of my experience, I would like to note the primary thoughts and comments made to me that led me to believe that my experience was “all in my head” or somehow my fault. I do this that you might understand or reflect on your own interactions a bit more clearly and see just how perfect an environment the Church has created for people to be victimized.
Bishops and LDS Family Services therapists do not have medical training. By aiming to “heal” or “treat” or “counsel” on sexual topics without having a full medical background on a client, they are set up to do far more damage than good.
1. “You were old enough (then 23F), to know you could have had asked someone else in with you”/”You were old enough to know that the experience was not correct”
–> Rebuttal: “Old enough” does not equate realizing when you are being groomed.
2. “Cleanliness/Worthiness” as a counterfeit issue making abuse possible:
When you are visiting a bishop because of a perceived sin, you are already operating under the belief that you are no longer worthy to have the Spirit guide you, and even perhaps that you did something so wrong that Satan has a foothold in your mind. You are going to the Bishop because you trust him to be able to hear the Spirit for you when you are told you are not able to.
3. I have heard two completely opposing versions of this:
A: “If you had studied the scriptures/doctrine enough, you would have known that you didn’t need to confess that stuff to a bishop, you were being scrupulous”
B: “If you had actually understood the Bishop’s method and prayed enough, you wouldn’t have had to go back so often”.
4. When I asked if I could speak to a woman, I was denied.
5. When I went to LDS Family services for anxiety directly stemming from my time with the bishop I was under the impression that I could not discuss “the sexual things” with them, as that was a sin and not a “mental problem”, so it had to stay between me and the Bishop. The therapist was confused as to why I was there.
6. Later on after I had moved, I called that therapist to ask for resources because I was beginning to realize that the Bishop had really messed me up in terms of making me incredibly ashamed about my body and sex. I was told in hushed tones over the phone: “I’m not really supposed to share this, but we are aware of his problems and you need to be more compassionate, he’s struggling”. WHAT.
7. The bishop got promoted to Stake Pres. I was told by a loved one that it was up to me to report it if I wanted anything done, but who was I supposed to report it to? He never touched me so it wasn’t enough for police as far as I knew. Who do you report to beyond a stake president, and why is it up to the victim to do so?
8. “Stop rehearsing it! You’re only embedding it in your memory and not letting yourself move on because you can’t let it go!!”
9. “He never physically touched you”
A few years prior to the Church officially telling leaders to stop asking invasive questions related to the law of chastity, I had returned home from overseas to prepare to serve a mission.
My boyfriend back in Europe also went to his bishop to start the paperwork for his mission, and the experiences that followed could not have been more different.
Boyfriend: a single interview, shared that we had done some pretty heavy making out (probably NCMO by BYU standards), no sex, but was pretty hot and heavy by church standards. Bishop didn’t ask anymore and way he went to the temple and to the MTC.
Me, (again, 23 Female): Went to meet with my bishop in America. Everything was great for that interview, until we reached the LoC. I explained that we had been fooling around, but had obviously brought things to a stop to serve our mission. Said boyfriend had also proposed and we planned to serve and then get married (we weren’t young anymore by church standards either, and had finished school so it was a pretty solid plan that we did end up carrying out).
Despite the Atlantic Ocean between me and my fiance (the bishop used the term “quasi-fiance” as if my acceptance of the proposal of a grown man was invalid), the bishop decided we needed to immediately begin speaking about what my boyfriend and I did.
I can’t remember a lot, I really don’t want to, as much as it might help some folks, I just can’t find the energy to tap into re-live some of this stuff in my brain, and I’ve been told plenty that I’ve “discussed it more than enough and need to let it go”.
Essentially, the bishop determined that not only did I need to confess to the things I did with my fiance, (and no, he did not let me have my mom in the room with me), he used his hands to mimic at least one part I can remember, asking how my fiances hands cradled my rear end while making out. I just.. I still can’t figure out why he asked that.
I also want to note that I still can’t bring myself to claim this bishop was a pervert and I still blame the system or lack of training he was operating under. He was a businessman with no business asking about my business.
Every single week for more than six months, I had to return to his office while my mom waited in the hall, occasionally because I remembered another transgression at some point (which could have been his scrupulosity building scrupulosity in me especially since he told me to return to him if I remembered anything so I could feel clean again), and because I felt shame at every new sexual thought.
He made me read The Miracle of Forgiveness “over and over again until you feel clean”. But, as long as those thoughts return, that’s how you know the Spirit isn’t with you.
I annotated that horrific book too. He sat down next to me in that office to explain that by masturbating and having sexual thoughts, I was “on the road to becoming as one of the sons of perdition”.
As my depression increased with each of these interviews, my doctor (non LDS) was increasing my dose of Wellbutrin. An incredible medication, that, but I was never informed that a well-known side effect of Wellbutrin is on the libido, and as my sexual thoughts increased (to maybe like a few a week? And I was ashamed at each one), I would have to go see the Bishop more.
Yes, he wanted details of dreams, details of fantasies. I don’t remember his reactions mostly, because I couldn’t make eye contact and a was often crying.
If I had been scrupulous (regardless of the cause), why didn’t he know to stop me then? Because of his own fears of not succeeding with helping me “stop the thoughts”he thought he was failing me I guess.
The night before I was to enter the MTC with all the other folks going to the same country, I was so broken and still felt so unclean and unworthy of the Spirit that I asked for MORE of his help, and he willingly pushed my date back for more appointments with him.
After a few more months of this absolute hell, and being so suicidal I almost didn’t make it, I finally got to the point where I couldn’t push it out any longer (was no one signaled at any point that a missionary in this much duress should NOT be going?!), I begged for his help so I could go.
With a tone of complete compassion he said, “If I let you go, you must promise me that if you ever run into these thoughts again or problems with masturbation, you will go immediately to a priesthood leader to confess.”
While in the MTC, I began having horrific nightmares, where I was sitting up straight and seeing people all around me and talking. My companion was freaked out. My district president arranged to have FIVE elders give me a blessing, and I was told that I had “a male personage of relation to me who was watching me throughout my mission and very concerned about my success”. WHAT.
I figured the nightmares were coming from guilt because I’d continued to have sexual thoughts. So, dutifully, I went to the wizened Asian man who was my leader and explained I having sexual thoughts from time to time and could I get a blessing to stop them?
The man, who I had never had a conversation with, broke down SOBBING. He was so heartbroken that I had been overcome by satan, gave me a blessing, and then asked for details. “In the shower? Could other girls hear you? What were you thinking about? Did you sit down on the shower floor?”…
I thought painting a picture by this point was required to get it completely exorcised from my soul and I.did.not.question.it.
He sent me to the clinic at the MTC where I was prescribed a giant bottle of high-dose anti-seizure medication with an off-label use for nightmares. Of course, they did nothing, but I packed my pills with me and went out to the field.
I LOVED my mission, but just six weeks into it, I was a walking zombie from the nightmares, and felt like death. I went to my mission president, a VERY peppy man from Utah who gave me a long talk about how I would “always be an eternal daughter to him”. By this point, I couldn’t get past the shame to bring myself to confess to yet one more middle aged man. I shared that I’d been treated in the MTC for nightmares and could I get a blessing? Before the blessing, he spent a lot of time outlining to me a certain way to pray, that he and his wife used. I was to spend time each night praying for specific relatives to come and stand around my bed, making sure I requested enough relatives by name so there were no gaps around the bed, and pray for them to watch over me all night to not let Satan in to enter my dreams. So his solution was predicated on a knowledge of my dead ancestors and their sizes? Interestingly enough, this kind of hypervisualisation-using-the-spirit to “block” Satan exercise is very similar to stuff I had read in a book by Chad Daybell (YIKES).
After a second meeting, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I asked to go home.
I felt like such a failure.
If I had just been faithful enough to confess, I could have stayed. For years after, even after marriage, I would wake up crying and wishing I could go back and finish my mission. I was so broken. It took a non-Mormon therapist to help me feel like it was actually my choice whether I went back or not, to give me the OK to not return to the mission.
Later, when I went to go get my interview to be married to my “quasi-fiance”, who else was then the stake president doing the interview but BISHOP. It had been three years since our interviews. I cannot account for the quickness to which it came to his mind after three years, “Do you still struggle with your previous problem?”as if he was so eager to help me once again. “No”, I lied. For a while I legitimately worried that the single lie undermined the validity of my temple marriage.
When I called that initial therapist at LDS Family Therapists for a referral for help in my new area, in addition to probably violating HIPAA by revealing BISHOP was under their care, she said, “You know, I’m not a doctor, but you should probably go get checked out for OCD about sexual thoughts, it sounds like you have it”. I was floored. I went to a psychiatrist who literally rolled her eyes and laughed and said, “Oh yeah, the Mormons love to diagnose sex addiction and OCD and not acknowledge normal sexual thoughts”.
That bishop made me hate my body.
Made me ashamed, made me SHUT down any sexual feeling within myself so that when it came time to actually love, I couldn’t. He made me believe Satan was hunting me down and using sexual drives to lead me to hell. He made me tell him things about my sexual urges I had never told a boyfriend or my doctor. He made me want to die. I have never screamed so loud in my life as I did in the parked car in the garage at my mom’s house. I almost ended it there. I almost ended it so many places because I suddenly went from on track for a mission and not even knowing my own genital anatomy (thanks to a certain state’s abstinence-only education and overwhelmed parents pushing sexual education onto a bishop).
Oh yeah, that last part. I was told recently by a member, “How could you now know about masturbation and then ‘accidentally’ discover it?” – EEk, he would never use that word, and I cringe remembering how he would only refer to it as “self stimulation”. Yeah, I shamed by someone because I had been SO letter to the law, and never even looked at my genitals (raised in the purity culture of the bible belt), and was told by my parents never to look or touch, which unfortunately led to health issues for me and my siblings growing up, as we weren’t even taught how to properly wash. That’s how Satan gets you, if you know your body.
I never got the jokes friends were making because I’d never seen a grown man naked till my wedding night. Not in pictures, not in anything. I had a bachelor’s degree, but other than a medical diagram, had no idea (as a vast majority of women in the world still don’t) what it all meant.
That lack of education (and my mother was in the sciences) or being so outnumbered by a large volume of children that you shift that off to the Church, is a major factor that set me up for what happened.
I felt guilty for so long for not reporting him, because I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did, but at the same time, he had a wife and kids, he never touched me, and shouldn’t I be sympathetic? He had anxiety too…he was working with a broken system, and what about the district president in the MTC?
Surely it must be the holy way if two unconnected men had the same reaction. Why did my mission president who promised he would never forget “his eternal daughter” never once reach out to me after I went home? Never invite me to one of the mission reunions? I spent six weeks teaching in the hardest language in the country and in that six weeks brought in fifteen times more investigators than anyone else in the mission. I never heard from him again either.
And what do you do when it is your faithful spouse who cannot believe that this happened to you because there is no way in hell it would ever happen like that in his country? In his version of the church? In a country where members can wear bikinis?
This is the story of “I was never touched”. This is the story of sobbing on the floor and asking my husband, “Would it have been better had he actually touched me so something could have been done? So my pain would have been valid?” and being told “No, that would have been so much worse”and knowing he was right.
Till now, I’ve not met anyone who has a story like mine, and I’ve felt so alone for years. In so many ways I HOPE I am alone, so no others have to suffer, but I also know that I am not. It’s like living on a planet with people all around but they are all invisible to each other. That’s why this website is so important. Making the sickness in the Church visible so it can be shamed, and letting us who were shamed into invisibility shine the light we almost had snuffed out.