DEBORAH: The year my daughter was a high school senior, she fell in love with a sexual predator from a nearby ward and was raped by fraud. I use the term “sexual predator” because this is how priesthood leaders described him to me, knowing his sexual history as they did. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “raped by fraud,” it is applied to sexual activity which is consented to under false pretenses. Suffice it to say, my daughter fell in love with a bona fide liar, the kind of person who is every parent’s nightmare because he will do and say whatever it takes to achieve sexual conquest. This man-boy (then a college student) isn’t my subject today. Instead, I want to share how my daughter’s priesthood leaders treated her once her sexual conduct became known.
Initially, her treatment was about as one would expect. She discussed her situation with the bishop, who directed her to speak to me, which she promptly and tearfully did. My heart broke for her pain, but please understand, at this point, neither she nor I understood the young man’s deception. I’m not sure what our bishop told her because their conversation occurred in solitude and behind a closed door. However, I know what he told me later: the perpetrator had a long sexual history and had not been the virgin my daughter still believed him to have been before their encounter. He told me that the young man’s bishop and the Stake President had long been “working with him” and then used the term “sexual predator” for the first time. Admittedly, I think our bishop broke confidentiality by telling me this, as may have the boy’s bishop and/or the Stake President in sharing the information with him, but I’m grateful because it was done in order to impress upon my husband and me that the young man was not what he represented himself to be. At the time, I didn’t know the term “rape by fraud” (sometimes called “rape by deception”) or I would’ve been shouting it across his desk.
Instead of being treated as a victim, my daughter was treated solely as a sinner, even though the priesthood leader who set her on a repentance track understood clearly that she’d been deceived. Instead of getting her counseling for the emotional and spiritual trauma she had experienced, she was reprimanded, denied spiritual blessings, and barred from admittance to the church school of her choice.
On the one hand, I understand all this because, yes, she gave consent to conduct she knew would have repercussions in her Mormon world. But in the aftermath, when reality came crashing down, none of us—not her priesthood leaders, youth leaders, or her parents—were educated enough about rape by fraud to give her the professional support she needed. The training our leaders receive is woefully inadequate, coming as it does from other leaders who are not professionally qualified to give advice, much less provide counseling. At the very least, her repentance track should have been modified and crafted with great sensitivity.
In reality, her repentance experience was made harder because of her partner’s villainous behavior. I learned too late that my daughter had been required to re-confess the sexual encounter, in detail, multiple times, not only with her bishop, but also with the Stake President, a man who was a complete stranger to her. Our bishop later excused the Stake President, indicating he repeatedly interrogated my daughter in order to “get” the perpetrator. (Make of that what you will.) When I verified these extra confessionals with my daughter, she told me she thought I’d known about them all along, adding “I don’t understand what they want me to say. I’ve told them everything.” I was outraged at these men. You bet I went directly to our bishop.
At our meeting, the bishop admitted the Stake President had “visited” with my daughter several times. He seemed clueless my daughter had been needlessly humiliated and demeaned. I demanded an explanation and he offered what I’ve noted above.
“But you’re her ‘judge in Israel,'” I argued. “Not the Stake President! What’s the point?”
His response (and I quote): “The church believes in the principle of two-deep.” My jaw dropped. He said the visits with the Stake President were to provide him (the bishop) with back-up, a second witness so to speak.
All the swears in all creation cannot express this mother’s horror at that moment. I asked him how in the name of sweet Jesus the principle of two-deep applied. Two-deep is meant to protect the powerless, not those in power. Two-deep would’ve meant my daughter had an ally in the room, not that she had to confess in isolation to two different men, in two different locations, and on two (and more) separate occasions. You can bet all your money there wouldn’t have been any meetings with the Stake President if I’d been informed. My young and naive daughter had never been given any reason to believe that, at church, she had a voice that could say “Stop. I’m leaving. I’m not going to talk to you.” I had failed to teach her this, but I repented, making sure I told her she had that voice and that power of self-determination.
And she needed that newly found voice. Several months later, her sexual experience was once again brought up in a private meeting with the same bishop. But she didn’t sit for it. She stormed out of his office, and I drove her home, telling her how very proud of her I am. That may have been the last conversation she ever had with any bishop. It’s a wonder to me how she managed to stay active in the church for as long as she did. She tried. She really did. But she no longer identifies as a Mormon.
Every Sunday that I see the man who had been our bishop, he asks me, with such concern in his eyes, how my daughter is doing. It takes every sinew in my being not to slap him the moment her name falls from his lips.
Sisters Quorum exists to give voice to those who are not being heard and is seeking submissions. If you have a story to tell, please visit our submission page for guidelines.
Please like and follow Sisters Quorum on Facebook. You can find us by clicking here.