Interview with an LDS Survivor of Child Sex Abuse

TW: Child sex abuse

SISTERS QUORUM: On behalf of everyone at Sisters Quorum, let me begin by saying how much we appreciate you sharing what is a difficult, intensely personal story. SQ believes it’s vital that the experiences of LDS victims of sexual abuse be heard in an effort to improve the pastoral care within the LDS system and culture, as well as encourage accountability for perpetrators of crimes. Please know that we only want you to share what you feel safe sharing.

So let’s get started. In your own words, what is your story of sexual abuse?

Anonymous: My stepfather sexually abused my older sister and me for five years. My older sister ran away at age 13 and didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. She ended up going to live with my dad, and that’s when our stepfather started abusing me. I was six years old. My sister thought I was too young and he wouldn’t come after me, but he did. 

When I was about nine years old, I said something to my older sister along the lines of not liking it when my stepfather would “tickle my bum.” It set off red flags for her, and she told my father that she thought I was being sexually abused by my stepdad. My dad picked me up to go spend the weekend with him, and, instead of going to his house, we went to a police station where a social worker did a full interview to find out the details of what was happening. Social services pulled me out of my mother’s home and sent me to live with my dad. My younger sister, age 7, and my two older brothers remained in the home. Luckily, my younger sister escaped abuse.

SQ: What happened after you were removed from your mother’s home?

Anon: Charges were pressed against my stepfather, and we had to go to court to prosecute him. My mother didn’t believe me and took my stepfather’s side. Together, they went to the bishop and told him that I was lying. The bishop sided with my mother and stepfather because he couldn’t accept that a man who held high callings in the church would ever do such horrible things. 

SQ: May I ask what types of callings this stepfather had?

Anon: I’ll answer to the best of my ability, but I was young when this happened so there’s some things I’m unsure of. I know he held callings in the Elders Quorum presidency and was a Sunday School teacher during the time of the abuse, but I don’t have exact timelines on either. I know he did a lot with the Boy Scouts, but I couldn’t tell you times or years of service, and I know my stepfather was a temple worker at the time of his death. 

SQ: What else should we know about how this bishop handled your claim of abuse?

Anon: Because my mother and stepfather weren’t allowed to have any contact with me during this time, they paired up with the bishop who sent a letter to me, signed by all three of them, telling me that my Heavenly Father was disappointed in me for tearing my family apart and that I needed to repent and tell the truth.

SQ: How did that leave you feeling?

Anon: Abandoned. For years I was convinced that God hated me for “tearing apart my family” because of the letter from my mom. Side note: I was baptized shortly before everything came out and I wanted my dad to baptize/confirm me. My mom refused and said, if I didn’t allow my stepfather to do one of the ordinances, I’d be grounded, she called me selfish and inconsiderate. Can I have a do-over? Because to this day, I hate that my stepfather’s name will always be on my baptismal certificate.

SQ: That’s understandable. How did the trial turn out?

Anon: My stepfather was found guilty by the jury and served two years in jail. I’m unsure what his original sentence time was, but he got released early due to good behavior. My brother walked in one time during an instance of abuse, and he testified of what he’d seen. I guess my mom thought he was lying too. He was 12 at the time he testified, about 11 when he saw something, and his testimony was a big part of what helped put my stepfather in jail.

SQ: And what happened to you because of the trial? With whom did you live? 

Anon: My mother wanted me to come back home, but social services told her that wasn’t likely to happen as long as they were still married. (This was 35 years ago, and the mother always got custody.) My mom divorced him shortly after his release, when he was living in a halfway house, so after two years, I was allowed back in my mother’s home. It was really heartbreaking for all of my siblings and me to be separated. We did have some visitations during those two years apart, but it was scarce, and I missed my brothers and sister. 

Since my story had been in the local papers, my ward knew what had happened and why I had been gone for two years. Some of the girls in Primary teased me about kissing my stepfather. We ended up moving to get away from the stigma.

SQ: That must’ve felt awful. I notice you haven’t mentioned church discipline. Did your abuser face any ecclesiastical repercussions related to his crimes against you and your sister?

Anon: I’m unsure if he was ever brought to task by anyone in the LDS Church over the abuse. I think it was just hidden and forgotten for the most part. My younger sister (the only stepdaughter who escaped abuse) married and moved into a new ward. On her first Sunday, they were issuing new callings and guess who was in her ward and being called as a High Priest? My abuser, our former stepfather. He didn’t see her, and she went straight to the bishop after sacrament meeting and asked for her records to be transferred to a different ward. She told him why.

During the meeting, the bishop mentioned that there was nothing on his records about him having a sex offender past or serving jail time. (This was before the sex offender registry.) He had held callings with minors and no one knew. I have no idea if my sister’s bishop altered his records or not. We’ll probably never know, she didn’t speak to him again after that one meeting. 

It was always frustrating to me that I had lifetime repercussions from what he did, but he was just able to continue in life and the church like nothing had happened. He did remarry another woman, but I think she didn’t have minor children. 

Last I heard of my stepfather was his obituary where it talked about his impressive church record and the many years he faithfully served in a temple that was about an hour from my home. I kept imagining the horror I would have felt if I had ever gone through the veil in that temple and faced him standing there. 

SQ: Can you describe how the abuse and the aftermath has impacted you?

Anon: The effects of all of this have been far reaching. I entered high school and couldn’t stand to be touched. I stopped going into the chapel during sacrament because there was always a man standing there who would want to shake my hand. At my first youth dance, I left a poor boy in the middle of the floor and I ran out sobbing. I had a hard time trusting male figures and that extended to Heavenly Father.

At the time, I had a wonderful and kind bishop who I trusted because he was the father of one of my friends. He had noticed some things about me and brought me into his office to talk. He said he didn’t have the experience to help me but knew someone in the ward who might. 

A wonderful lady started writing me letters. I’ve kept them all. She told me that even though I didn’t trust men and that a relationship with my Heavenly Father was difficult, it was ok because I also had a Heavenly Mother who I could pray to. I did pray to Her all through high school and even after I was able to pray to Heavenly Father. I still pray to Her. Heavenly Mother  helped heal me so much and, if it wasn’t for Her, I would have left the church in my teens. In fact, my biggest testimony was centered around Her and the comfort, peace, and love I felt when I prayed to Her.

Now I feel like salt is being poured on the wound because I’m being told by church leaders that it’s wrong to pray to my Heavenly Mother even though I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It honestly feels like another way for the church to fail me.

SQ: You aren’t alone in that disappointment. What would you say to those who might suggest he has repented and you should forgive and stay quiet?

Anon: I do believe in repentance, but how could he have repented when he never admitted wrongdoing or apologized to anyone? I’m not worthy to go to the temple myself for the first time in 24 years. I’ve stopped paying tithing because I have a lot of anger over it being used to support lawyers in cases like the recent AP article focused on. I have so much anger that I’m considered “unworthy” to go to the temple, but this man never was. He was protected by my mother and by his church leaders and never faced any formal religious repercussions for his actions.

If I had stayed less quiet his church records might have included his history of abuse and subsequent jail time. I have always wondered if anyone else in his circle was ever abused because everything was kept quiet. These things need to see the light of day so the poison doesn’t spread. 

Forgiveness in these types of situations is a heavy and long process. There’s many times I have felt like I had 100% forgiven my abuser for what happened, but then something like the recent AP article will trigger old feelings and fears, and I’ll have to work on forgiveness again. I’m not sure if you ever completely heal from this type of trauma and I think the process of healing and forgiving are intertwined in a lifelong struggle. 

SQ: That’s got to be hard to live with. May I ask you what advice you have for other young people who are or have endured sex abuse? What would you tell bishops? How would you like the Church to improve regarding how it handles sex abuse cases? 

Anon: Make sure your voice is heard. If the adults in your circle don’t believe you, tell someone else, a teacher, a doctor, a neighbor. Also, no matter what anyone tells you and no matter what the repercussions of telling are, this was not your fault. If families are separated and people are angry or sad, it’s all the fault of the person who was the abuser. You did the right thing and you’re brave. Your Heavenly Parents love you and would be proud of you for standing up against darkness. 

Also, get therapy. I’m in the process of getting therapy now, but it’s much more complicated when there’s 30+ years of baggage left by abuse. Being a childhood abuse survivor changes your neural pathways, and you’ll benefit from skilled and professional help to heal and thrive. 

For bishops? It doesn’t matter how “righteous” someone is, how well they know the scriptures, how powerful their testimony, how charismatic they may seem… We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and a person can never be judged by their public persona. As a bishop, you don’t have the skills and training necessary to “fix” this type of situation for either the abuser or the abused. Refer the case to outside sources. Put more effort into protecting children than redeeming abusers. 

I think the church should institute mandatory reporting for all abuse cases. Also, I think those that work with the youth should have background checks done. Let’s allocate more funds for helping abuse survivors, like providing a means for therapy, than for lawyers to protect the church’s name and leaders. 

SQ: Once again, thank you for sharing your story.

~ ~

Sisters Quorum welcomes your stories, and, when requested, will provide anonymity. Feel free to leave a comment or see our Submissions page to send in your story.

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