I will never be protected. I will never be loved. I am worthless. I’m so worthless that even my parents rage and push against righting unspeakable wrongs done to me. These thoughts rushed through my brain at a frenzied pace, as anger and deep betrayal and hurt filled my limbs and chest with a burning heat. Only 19 and not worth the fight.
“Who does she think she is,” my father yelled at me, his anger marking his face a deep crimson. “How dare she!”
Confusion scattered my brain and I wanted to scream out for someone to love me. I am flesh of their flesh. They made me and knew me since I made my mother’s womb my home. They knew my yelping newborn cries, held my tiny toddler hand when I stood in need of comfort, and watched my body grow from a fragile 6 pounds to my womanly shape. If these people wouldn’t love me, wouldn’t fight for me, who would?
I had been to see a therapist that night. I moved back to California since I found myself filled with deep anxiety at college. My body manifested my internal wounds in odd ways. My latest illness had filled my eyes with painful ulcers that didn’t heal for a month. The pain of abuse that I stuffed away as a child suddenly turned to poison in my body. My dad arranged for me to see a therapist upon my return to my home state. Hoping for a quick and tidy healing to occur, he raged when he heard the turn of events my first visit to this therapist had taken. My therapist was going to report my abuse to the state.
“Dad, she’s supposed to report the abuse! It’s the law! Don’t you get it,” I pleaded as my warbled brain tried to grasp a hold of his sudden fury.
“I’m going to call her! How dare she,” he repeated.
I grabbed onto his tense forearm as he paced the room, his eyes searching for something. “No! Dad, you can’t!” My mother wandered in and out of the room, not wanting to get involved. Pretending all was normal, she did her nightly chores, like a nervous humming bird hovering around the house. "Dad! What are you looking for, " I screamed as he paced.
“Her phone number. She will not get away with this! Who does she think she is?”
All hope of healing and self-discovery washed away and my body suddenly became weak and my heart heavy. I would not be going back to a therapist. My father would humor my need for psychological help no longer. “Dad! She has to call the police! If she doesn’t she is breaking the law!”
“There is a higher law! God’s law is more important than the state of California!” He was now pacing the house like a caged and enraged animal, searching for something. His brain worked overtime to find a way to regain his control over the situation. This was his family and he would be the one in control. He would be the master to all of us puppets.
“What about what Joseph Smith said? What about the Articles of Faith? He said we obey the laws of the land! He said we abide the laws of our country!”
He shook his head, his anger now kindled against me. “Your brother-in-law has gone to his bishop! He has had a church court! He has repented. That’s all that matters. Now we need to stop all this revenge. It is time to get over it and get back to normal!”
A primal need for love and protection grew to a deep and sharp pain in my belly and I felt a voice I did not recognize as my own, rise from my throat as I screamed loudly like a wounded and dying thing. My body shivered steadily as the realization came quickly to my mind that I am all alone. My church doesn’t care that he abused me. My family doesn’t care. They all want to forget about it.
My father’s head shot up as my scream deafened the room and looked at me as if I were mental patient, much in need of a padded room and straitjacket. My mother hurried into the room. She is a woman who doesn't care for strong emotion, especially if it is the sort of emotion that kills all sense of peace, and my savage and primitive display of hurt was rejected in her ears. Her look of shock wounded me even more. I was a crazy person to them. I knew it then and I know it still.
My father uttered not a word. He ushered me from the room and locked the door. That’s when I heard him on the phone. That’s when I heard him yell at the woman who wanted to report my seven savage years of horrifying sexual abuse. Feeling all sensation leave my body, I leaned against the hallway wall for support and slid down until I was sitting on the floor. With my knees pointed up, I wrapped my arms around them, bowed my head in the circle of my arms and legs and cried great sobs as the tears fell on my own flesh. No one to comfort me. No one to care. I cried out to God for someone to love me.
Like animals in the wild, I felt as if I was the young who’d been rejected because some unfixable defect was sensed or I’d been handled by human hands too much. While in the depths of my abuse, I was not protected because no one knew. But my greatest fear had been realized…now they knew, but still refused to protect me.
Though that night of anger and confrontation with my father was so long ago, it left a deep and abiding wound. For all of my young life, I was a child who always felt unlovable, but secretly hoped I was wrong. But that night was when I knew, my family would never love me enough. On my soul there will forever be a scar.
My whole life was a series of betrayals. First my brother-in-law betrayed my child-like trust and destroyed my innocence. Then my church betrayed me by giving my abuser a mere token punishment, a mere slap on the wrist. They embraced him with full fellowship, while my plight was ignored. Then the final blow came when my family betrayed the trust given to them by God to protect me and nurture me.
Where does this all come from? Why would seemingly normal people reject a victim in favor of bypassing punishment for the perpetrator? Why would normally good people deny the course of justice? Why would they deny the perpetrator the consequences he is supposed to deal with? If a man kills another and then repents, he must still deal with and pay for the crime he committed. He cannot repent and bypass prison. His victim remains dead, though he has repented. Repentence is not a get out of jail free card. Then why in sexual abuse do we want to sweep everything under the rug and allow an abuser a life without consequences? I believe the answer is because sexual abuse is so uncomfortable for a religious people to think about that they'd rather pretend the person has fully repented, repressed all sexual desire for children, and is now better than to actually have to think about the disturbing details of the abuse. And if you are a victim wanting to speak out, then watch out! No one wants to hear it. It is disgusting.
If a person went in to see their bishop to confess that they are suffering from alcoholism, would we expect that all they needed to do was confess their sin and repent and everything would be better? I can't imagine one Mormon, or other religious person, would honestly think that is the best course of action with an alcoholic. We all know that person would need professional help, not just ecclesiastical help. We all know that confession, no matter how sincere, is not enough to wipe out the desire for alcohol. And yet we expect it to work differently for a pedophile? I am certain pedophilia is a deeper and far more insidious addiction than alcoholism.
And let's say that same alcoholic that came in to confess to their bishop was also guilty of drunk driving and killing or gravely injuring another. Who would say that a drunk driver, who killed or maimed another while driving under the influence, shouldn't be accountable to the law? No one! And yet....the supposedly repentant pedophile who murdered a child's spirit and caused bodily harm to an innocent does not need to answer to the law?
Even people called to serve in leadership roles in my church are guilty of this. I have seen it first-hand in my own case. Our church leaders are not trained professionals in dealing with abuse. They are regular, everyday people with the same unease and embarrassment about sexual molestation as everyone else. It is time to change this! It is time that sexual abuse is no longer taboo. It is time for the shame to be brushed away from the victims and it is time for us to make the perpetrators face up to the crimes that they've committed. It is time that our leaders and families become more enlightened.
You need only look at what happened with the Catholic church to know that we cannot allow our discomfort with sexual matters rule how abuse is treated. The priests in the Catholic church would also confess their sins. They would express their guilt and repentance. Did this stop the abuse from spreading? I think we all know the answer to this. They were transferred to new areas, with promises that they'd change, only to have other unsuspecting boys and girls put into their care with disastrous results. Mormons aren't different or special when it comes to this, though I think a lot of us think we are. A repentant pedophile of any religion is likely to strike again without the proper help and punishment. Confessing your sin to God and to your ecclesiastical leader is good, but it is nowhere near enough.
By making this subject less taboo, we are protecting our kids. Shame, embarrassment, and sweeping things under the rug is exactly the dark cover and protection that abuse needs to grow, spread, and destroy. I know there are thousands of adults like me, who grew up in religious families, who were sexually abused and then were made to feel they were wrong or evil for wanting the crime reported or desiring justice. There are thousands of you out there who have suffered, feeling all alone and unloved because your families and your churches wouldn't stand up for you. And my heart aches for all of you because I know the agony and confusion and guilt that fills your spirit.
I believe that victims of sexual abuse need to share their stories, without bashfulness or humiliation. When we let our shame silence us, our perpetrators win. I also believe that everyone else needs to get over our puritanical shame over sexual matters, so we can stand up for the victims and show them they are not forgotten, not alone, and not unloved. Every one of us is worth the fight!
“Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6.