From the July Ensign

This month’s Ensign contains an article written by the parents of a young woman who was date-raped by an LDS young man (“A Hole in Her Soul” July 2006, pp. 16 – 19). Rape not an easy topic to discuss — I don’t think I ever had a lesson or talk about it when I was a teenager — but this article is worth applauding for several reasons.

1. By addressing date rape, it stabs at the myth that rape is a crime largely committed by strangers.

2. The perpetrator was “a Church member” who “introduced her to his family and even took her to meet his grandparents. He was tall, smart and charming.” She was 16. They were going on a group date. In other words, she was doing everything “right” and was still the victim of a violent attack. Of course, had she been 15 and sneaking out alone with a boy, it would be an equal tragedy. However, I think there is sometimes a naiveté in our youth that if they follow the rules – that if they date “nice” boys — they’ll be safe from harm. I certainly felt that way: standard teenage invincibility garnished with divine promises.

3. In a culture that prizes chastity, this young woman hid what happened for a few months because of feelings of shame: “that she was not a virgin – that she felt dirty – that she no longer felt worthy of Heavenly Father’s love.” The authors try to knock over these theological myths that can feel like emotional truths — and their daughter (luckily) had people she could talk to who would believe her and support her.

4. The authors note that the police got involved, thus emphasizing that date rape is a crime, even if, in this case, it couldn’t be prosecuted because of evidence issues. The side-bar bullets reinforces this: “If you have been assaulted, immediately seek help from the police or a hospital. Call your parents, and seek spiritual help from priesthood leaders and professional help from counselors.”

5. The article made distinctions between the support provided by the bishop and the help provided by professional counselors. There was no quick fix. No “forgive and move on.” No “Why aren’t you over it yet?” The parents describe years of professional therapy — years of pain — on the path toward healing. They note the signs of emotional trauma and describe their daughter’s substance abuse and emotional changes in the context of her larger pain. They write, “It was crucial that her father and I let go of former hopes and expectations so that we could accept the new person she needed to evolve into. We knew her reinvention needed guidance of loving parents.” Wow. A moving reminder to parents and leaders to love past the “bad choices” to examine the emotional roots of shifting behavior patterns.

The ending felt a bit truncated (met a returned missionary, learned to trust again, hole filled), but I guess it leaves room for a subsequent article on how sexual abuse/assault can affect trust and sexuality in a marriage. Also, I hope a version of this article appears in the New Era.

What do the rest of you think? How are we talking about this issue with our daughters and ourselves?

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Serenity Valley says:

    Honestly, I’ve never seen or heard anything dealing with this in a specifically LDS context before. It’s wonderful that the authors realized a need existed for the article.

  2. stacer says:

    The only thing about that quick “happy ending” is that sometimes we don’t get the happy ending. Sometimes we’re considered damaged goods no matter what we do to overcome a past inflicted on us, which we didn’t necessarily choose for ourselves. I think addressing that issue somehow might have also helped some people who think of people who go through such trials in a different light.

    However, it sounds like this article was a good start. I haven’t read my July Ensign yet–I think I threw it in the house with the rest of the mail before rushing out the door for vacation, and haven’t gone looking for it. I’ll have to look it up.

  3. JKS says:

    I also thought the article was significant. The fact that she didn’t just “get over it” and this tragedy causes years of pain and problems was realistic and hopefully helpful to those women who might someday be victims or parents of victims.
    As for the end, perhaps it would be the daughter’s story to tell regarding her marriage. Not something that her parents could really go into. Or perhaps it is so recent there isn’t much to say.
    But I was glad it was there because it showed by example that there was a young man who loved her. I think that part of this girls shame was that she thought she was no longer “pure” and therefore unworthy of the love of a good man.
    So for those struggling with the aftermath of rape, realizing that temple marriage is still possible is maybe a helpful point for them. That the rape doesn’t have to rob them of everything, even though for a while it seems like it does?

  4. Angela says:

    My daughter is only three, so I still have some time to figure out exactly how to approach this subject with her.

    I do have three younger brothers that are, or quickly approaching, dating age. I think it is just as important for young men to read this story. I try to impress upon them the importance of who someone is (a truly good person) versus simply what someone is (as in “it’s ok, their LDS”) while dating.

    Thankfully, that young woman was blessed with loving and accepting parents, even when she was making choices that they didn’t necesarily agree with. And that they realized that she had to change, as this was a life altering event. They are an inspiration….both the parents and the daughter. I truly appreciated this article.

  5. Deborah says:

    Stacer: You raise an important point. Like JKS, I wondered if this was the end of the *parents* chapter of the story, but there is certainly room now for further articles. And I think there really is a need. I came across this article,from the Deseret News that noted that an estimated 90% of rapes in Provo, Utah go unreported. “[BYU police officer] Lemmon said most Provo residents are religious and have a tendency to stigmatize discussion of sexual assault and sometimes to demonize the survivor.” Food for thought.

  6. D-Train says:

    Anything that refutes the notion that rape, whether date rape or not, is EVER the victim’s fault is a positive step.

  7. Vicki says:

    I read it a while ago and was really impressed. I liked the part describing how family members who didn’t know what had happened were still accepting and loving towards her. I know many church members who use the phrase “went off the deep end” and I really dislike it. This article made me think that perhaps when people “go off the deep end,” i.e. make choices that appear (or are) incorrect in LDS culture, that they may have had something tragic and private happen in their life and we shouldn’t judge.

  8. Vicki says:

    Oh–forgot to add that I’m happy to see a post on this, I’ve been wanting to discuss it with someone.

  9. Deborah says:

    D-Train: Amen.

    Vicki: Thanks for chiming in — that was going to be point #6, but my post was getting too long. Aside from its treatment of the primare topic, I thought this article was powerful example of the necessity of extending love towards others, even when our instinct is to judge. Imagine if this young woman had been subjected to lectures, shaming, or shunning because some of her choices didn’t fit the mold — or if she felt additional guilt for disappointing her parents. I keep returning to the lines, “It was crucial that her father and I let go of former hopes and expectations so that we could accept the new person she needed to evolve into. We knew her reinvention needed guidance of loving parents.” *That* is wisdom.

  10. AmyB says:

    I’ll have to read that article. It sounds like a good treatment of a very tough issue.

    Angela said: “My daughter is only three, so I still have some time to figure out exactly how to approach this subject with her.”

    Let me take this opporunity to plug a book that I think every single person who has or loves children should read:

    Identifying Child Molesters: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
    by Carla can Dam.

    I realize it’s a tangent from rape, but small children are defenseless and it’s up to us to protect them. Abusers are almost never strangers and have recognizable patterns of behavior. I think a three-year-old should be told who can touch them or not, and should know the names of their body parts. Knowing the names helps them identify what should not be touched by others, as well as helping them feel less shame (if we don’t name it, that sends a message that it shouldn’t be talked about).

    Starting to talk openly from the time children are very young will help them later on. A young woman might not wait so long to report a rape if she has had these kinds of discussions with her parents since she was a small child.

    Now I’ll step off my soapbox.

  11. stacer says:

    JKS and Deborah–now that I’ve read the article, I see your point about showing in a tangible way that a girl who has been raped shouldn’t be seen as unclean by a potential mate. I think that does make a good point.

    I also appreciated that there were articles in the same issue about a woman with anxiety problems and how to get past the hurt of failed relationships. Additionally, there’s a testimony of one returned missionary about how hard her mission was. Not as frank as the discussion here last week, but certainly acknowledging how hard and downright stressful a mission can be.

  12. JKS says:

    “”It was crucial that her father and I let go of former hopes and expectations so that we could accept the new person she needed to evolve into. We knew her reinvention needed guidance of loving parents.” *That* is wisdom. “
    Deborah, you are SO right. It is one of the best advice you can give a parent as the years go on. Children are individuals with their own experiences and their own “issues.” You can’t cling to your own personal dreams that you wanted for your nameless, faceless baby before they were even born….they won’t ever live that perfect life.
    Whether your child gets a diagnoses as an infant, or has a diabilitating accident as a child, or becomes a confused teenager with dangerous behaviors, your job doesn’t change. You are their to help them deal with what hand they have been dealt. You need to help them reach their mortal potential.
    This is what I have learned from my experience with motherhood. My son didn’t talk and so we started travelling down that path to help him.
    As your kids get older, you end up having to face more of these situations. Your child’s life is not perfect.
    The better you adapt to the circumstances, the more you can be the parents your child needs.
    I really felt that these parents adapted. Sure, they cried a lot, and worried a lot, but they adapted.

  13. mullingandmusing says:

    The better you adapt to the circumstances, the more you can be the parents your child needs.

    And the more likely you will become what God wants you to become as the parent as well. 🙂 Parenting is as much about raising ourselves as it is about our children.

  14. Dora says:

    I’m so glad that this was brought up in the Ensign, and here. I’ve had discussions about the probable depression of rape reports in largely LDS communities, and the ramifications for the victims.

    Do we need to be teaching more about compassion, empathy and charity? So much of the bickering I see stems from an inability to consider the other side.

    And I’d like to respond to AmyB’s tangential comment about teaching children about molestation, and how to do it in a manner that protects their innocence but equips them with the facility to not become or remain victims.

    A neighbor co-worker and I recently had this conversation. She was troubled about how to teach her children about being touched. “Only mommy and daddy can touch you there” didn’t seem to cover it well, since parents can be abusers, and since non-parents often step in to help (ie: grandma helping to change a diaper). Also, health care providers also need to do a certain amount of touching, which is mostly appropriate, but can also be abused.

    I think that keeping the avenues of communication open is the key. We all know when we feel uncomfortable physicially or emotionally, and I think it’s important for children to feel safe talking with their parents about what is going on with their bodies.

    How have others dealt with this issue?

  15. mullingandmusing says:

    I think the meta-issue of creating an environment of open communication is key. And then finding opportunities to talk about modesty, the sacred nature of our bodies and “private parts,” how and when touching might be appropriate, as Dora mentioned (but how they can always ask if they are concerned, etc.

    Along this topic, a friend recently told me about two four-year-olds who were caught with clothes off, doing things that would reflect knowledge of sex to some degree or another (possibly gained from older siblings, or exposure through TV…who knows?) These days, we have to think about addressing these things at younger and younger ages. We are trying to keep this an open, ongoing discussion so it’s not just “one talk” but a constant seeking opportunities (when it feels appropriate) to teach. Tough stuff.

  16. annegb says:

    I’ve supported friends through several court cases, two involving a rape and one involving molestation. There are no words to describe how emotionally draining those experiences were for me, let alone the victims.

    If I were a victim, I don’t know if I’d have the courage or fortitude to go through what you have to go through to prosecute a sex offender.

    In all three cases, the families of the offender slammed the victims so hard it’s amazing they survived emotionally. The perpetrators all claimed the sex acts were consensual.

    Their families all believed them and treated the victims just awfully. One woman did refuse to testify. The case isn’t closed, but it will never be prosecuted.

    The families of the perpetrators chose to see themselves as victims. It’s really hard to overcome that.

    I, too, am glad to see the Ensign becoming more open, even minutely. We deal with terrible events in our lives, the church needs to recognize the reality, not the fairy tale.

  17. Angela says:

    Amyb – thank you for the book recommendation, I will definately check that out.

    I think my comment about discussing this issue with my daughter might have been a bit misunderstood. We have thoroughly discussed with all three of our children who can and cannot see/touch them and the proper names of all their parts. My husband and I are very proactive with this, and am certain my kids are well versed where this is concerned.

    My comment was geared more towards how I am glad I have some time to discover the best way to teach my daughter how to be discerning and cautious while dating, without becoming completely distrusting and jaded. It’s obvious that by doing “everything right” when it comes to dating is just not enough to keep young women safe anymore.

    Anyone have suggestions? What did you teach your daughters about dating safety?

  18. AmyB says:

    Angela,

    I’m sorry if I implied that I don’t think you have addressed these issues with your children. I’m sure you are doing a great job.

    I wonder if we should be teaching young women self defense. They can make all the “right” decisions, and still be vulnerable to bad people doing bad things. I remember one teacher telling a story about a friend who had a young man trying to force himself on her. She stuck her finger down her throat and vomited on him. That distracted him pretty well and she got away safely.

  19. mullingandmusing says:

    When I was a YW leader several years ago, I invited a couple of my friends who taught some self-defense moves…not a full-on course, of course, but at least it was something. Maybe integrating things like that into Mutual? Maybe taking a class as a mom with a teenage daughter?

  20. Deborah says:

    Angela:

    Great question. I am a big fan of doing everything possible to help girls feel, act, walk, and talk CONFIDENT. As a middle school teacher, some of my girls almost exude “at risk” — for on-line predators, abusive relationships, etc. — because they are so needy for the attention and approval of boys (due to other emotional needs). As for specific ideas, I found two websites that might be of interest. like the first one especially.

    http://teenagerstoday.com/resources/articles/daterape.htm
    http://www.cfchildren.org/parentsf/parenttipsf/11preventingdate

  21. Deborah says:

    Annegb: Uck. The trauma of the legal system on top of the trauma of sexual abuse. This is a fallen world, isn’t it?

  22. Reynold's Wrap says:

    Hey y’all. Well, I wanted to say that thanks for writing a blog about that article. As of the past few months I’ve been talking with my Bishop and YWs President about some sexual abuse and child rape I experienced as a kid. That article hit a spot in my heart, and in many ways I could connect with this girl. I’d been abused by a deacon “friend” in the ward. He was the “poster boy” of the ward. At times I was so sick of dealing with the experience that I wanted to die. I went into my baptism thinking “Oh good, now I can be free of those sins.”

    I’ll tell you, even though I would NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER wish this upon anyone, the experience has been both a GIGANTIC struggle, and a GIGANTIC blessing. Rape/abuse CAN (it’s different for everyone) rob you of trust, self-esteem, and so many things that I can only put into feelings, rather than words. Since that time, I am slowly learning how to trust. I’m learning that intimacy in marraige is good. I’m learning that I’m a daughter of God, and what that means. I’m learning that God loves me NO MATTER WHAT!! These are all extremely hard lessons for me to learn, but I’m progressing. Progress can be made, but five years, as the girl experienced, was quite remarkable. Sometimes it can take 10 years, others- 10 days. It just depends on the person. BUT we must remember Never to judge that!! One of the saddest things for me is when someone tells me to “get over it” or wants me to stop “trying to get attention”.

  23. Reynold's Wrap says:

    My Stake YW’s President will be coming to my ward YW and talking to us. i’m excited, even though I don’t know what the content will consist of.

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