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Guest Post: How Well Does the Church Handle Abuse?


butterfly on heliotrope
Originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl

 by kmillecam

It took me until I was 18 and had moved out of my house to finally wander my way into the Counseling Center at BYU. I was having trouble in school, trouble sleeping, general anxiety. There began my awakening to what I was. I was abused as a child. I finally spoke the words aloud. I was broken. I was a victim.

The first time I told someone about my sexual abuse it was to my therapist at BYU. I was 19 by then. Through therapy I gradually put names on the abuse: physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. The sexual abuse took the forefront. I look back now and am shocked that my therapist did not insist on calling the police or a social worker when I told her. I was convinced that I was the only victim. But she knew that I had younger siblings still living at home. She knew that my father was the perpetrator. She knew that statistically it had probably happened to more of my siblings. I wish she had done something. Admitting that I came from an abusive family was so new to me at the time. I did not feel comfortable navigating those waters. I definitely did not have the guts to blow the whistle on my father. I did not even know that I should have blown the whistle on my father, that my siblings were in probable danger. A social worker or police officer should have been notified. My father should have been stopped.

That same year I told my bishop. His response was “How old were you when it happened?” I told him I was 8 years old. “Wasn’t that a long time ago? I don’t think you need to break up your family over this when you can deal with it through therapy.” Then he asked “How old are your other siblings?” I told him I was the oldest of five and four of us were female. He asked whether I thought anyone else in the family had been abused. At that time, I honestly thought I was the only one, so I told him that. He restated that I did not need to tell anyone except my therapist. My younger sister was eleven at the time. At that point she had been abused for about three years.

I was sexually abused for about one year when I was in second grade and then it stopped. That was plenty. Once is enough to do all kinds of damage. In contrast, my younger sister endured 9 years of sexual abuse by the time my father was arrested. 9 YEARS. This kills me. It kills me not only because of the quantitative amount, but because it could have been stopped. I found out during the ninth year.

Once I learned of my sister’s abuse I went to my bishop at the time, in Michigan. I was 25 by then, pregnant with my first child, and had several years of therapy under my belt. My bishop’s response was so different. He told me he was bound by not only by Michigan law to call the police and report it, but also needed to call the Church hotline for legal advice on how to proceed. He advised that we call my parent’s bishop and tell him what was going on. Surprisingly, that bishop was also very supportive of calling the police. Both bishops explained very gently that I was encouraged to be the one to call the local police in California and give a statement to an officer. They said that if I did not feel able, that they could give the statement for me, but it would be harder to prosecute my father and get my younger siblings into a safe environment.

I suspect that in the six intermediate years between talking to my BYU bishop and my Michigan bishop there was a change (shift?) in Church policy. I think they probably give bishops better instruction on what to do with abusers and victims. It sounds like bishops have Church leaders to call for advice. These are good steps, but I must be honest: it is not nearly enough. What about a hotline for the victims? What about bishops automatically providing therapy, instead of waiting for victims to ask? What about having stricter whistle-blowing policies, to protect further victims?

I cannot help but be cynical when the only time the Church seems to actively support calling the police is when children are still living at home and/or the abuser is still abusing. Abusers need to face the law and Church discipline, no matter if their victims live at home or not and no matter if they have “stopped”. It sends a message to victims that they are inherently less important and undervalued when abusers do not have to pay for their crime. Victims have no choice but to pay for what happened to them.

I am an abuse survivor. Over the last four years since I learned of my sister I have been increasingly more open about it. So I find myself here at The Exponent reaching out to other women and men to tell a part of my story. For a more in personal account of my experiences, you can read my personal blog: kmillecam.blogspot.com. It is my priority there and in my life to openly discuss the effects of abuse. The truth will set us all free.

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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53 Responses

  1. EmilyCC says:

    Thanks, kmillecam, for approaching such a difficult subject so beautifully and courageously. I’m so sad that you and your sister didn’t get the support that you needed.

    I’m in the Primary right now and can’t help but wonder–what could a Primary teacher done to have helped you when you were that 8 year old?

  2. Dora says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I agree that there needs to be more transparency with regard to members who break the law, especially when it involves the abuse of innocents.

    As an RN, I am a mandatory abuse reporter. Others I can think of are doctors, teachers and social workers. I am glad to know that in the intervening years, ecclesiastical leaders are now mandatory reporters. Do you know if this is a national requirement, or is it state by state? Given the recent scandal about the church school in Ireland, I wish it would be an international requirement.

  3. kmillecam says:

    Thanks EmilyCC. I think the best thing you can do is read up and get aware of what abuse can look like. Alos, try to sense if someone might need to talk. If I had been given the opportunity, I would have at least entertained the idea of telling someone. And if that happened enough, then I would have eventually gotten up the nerve. Of course, I did eventually get up the nerve, but it was years later. So be available.

    I know at least one person who told her mother about an abusive babysitter after hearing a police officer talk about dos and don’ts of appropriate touching. So you can also find appropriate ways to bring up what is okay and what is not okay. It may give a child information on their situation enough to tell a grownup that can help them.

  4. kmillecam says:

    Thanks Dora, and it’s good to hear you are in a position to help if you ever see any abuse. I think the word of an RN is taken seriously, and that is a big plus.

    You also reminded me of something else that people can do: call a social worker if you suspect something. They are trained to go and handle abusive situations. If you feel like that is all you can do, then do it. They will interview those involved and try to get to the bottom of things.

    I am unfamiliar with the church school in Ireland, but I agree that this policy of reporting abuse should be internationally practiced. As I understand it, the Church here in the US is state-by-state. My bishop in Michigan had slightly different obligations compared to my former California bishop. I spoke to them simultaneously as I was finding out about my sister. If I recall, both bishops were to call Church attorneys immediately. The CA bishop had to call the police or make sure I gave a statement myself. The MI bishop seemed to have more leeway, possibly because I was living in MI, but had been abused in CA. Regardless, I think Church policy is specific to the state law.

  5. ldison says:

    Thanks for sharing. I have noticed LDS Family Services has become much more visible in the areas we have lived. I think the Church is taking steps to better educate its local leaders on how to proceed when abuse is reported. Your story shows that major improvements in policy have been made in recent years, and I believe it will continue to improve.

  6. Kaylana says:

    I’ve never been personally involved with church and abuse, but two of my friends (twin sisters) were. They’re dad had abused them, their siblings and their mother for years while simultaneously holding high callings in the Church and teaching children in school. And when it finally came out what was going on, the SP was very reluctant to do much along with their bishop. It took a few years for it all to come out and for him to get arrested and finally excommunicated from the Church and to get fired from his job. That was probably about ten or so years ago. So maybe it’s changed drastically since then, but back then it was pretty hush-hush and not a lot of help; they didn’t handle it well at all. It’s also hard when you’re female and the only leaders to go to in the Church are male (higher authority to get anything done about it). It’s very intimidating. Maybe some of the tithing money could be spent on hiring counselors for abuse in the Church…
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s very important to bring it out in the open so others in these abusive situations can feel like they’re not alone.

  7. Mary Florio says:

    I too suffered from “church” abuse. It caused me to have to rethink my entire upbringing and I now honestly resent the “hold” that my religious teachings still have on me. I crave what the church promises but know it’s not real. I’m very proud of you Kendahl and love the woman you have become.

  8. Caroline says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, kmillecam. I think it’s so important to get these stories out there so other abuse survivors know that they are not alone.

    Reading about your BYU bishop was discouraging, but it is heartening to see how much better the MI and CA bishops handled the situation. I agree, a good next step would be a hotline for victims – and if the Church didn’t want to run that themselves, it seems like an easy thing to do for bishops to have info about non-Church hotlines that could give victims advice.

  9. Angie says:

    My story is very similar to the OP, only my abuser is still married to my mother, and hasn’t been technically ‘caught’. He’s flown under the radar for years. My biggest problem in dealing with all of this is that my abuser is friends with all of the priesthood holders that have been or currently are in a position to do anything about this, so naturally their response has either been to call me a liar or to tell me that it was a long time ago and not worth bringing up now. These are men that I trusted and looked up to as examples of ‘righteous priesthood holders’, since I didn’t really have that in my home. It was very difficult to work that out.

    I am worried about my nieces and what he’ll do to them, but I’ve warned my siblings, and they don’t seem to be bothered. I’ve chosen to make sure my children are kept far away from him.

    The problem is that there is no power or resources when you are a child and a victim, and its difficult at best to reclaim that power later. As a victim you are always playing defense. My best friend from grade school contacted me a few years ago and told her that I had confided the abuse to her (something I didn’t remember). She was in tears wishing she had done something and carried a heavy burden for years, which is something I feel horrible about. I’m not quiet anymore, and have done my best to make sure everyone knows what happened, even if they tell me they don’t believe me.

  10. Former Michigan Bishop says:

    I am a former bishop in Michigan. While bishop, I was sorely abused by my ward because I would not recommend a convicted abuser for re-enstatement in the church. He did not exhibit any signs of remorse or the actions that one would expect of someone seeking to grow spiritually. He came to church, but did not read his scriptures, fast, no personal prayer. He attended his meetings and that was it. But he was buddies with the High Priest’s group. Their arguement was that he had “done his time” and “paid his debt to society”. The ward members could not see that Christ expects more than time served; He expects remorse for sin, a broken heart, and a contrite spirit. None of which was evident. He never expressed remorse, to me or to the Stake President.

    Now several bishops later, we have a new problem. There is a brother in the ward who is accused of abusing his step-granddaughters. The children are too young to give credible testimonies. He plea bargined to a much reduced offense. In the mean time, those parents whose children were abused have left the ward because neither the bishop nor the ward take their claims as credible. The bishop is very connected in the stake, having served in a former presidency. He is also a former mission president. But he refuses to allow a stake disciplinary court to be held. He feels that he has authority over this case and that the stake president has no cause to call for a disciplinary council. Looks as though the plea bargin has allowed this man to keep his membership.

    Being less than valiant in the protection of our children is a crime that we will have to pay for. I feel that the chuch needs to be more rigid in it’s treatment of abusers.

  11. Moniker Challenged says:

    Kmillecam, I thank you for bravely sharing your story and increasing my awareness. Maybe if we are all on guard and aware somehow things will change and someone’s heartbreak can be prevented.
    It’s really hard to reconcile my upbringing (priesthood leaders have magical powers and big red batphones to diety) with my currently evolving feelings on the subject (they’re completely untrained amateur clergymen who have no idea what they’re doing and if you’re lucky they mean well, and if you’re unlucky they don’t). What can we do? The Church would never pay clergymen with degrees in counseling and theology. Maybe every stake or region could have a paid psychologist, or certified counselor trained to deal with issues of abuse, relationships problems, and mental health. I have no hard feelings against the bishops I’ve had, they’ve always done their best, but they’re the last people in the world I’d go to for advice. Asking your bishop for therapy is like asking a filling station attendant to build you a Ferrari from an instructionless kit you bought over the internet. But what about people who have nowhere else to go? Oi.

  12. mmiles says:

    The state-by-state policy is not a church policy but a legal policy. Each state sets up laws which often either 1. Require ecclesiastical and/or social works and similar people to report abuse to legal authorities; 2. Require ecclesiastical authorities to keep confidentiality and not report abuse. So, it’s a legal thing, not a church thing.

    Secondly, as an abuse survivor myself, I am flummoxed as to why people get so frustrated that church leadership does not “do something” when they find out. In some cases this is justified (when the law requires it). In others, I am wondering why the victim is so willing to report the abuse to the church, but not the law. Why do people first go brother or sister x? When my mom found out I was abused, we got in the car and drove down to the police station. The guy was arrested. It went to trial–he went to prison. I was 4. My testimony held up. The church had nothing to do with it at any level. My mother and father never would have dreamed about going to the Bishop about it. He had nothing to do with it.It was and is a legal matter, full stop.

    On another note, I also have heard too many times that it was in the past, why break up the family? To me, another example of Mormons worshiping the almighty family instead of God. And who wants to live in eternity with that kind of family? Seriously.

  13. Caroline says:

    Commenters, please approach this topic with sensitivity and compassion. Most of you are doing exactly that, but I just deleted a comment that I found insensitive and judgmental.

  14. Brian Neesham says:

    Another thing that must be taught, is not only should children come forward if they are abused, but the children who aren’t abused but who know about it, must feel comfortable enough to come forward. I’m finding that some childen tell other children about their situation. Angies story above is similiar to kmillecams sister. She had confided in a friend many many years earlier as well, and she too held it as a secret. We need to empower all of our kids and ourselves, to speak out not only on our own situations, but if we have knowledge or suspect others, we can no longer hide from our fears because THAT persons fears are probably far greater.

  15. kmillecam says:

    Idison, I agree that the Church is doing better. I can only hope that trend continues.

    Kaylana, It IS very difficult to go to a male church leader. It is difficult to tell anyone, let alone an older man who might even know your abuser (as it was in my case.)

    Mary, I am so glad you came here to read this. I did not know you also suffered through abuse of your own. I hope you have found healing in your life after church and religion caused so much harm.

  16. tnee says:

    I grew up in a house where siblings were abused. I was not. I did not find out until years later that it had taken place.

    Indeed, there needs to be way more counseling for all family members involved. When this happened in my family and I told my bishop about the abuse this was his support: he gave me three articles by church figures he printed out on the subject of abuse. There you go… you should be fine now… How absurd. It is hard to go to counseling. The church should have a much better system in place to help those in this situation. Every member in the household. IT EFFECTS THEM ALL. I can’t say that enough.

  17. torrie neesh says:

    I would also like to speak for those of us who are not ‘technically’ abuse, however we grew up in the same household as those who were… it is a very confusing situation to be in.
    Indeed, there needs to be way more counseling for all family members involved. When this happened in my family and I told my bishop about the abuse this was his support: he gave me three articles by church figures he printed out on the subject of abuse. There you go… you should be fine now… How absurd. It is hard to go to counseling. The church should have a much better system in place to help those in this situation. Every member in the household. IT EFFECTS THEM ALL. I can’t say that enough.

    Thank you for being so brave K.

  18. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gretchen Paules and I am the Administrative Director for a newly formed nonprofit called the Let Go…Let Peace Come In Foundation. Our mission at LGLPCI is to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post their childhood photo & caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website http://www.letgoletpeacecomein.org. By uniting survivors from around the globe we hope to provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out or have been cast aside with disbelief. I recently came across your blog online through Google Alerts and I was wondering if you would please consider posting to our website. If you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me directly at this e-mail address. Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted. Please share this with anyone you think might benefit from a safe and judgment-free place to share their experiences.

    Warmest Regards,
    Gretchen Paules
    Administrative Director
    Let Go…Let Peace Come In Foundation
    111 Presidential Blvd., Suite 212
    Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

  19. cornnut32 says:

    thank you for sharing your story.

    like you, i am an abuse victim and was unable to come forward until nearly 8 years after the abuse had occurred. i have also decided that sharing my story is one of the best ways to help other survivors and prevent future abuse.

    i did tell a counselor in an emergency room after a suicide attempt about the abuse i endured–and she never told anyone, either. not my parents (i was 12 at the time, had been abused by an uncle), not the doctor, not the police.

    together as survivors we can influence others in knowing how important it is not to keep something so important secret. thank you again for your courage!

  20. kmillecam says:

    Caroline, excellent point about how if the Church doesn’t want to have their own hotline, then they could at least refer victims to existing hotlines. I am confused as to why these steps are not already taken. I have a hunch it is because in Mormon culture we buy in to the “us vs. them” mentality and think that secular or wordly help is not up to snuff. This also speaks to a later comment by:

    mmiles, I am genuinely glad that you had such a supportive mother that listened to you, took you straight to the police station, and justice was served. It sounds like she taught you by example that in certain situations it was appropriate to go to the police. Growing up in my ward/family I was explicitly taught that the Church and its leaders were king, and the “law of the land” was secondary. So it’s no wonder that I thought I should tell my bishop instead of the authorities. And I would posit that I am not the only one who grew up with these kinds of teachings within Mormon families heavily steeped in the Mormon culture of “us vs them”.

    Plus, I knew if I told on my dad that he would get arrested and taken away. That is terrifying to a child.

  21. cornnut32 says:

    i linked this post on my blog. many of my readers are also abuse survivors. thank you again for sharing this.

    http://pictureofexperience.blogspot.com/2009/07/exponent-post-how-well-does-church.html

  22. sfemti33 says:

    As a husband of an abuse victim(and working in public safety/healthcare for 9 years), I want to offer once piece of insight. You stated “What about bishops automatically providing therapy, instead of waiting for victims to ask?” I feel this is a very poor choice and could end up in more pain and increased trauma. They shouldnt be doing the therapy unless they are a licensed professional or physician. It could make healing and progress much harder if any untrained person were messing around in a victims head. They should automatically REFER them to a licensed mental health worker who specializes in whatever abuse has occurred.

    Just my .02 cents. Good luck in your recovery.

  23. kmillecam says:

    Angie, you are so strong to tell your story to your family in the first place, let alone in the face of their unbelieving stance. Good for you to keep your children away from your father, and for standing up to your siblings to tell them to do the same thing. People, even really good people, do not want to believe that such an awful thing can happen under their noses. I hope your family eventually gives you credibility. In the meantime, it does my heart good to know that you are not keeping quiet. That is the only weapon we have, to not be silent any longer.

    Former Michigan Bishop, I am also heartened to hear that you stuck to your guns in the face of an abuser. The tough reality of abusers is that they will be tempted to abuse again if given the chance. The atonement and repentance CAN make an abuser remorseful (which it sounds like your guy was NOT), but even then they have to fully face the consequences of what they have already done. I cannot agree more with this that you said: “Being less than valiant in the protection of our children is a crime that we will have to pay for. I feel that the chuch needs to be more rigid in it’s treatment of abusers.”

    Moniker Challenged, I also think that it is SO difficult to challenge my previous view of Church leaders with my current one. It has been painful to realize that I was taught to trust them in a way that was unhealthy. These men who are bishops, stake presidents, etc. are sometimes very good men, but it does not mean they are therapists!

    Oh and mmiles, I love this that you said: “On another note, I also have heard too many times that it was in the past, why break up the family? To me, another example of Mormons worshiping the almighty family instead of God. And who wants to live in eternity with that kind of family? Seriously.” Exactly.

  24. kmillecam says:

    Thanks, tnee and Brian, you know I love you. Abuse affects everyone around it. It festers and corrupts good relationships. I know that the secret-keeping came between me and my siblings for a few years, and they hadn’t done anything! After the abuse came to light and we all started letting the truth speak for itself, no matter how ugly, everything strangely simplified. I know I say it a lot, but the truth sets us free. It really does.

  25. Vicki says:

    kmillecam,
    This is such an amazing post. I am so proud of you. I am going straight to your blog.

  26. mmiles says:

    While I am sympathetic to, and have considered the Us vs.Them argument, I don’t really think that is what is at play in these situations. For one thing, in places where the “us” (eg large Mormon populations in Idaho or Utah) pervades the entire population, including law enforcement… the whole culture is ‘us’, and boundaries between ecclesiastical and secular authority are blurred. The problem of not reporting abuse is dominant in those places.

    As abuse victims we carry additional burdens that keep us from telling: People who have suffered abuse are seen as irreparably damaged goods. This is true in both the church and in the greater society. Often in the church being damaged is seen as a result of lack of faith to be healed.
    So it seems much more likely to me that the underlying assumptions are something like this:
    I am telling someone at church. That person has access to God (the abuse victim often feeling unworthy of access to God, or invisible, or that he/she doesn’t matter to God). If that person knows, whatever actions he or she decides to take—it is a direct reflection on what God feels about the situation and the victims place in the abuse. If nothing is done, it must mean, somehow, that the abuse was not that bad, therefore I am not damaged goods, and can live a full and happy life. Furthermore, it answers the age-old question of why we suffer. “Why,” we ask, “did God let something so indescribably terrible happen to me?” Well, if people who have access to God think it wasn’t bad enough to tell, then it really must have not been that bad—so that is why God let it happen.
    It makes you feel much better for awhile, doesn’t it? You aren’t mad at God. You aren’t damaged. You feel worthy to be near God (maybe).
    It also lets ecclesiastical leaders, trying to reconcile infinite mercy and justice, off the hook. If the perpetrator walks, the victim isn’t too damaged. Christ heals them both miraculously without too much of a burden on anyone.
    This places more of a burden the victim, who then is hesitant to seek necessary counseling, because he or she doesn’t want to admit they aren’t “healed”, but have significant pain because of abuse.

    Abuse in families and not telling also may have everything to do with our own deeply held theological beliefs (and I believe misunderstandings) within Mormonism about the eternal nature of families and the atonement of Christ.
    I am so sorry for the burdens you still carry. I hope over time you can find rest. Having worked with young abuse victims, I am well aware of the strong emotional need for parental ties. I, for one, am an advocate of children being reunited with formerly unfit parents if reasonable.

  27. kmillecam says:

    sfemti33, I did not mean in my original post that the bishop would provide therapy himself. I should have been more clear. I meant that I wish bishops would provide victims with therapy referrals automatically. I had to ask my bishop after all this happened if he had anyone to recommend. He referred me to LDS Family Services and I had a good experience there. However, the fact that I had to ask is problematic. I think it should be standard protocol to get victims into therapy. So I agree, having bishops give therapy when they are not licensed or well-taught on abuse, would be quite disastrous.

  28. G says:

    kmillecam,
    thank you for being able to write about this.

  29. kmillecam says:

    Oh, and cornnut32, I wrote a comment on your blog that you linked. Thank you for sharing your story, truly. Maybe it is naive of me, but I am shocked that the nurse you told did not report the abuse. It takes so much to muster the strength to tell someone, and then you had to do it all over again.

  30. Janna says:

    Perhaps the reason many abused individuals turn to the bishop is because the abuse is often sexual, and they think they have done something wrong/immoral – in other words, they believe they have committed a sexual sin. Kmillecam, do you think that’s a possible reason?

  31. kmillecam says:

    While I am sympathetic to, and have considered the Us vs.Them argument, I don’t really think that is what is at play in these situations. For one thing, in places where the “us” (eg large Mormon populations in Idaho or Utah) pervades the entire population, including law enforcement… the whole culture is ‘us’, and boundaries between ecclesiastical and secular authority are blurred. The problem of not reporting abuse is dominant in those places.

    mmiles, I like the last 2/3 of your comment but I have to say that I disagree that the “us vs. them” argument is really at play. I cannot speak for other survivors, only myself. I felt like the fear of people outside LDS belief and culture was the specific thing that kept me from telling the police. And I cannot stress enough that we must respect each other’s experiences. Like I said before, I am truly glad to hear of responsible parents like yours who took you immediately to the police. But mine didn’t. And I feared telling anyone outside of Mormondom. And I have talked to other Mormon survivors who felt motivated by the same fears I have described.

    It is not the same fears of “us vs. them” for everyone, but it is for enough of us that we need a voice and we need it addressed within the Church as a whole. The “us vs. them” attitude can hurt the smallest members of our congregations. We should be protecting them, not the Church at their expense.

  32. kmillecam says:

    Sorry, that first paragraph in my last comment was supposed to be quoted from mmiles. Oops.

  33. Alisa says:

    This post really has me thinking. Great job.

    Of course the bishops and other clergy will often be “first responders” to familial sexual abuse, and they can use specific training and resources to give to survivors as part of their key role (a hotline for victims seems like a great suggestion to me). Outside of the immediate family, the bishop is the next available authority figure, a figure that the survivor probably knows and trusts. That being said, going to the bishop with such deep, personal, and spiritually confusing information takes tremendous courage.

  34. mmiles says:

    kmillecam-

    I am sorry. I did not mean to diminish your experience. I understand, and am trying to understand better. Can you articulate what is different between them and us? What exactly was it that made you distinguish between the two and how telling someone in the church was seen as a better decision for you?

    Alisa

  35. suzann says:

    Kmillecam, Your amazing courage in telling your story will continue to help others for years to come.

  36. Angie says:

    I commented a couple of days ago, but wanted to makes one more…

    mmiles questioned why abuse survivors don’t go to the state authority when the abuse happens…for me the reason was that the chief of police was in the bishopric and good friends of my abuser…the lines in the ‘jello-belt’ between the secular and religious is very blurred…it is difficult to navigate. Often too the abused keeps quiet for so long that the statute of limitations is up before anything can be done. At the time of the abuse I was also afraid that if I said something there would be a divorce and my mom and sisters would end up homeless, as there was no way my mom could support us. Suffering abuse at the time was better than homelessness…or so I thought.

    My other observation is that often from a very young age girls are taught at church to be protective of their moral purity, and that they are somehow at fault if they let something happen. This is a quality that ‘god’ seems to value above all else, therefore, it only makes sense to run to an eccliastical leader when there is a problem so they can somehow wash away all of that pain. In my situation as well, my step-father told me that as my priesthood leader that ‘god’ told him polygamy would be reinstituted and I was to be one of his wives. He then showed me things from church history that backed up men marrying mothers, and then their step-daughters…for a long time he convinced me he had the bat phone to god and was in charge. Yet, I’m still the crazy one, and he’s still an upstanding member of his ward and community. That’s the one thing that still gets to me.

    I’m not trying to be defensive. There are many different circumstances surrounding everyones abuse story and there are also many different ways of working through it and healing. I just hope that these types of situations are dealt with using love and compassion and never judgement.

  37. mmiles says:

    Angie,
    The reason you didn’t tell was exactly the blurred boundaries I was referring to. That is one case where there is know us vs them mentality. That is one reason I am not sure an us vs them system is in play, but admit it very much could be.

    In any situation where people set up an us vs them mentality, it is because of deeply held beliefs. For instance in war (
    so it is easier to kill the ‘them’ without so much personal pain) them vs us takes on soldiers (us) seeing (them) the enemy in broad generalized terms. “They” become murderers, stupid, heathens, dangerous, gooks, japs, etc. The ‘us’ people see themselves as, in the right, worthy cause, protecting liberty, only on the defense, good, etc.
    We do that in our own relationships too.
    If such a dynamic is existing for sexual abuse victims who choose not to tell state authorities, but choose ecclesiastical leaders–then what is it that we are telling ourselves about “them vs us”?

    Are we viewing the state authorities as not understanding? want to break up families? unforgiving? further from God?

    Do we see ecclesiastical leaders as closer to God? Forgiving? want the best for everyone? will help my family?

    I’m sincerely just trying to pin down the specific beliefs we hold that enable an us vs them dynamic when it comes to confessing abuse. That kind of system can not exist without these elements.

  38. Kiri Close says:

    My experience is that, no, the church doesn’t handle ‘abusers’ well.

    When I was about 15 & 16, I would babysit for the 2nd counselor in the ward bishopric (some dumm azz from Orem, UT or somewheres on contract in American Samoa where I’m from).

    Anyways, while his wife wasn’t around, he would flash his penis to me (EEEWWW! ugly red thang, just danglin’ all over the place under his robe–NASTY!!!!).

    He flashed my LDS friends, too, who also babysat for him (I eventually found out), & one of the stronger girls out of us approached me, & others to ‘take arms’ together. As a group, we took the matter to our Bishop.

    Our Bishop did ‘nothing’ but counsel his counselor. Couple months later, the ‘exhibitionist flasher’ & family relocated. Never knew what happened to his sorry azz.

    We wanted Bishop to do more. Well, not too many years later, this same Bishop cheated on his wife & took off with someone younger!— Immediately excommunicated, lost his family, lost everything, & had to start all over again with his new ‘ho’. Last I heard, things ain’t good with him & newbie.

    I do wish that Bishop did something more significant with our abuser.

    However, karma’s a bitch.

  39. Kelly Ann says:

    Kmillecam, thank you for sharing your experience. It takes courage. I know writing my story here (http://the-exponent.com/2008/09/30/when-the-shoe-doesnt-fit-lds-families-and-physical-abuse/) really helped me.

    I just like to say that I do think church policy has changed. Several years ago my singles ward Bishop had a frank discussion in a ward FHE about the legal responsibilities that he carried as an ecclestiastical leader (he was a lawyer as well). It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life to know the system that is in place. The church recognizes there are problems, as noted by their GC talks about such subjects as well, which is an important first step. It is much different than how my mom was treated leaving her abusive relationship 30 years ago.

    Also, while I like to think of abuse as an old problem more common to our generation when things weren’t so well understood, I saw the following article at Deseret News tonight that made me think of how timely your post is and how as a a church community we must continually address it.

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705316062/LDS-seminary-principal-is-arrested-in-sexual-abuse.html

  40. kmillecam says:

    mmiles, the “us vs. them” argument is a big factor in my story. I was taught to view any people outside Mormonism as unable to feel the Spirit, inferior, power hungry, willing to tarnish the Church, wanting to harm our families, etc. So when you say: “Are we viewing the state authorities as not understanding? want to break up families? unforgiving? further from God?

    Do we see ecclesiastical leaders as closer to God? Forgiving? want the best for everyone? will help my family? ”

    I say, “Yep”.

  41. mmiles says:

    Can you articulate better than I did our belief system that creates that dynamic for abuse victims?
    I think in my second comment I was trying to explain it though I didn’t realize it was also an us vs them dynamic. If it is labeled such, does that explain your experience at all?

  42. kmillecam says:

    Janna, I think I missed responding to your comment earlier. I think that believing sexual abuse to be “sexual sin” can definitely play a big role in why victims prefer to talk to their bishop about it. I personally did not internalize it that way, although I did internalize that I was damaged goods which for some reason seems slightly different. I didn’t think I had sinned, per se, but I did think that I was damaged by my father’s sin and had no way out. I think I blamed myself for not getting away from him, or causing him to sin, or not being in tune with the Spirit enough to see him coming and escaping. Wow, that is heart-wrenching to write.

    Anyways, I have heard some victims talk about how they internalized the fact that they had sexually sinned, so it’s a very real factor for some victims.

  43. kmillecam says:

    mmiles, I’ll try to articulate a few ideas, but they might be hard to write out clearly. I really appreciate your desire to understand this other point of view, BTW. I know it is not the way you experienced your abuse. I am a little jealous of you actually, to have had good parental role models that showed you how valuable you were to them, and that they (your parents) would not allow you to be harmed. This is what I hope more people do: blow the whistle! Children need protection! Anyways, tangent.

    So as far as the “us vs. them” belief system: Did I believe that those outside Mormonism would not understand me? Yes. Did I think I would cause my family to be ripped apart? Yes. I did think that by comparison a bishop would be more understanding than a police officer, but I feared either one would take my father out of my family and leave my depressed and also abusive mother to “care” for us. That seemed worse than enduring the abuse at that point. So I feared those outside Mormonism, be it family, friends, or law enforcement. So the “us vs. them” thinking was in play, and for me was a huge part of why I stayed quiet. But there was another factor of fearing the removal of my father.

    So for me there were those 2 factors. But I stress that it can be very different for each victim. The reason I want to address the us vs them issue is to bring awareness to those in the Church perpetuating it. It doesn’t help, not victims, and not regular ol’ members of the Church. It would help victims if they knew the big, bad world wasn’t out to get them, on top of everything that comes with being an abuse victim anyways. Make sense?

  44. mmiles says:

    I think we’re on the same page. If you will read my comment #2 again you will maybe see that what I wrote, about being damaged goods, is exactly how you explained yourself to Jana. Even though I was in a situation where the perpetrator went to prison, I experienced the exact same feelings you have. That is universal to abuse victims in and out of the church. The only dynamic that may be different for those within the church is that we see a way out through ecclesiastical authority, however sometimes misguided. We are not that different.

    After puzzling over this I very much see the us vs them dynamic and agree with you. But seeing a problem and not being able to articulate it doesn’t get us very far. Unless we can be very specific and pin down our own thinking, we can’t change anything.

  45. kmillecam says:

    mmiles, I am glad that we can understand each other better and better as we comment back and forth and listen to the stories of others, etc. Do you think we are articulating the problem well enough, or do you want more specific information? I would like to know what you are thinking about it.

  46. Kli says:

    Heartbreaking story. I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you! Hindsight is always 20/20. I’m sure you wish you had done things different, and yes- it’s encouraging to know that the church is improving their system. I feel that there needs to be something more though.

    I am so uncomfortable with the idea of young women/or women in general having to discuss sexual aspects of their lives with older men. Why can’t there be females who can hold interviews, or why can’t we allow young women to ‘confess to’ other females? Most bishops are not counselors/therapists. It’s a difficult job for them to have to be, and for those who simply fail to be good ones, it can be very detrimental to those who they are supposed to counsel about aspects other than faith.
    I have had some awesome bishops, but I have also had some very uncomfortable experiences with others- particularly when discussing sexual sins. Wanting to hear explicit, specific details. Now when I look back I realize how messed up that is- but at the time, I already felt so bad about myself I thought it was simply part of the confession. I also wonder about the other females who might have gone through that same Bishop’s office and felt so degraded afterwards.

    I hope to educate my daughters very well, so they can be confident enough to know when a male is abusing his power.

    Kmilllecam, thank you for sharing.

  47. alas says:

    I know I am coming late to this discussion, but I just found it.

    The first thing I want to say, is that this is how the church used to handle things as my story is over 20 years old.

    I want to add my story that I didn’t tell because I was taught both at home and by the church not to trust. Iwas taught at home not to trust outside of the family, and this is very very common in incest because the abuser doesn’t want the child to feel safe telling. I was also taught by the church not to trust anyone outside of the church.

    I “knew” my mother could not raise us alone, and feared my father being taken out of the home or sent to prison and he was good about letting me know what would happen to the family if I told. I feared that if I told my mother, she might tell someone else and dad would go to prison, and my family would be abandoned to starve. Not a good situation for a kid.

    WhenI was married and away from home, my father decided to become active. He was ordained a high priest and started attending the temple. I felt like he was a hypocrite, and wanted to stop his open hypocrisy, so I talked to my bishop.

    My bishop asked how old I was, and then told me that because I was over the age of 8, I was accountable. So, even though I had gone that long, just feeling like damaged goods and unloved by a God who didn’t protect me, now I had my bishop telling me I was guilty of sexual sin.

    Well, at least he also felt my father was guilty, so I wrote a letter to my father and sent it to his bishop telling my father to tell his bishop. The bishop didn’t know what the letter was, just that I said he needed my father to read it in his presense.

    After some “oh, it has been so long, surely he has repented by now” arguments, they finally stuck to the handbook that says that in cases of incest, the offender is to be excommunicated, no exceptions. Even after reading that, most on the high council court wanted to let it go because it had been so long, and surely he had repented. But he had been lying about it to get his temple recommend and I hardly think that is fruit of repentance. He had also molested my kid sister, but it didn’t go as far with her and I am positive he didn’t confess to that also.

    But getting help for myself was a joke. My bishop asked my husband if I needed counseling. My husband said he didn’t think so, so no counseling was considered. I was suicical and pregnant and my husband had no clue of the state I was in. I was just in no condition to know what I needed, and people around me wanted to problem to go away. My husband never even told me that the bishop had asked and I just didn’t know that counseling was an option to consider.

    It took me years to get up the courage to try counseling.

    Meanwhile my bishops passed on from one to the next how I was so damaged that I was “not ready” for a calling. There was NO confidentiality for me, but my father’s bishop made sure NO ONE was told why my father was excommunicated. His confidentiality was respected and mine was not.

    His bishops bent over backwards to love him back into the fold and mine told me I was selfish for seeking counseling. My father had a standing appointment with his bishop for 10 years straight that was every week, and I couldn’t beg my bishops to talk to me more than once. Some of my problems were spiritual problems and when your therapist tells you to talk to your clergy about that, and the clergy refuses, what do yo do to answer the question. I questioned my worth to God. I questioned why the atonement would make things for my father as if they never happened and meanwhile my life was so screwed up I was suicidal half the time.

    The way the church loved my father and pushed me away, just proved what I had thought as a child, that God loves my father and doesn’t love me.

    The end result is that I no longer go to church and will never go back. The church has simply been too damaging to me and even if it is true, it is not worth it. If itis not kind and loving, who cares if it is factually correct in doctrine.

    About the question of why women go to their bishop, The church tells them to. IN several general conference talks it has been emphasised in cases of abuse to talk to your bisop. You are SUPPOSED to talk to the bishop about such things. So, the women are just doing as they have been told to do.

  48. suzann says:

    my heart breaks for the abuse you have endured from your family and from the church. I wish you peace and joy, you deserve happiness.

    Suzann

  49. kmillecam says:

    “Meanwhile my bishops passed on from one to the next how I was so damaged that I was “not ready” for a calling. There was NO confidentiality for me, but my father’s bishop made sure NO ONE was told why my father was excommunicated. His confidentiality was respected and mine was not.

    “His bishops bent over backwards to love him back into the fold and mine told me I was selfish for seeking counseling. My father had a standing appointment with his bishop for 10 years straight that was every week, and I couldn’t beg my bishops to talk to me more than once. Some of my problems were spiritual problems and when your therapist tells you to talk to your clergy about that, and the clergy refuses, what do yo do to answer the question. I questioned my worth to God. I questioned why the atonement would make things for my father as if they never happened and meanwhile my life was so screwed up I was suicidal half the time.”

    This almost got me jumping up out of my chair as I read it. It’s so true, at least for me. Wow. I have admired your clear and open comments on NOM for awhile alas, as I lurk there 🙂

    My heart aches as I read stories like these. To say that things this awful don’t happen is nonsense. The more we tell our stories, the more we will all realize how often it happens.

  50. MSchau says:

    I just came into this discussion and haven’t taken the time to read all of the responses, but a common theme seems to be the question of what bishops should do, are they counselors, etc? My brother-in-law is in the Masters of Social Work program at BYU and he spearheaded a project called ClergyBridge that is an excellent resource for all clergy (not just LDS)on how to deal with various forms mental health issues, including dealing with sexual abuse. Here is a link to the website: http://clergybridge.org/index.html

    It is currently specific to Utah County (all of the resources for help), but the principles still apply. Pass it on as a resource for Bishops that you know.

    I have not personally experienced sexual abuse, but I have seen the devastating affects of it in my husband’s family. Thank you for speaking out kmillecam. Hopefully it will encourage others to get the help they need.

    • kmillecam says:

      MSchau, thank you for your kind words. I will have to check out the link that you provided.

      I truly hope that more bishops can be like my accepting, proactive bishop from Michigan when I lived there. He knew just what to do, didn’t blame me for anything, and encouraged me to talk to the police. It was exactly what he should have done.

  1. January 13, 2010

    […] a guest post by kmillecam was published, titled how well does the church handle abuse? kmillecam shares her personal story of her abuse, how she came forward and the response she […]

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