Guest Post: “Also Not Inclined to Take Any Action”

By LMA

In September, the non-profit organization MormonLeaks released a document created by the law firm that represents our Church in many of its legal cases. The document detailed seven cases of sexual abuse the firm was responsible for in the year 2012.

One of the cases detailed a missionary that in their words was “accused” of sexually abusing an eight-year-old child in their mission area outside of the United States. The document detailed the current legal outcome of the issue. In addition to no note indicating the authorities were contacted, the law firm specified the disciplinary council in the mission decided “no action would be taken” and that the missionary’s home stake president was “also not inclined to take any action.” They further specified, “leaders were working with the victim’s family.” Despite indicating the missionary had been “accused” of the sexual abuse, their use of the term “victim” indicates the missionary did sexually abuse this child. We do not know if the eight-year-old child referred to was female, but we do know it was a male missionary. Even more tragic is that not one, but two, church disciplinary bodies with authority to carry out spiritual consequences actively chose not to take action on this child’s behalf.

The lack of basic care and compassion displayed by these statements is both stunning and tragic. I started to cry in the Target parking lot when I read it.

“Also not inclined to take any action.”

When will anyone in a position of spiritual authority be inclined to take any action?

As an institution that so frequently defines itself as being an institution that literally and symbolically represents Jesus Christ, it is despicable to assume it does not have legal, moral, and ethical responsibility to hold those accountable who perpetuate these abuses within the context of our faith. Any Church member who chooses to harm, abuse, or traumatize another person in any form or place should not be in good standing in the Church, period. Any Church member who chooses to harm, abuse, or traumatize another person should experience tangible, accountability-driven spiritual consequences (e.g., not being allowed to have the priesthood) and pragmatic consequences (e.g., not allowing the perpetrator to be near the victim at Church) that reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and communicate care and support and safety for victims, not those who victimize. 

I teach child development classes to university students. This semester, I am teaching an all-female class on contemporary issues in the family unit. In our class, we discussed the construct of emotional labor (i.e., gendered expressions of what women and those who identify as feminine are expected to do, almost always without pay or recognition, and commonly on behalf of boys and men). The research in this area demonstrates young girls (but not boys) are taught from a very early age to be responsible for household and caregiving tasks as their mothers manage multiple demands (e.g., career, household work, managing childcare). This is even more often the case in families that experience economic difficulties. In these circumstances, eldest daughters are often forced to take on essential household and family roles they are not developmentally ready for, often at the risk of their own emotional, social, and educational opportunities and needs.

In our society and in our faith, we teach young girls and other vulnerable people (e.g., LGTBQ+ people) from a very young age that they are responsible to perform extensive emotional labor on behalf of others. They are taught to do labor that is not required of their brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and priesthood leaders. We teach them they must be good and clean and helpful while managing this labor. I could just cry thinking about how sad and not okay this is.

I have so many questions:

When will this stop?

When will men and others who violate the trust and innocence of children, women, and vulnerable people be accountable?

When will anyone with the power to make real changes in our Church be inclined to take any action?

When will we stop forcing girls, women, and other vulnerable people to take on the emotional labor of managing trauma perpetuated on them by others?

I cannot communicate how distressing this is. I have cried and cried and cried and spent so much time trying to understand how this could happen, and what can make it stop. Many of the men I have seen who hurt others in the name of “priesthood” and being a “man” have not spent one second of their lives doing this. As a result, I do not have a great deal of faith in the patriarchal institution our Church continues to support and enable. I have experienced different forms of these abuses in my own life, and documents such as this re-traumatize and reinforce over and over and over that those we are in intimate contact with will not keep us safe, including in many cases, our faith.

At this point, men who have not directly seen abuse or trauma happen to others are still complicit in these unspeakable acts. I understand many men are enacting behaviors and ideas of masculinity and priesthood that they were taught. However, regardless of the source of these behaviors and ideas, it is time for men in our faith—both institutional leaders and lay members—to take ownership for these wrongs and to be active participants in listening to women and children and other vulnerable people who are affected by the damning and damaging patriarchy so many in our faith live under.

In this profound pain, I do have faith in women and sisterhood and the ways women have and will protect each other, especially when no one else will. Heavenly Mother, our earthly mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, mentors, even social media followers—we all belong to each other, and we will all work to keep each other safe.

I keep reminding myself of this lovely poem by Nikita Gill:

Secret Language

We have always felt so unsafe in this world
Like soldiers, always on the alert
A secret language between us women
Are you safe?

Have you reached home?
Did anyone follow you?
Because we have come to understand
that no one else is going to protect us but each other.

And this bond of sisterhood is so sacred
I hope it one day destroys
the idea that women are competition for each other.

Instead enforces
how much
we belong in
our fierceness for each other.

 

LMA is PhD-holding boss lady that teaches child development to university students. She cares deeply about issues that affect women inside and outside of our Church.

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8 Responses

  1. Evangelina Voz says:

    Wow. Thank you! This puts into words the anger, rage, frustration, bewilderment, betrayal, and horror I have been feeling for the last 20 years over how the church covers abuse and victim blames and perpetrator protects. You name it all so well.

  2. SC says:

    Thank you for this. Sums up exactly why I stopped paying tithing to the LDS Church after reading about the church’s abuse coverups. I refuse to fund sexual predator-defenders with my tithing money anymore. Instead, I pay my tenth to trustworthy non-LDS charities. I don’t need to attend the temple anymore—church leaders have defiled God’s house for generations anyway by excluding blacks and LGBTQs and putting down women therein.

  3. anon says:

    Thank you for the post. Having not read the legal document I find it difficult to make any conclusions. However, in these cases I think the most important action for the church to take is to notify the legal authorities and let them do the investigation, etc. When it comes to church discipline I think the church should respect the legal system, and rely to some extent on those outcomes. But there was nothing here to indicate that the missionary was actually guilty. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, I don’t know. I would be careful to assume that just because they used the term ‘victim’ that it indicated or confirmed guilt. We often use the word victim in place of accuser. But to the larger point I completely agree that the church as an institution can and should do more to prevent abuse, help and support the victims, and discipline the guilty.

    • Anna says:

      Well, anon, I guess we will never know if this missionary was guilty or not, because instead of reporting to local authorities and letting it be investigated, it was covered up. The church authorities decided for us that abuse is no big deal and missionaries should not be punished even if they are guilty. THAT is the problem we are complaining about. That instead of letting the proper authorities investigate, the church decides to hide it in order to protect the “good name of the church”. They fail to realize that this has become a habit, and they are becoming known as an organization that hides abuse and protects abusers. That is not a very good name to have.

      • Lily says:

        There is absolutely nothing to stop the child’s parents from reporting the incident to the police themselves. As a lawyer, I have a hard time with people going to the bishop or other Church leaders to have these matters handled. CALL THE COPS. These are legal matters, not Church matters.

      • Anna says:

        Yes, that is a good idea to forget the church and call the cops, but it is not how the church advises us to handle things. Even with abuse, people are advised to talk to their bishop. Bad advice. But the church is full of bad advice.

        In many areas, if the victim reports to anyone, they are required by law to report to child protective services. Yet I know of cases where bishops did not report. Supposedly the hot line they are supposed to call gives them correct advice about they are required by law to report, but I know of cases where this didn’t happen. A 14 year old tried to stop dad from kicking mom after dad had shoved her to the floor. The boy fell and broke his arm. Mom knew that if abuse happened to her child, child protective services would require that she leave the abuser, so she was afraid to report, so she went to the bishop for advice. He advised her to forgive and go home to more abuse. When she later showed up in my social work office, I told her I was required by law to report if she did not, so it got reported. The bishop had not even called church the hot line because he decided that he knew the best thing to do and we lived in a state where anyone who knows about child abuse is required by law to report.

        So, I really think the church needs to stop telling people to talk to the bishop and start telling them to call child protective services, call the cops, go to a battered women’s shelter. But the church wants to let bishops decide whether or not to involve proper authorities.

  4. Dot says:

    Walk away. As long as members continue to show up, do their callings, and pay tithing, there is no reason in the world church leaders need to change a thing.

  5. Eveline says:

    If your child is molested, in any shape or form, you call the police and press charges. Full stop. Why was that not done by the parents? These kind of things should NEVER be handled by non-professionals like our church leaders. Same goes for any psychological or medical problems. It would actually not even cross my mind to involve my bishop in matters like these, but maybe the attitude of church members in Europe is very different.

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