Guest Post: I was sexually harassed while working at LDS Family Services #MormonMeToo
by Marisa McPeck-Stringham
I worked at LDS Family Services in Ogden, Utah from 2007-2013 as an Adoption/Birth Parent caseworker. I first started there as a practicum student while earning my Bachelor’s degree at Weber State University in Social Work. I was hired two months after I graduated, and became licensed, because of the great work I did as an intern. I loved the work I did there and the clients I worked with.
In 2009 I was called into my Adoption supervisor’s office. I believe that he is a good man, but also a man who bought into the patriarchal modesty standards of the church. He let me know that a secretary (or a couple secretaries, I was never sure which) complained that when I folded my arms my cleavage would show. At the time I was an endowed member who wore her garments in the correct way. I also have a larger chest, which is nature-given, by the way.
I was shocked that this was being brought up. He told me that the secretary(ies?) were concerned about my modesty. I assured him that I was wearing my garments in the correct way and as long as I’m wearing garments then I am being modest, and professional in my dress and appearance. I was befuddled and confused that fellow women would care so much about my cleavage, and if they were that worried about it, that they didn’t speak to me directly. Bringing my supervisor into the conversation felt like I was being disciplined.
He then went on to tell me that even though we don’t work with them, a lot of men come to our agency for counseling for sexual issues. He said if one of those men caught sight of my shapely body or cleavage, were sexually stimulated, and then went and raped someone it would be my fault. He assured me that he knew I wouldn’t want that to happen.
I was stunned that a man who was licensed in marriage and family therapy actually believed that my body could entice another person to rape someone. I was so stunned I didn’t know how to respond.
Later the next week we were discussing in staff meeting an inappropriate comment the agency director made toward one of my fellow caseworkers. She had gone to Human Resources about it and it became “a thing.” I was so angry on her behalf and mentioned how inappropriate it is for anyone to talk about other people’s bodies in the workplace. I made mention that if anyone talked about my body or my breasts again I would go directly to Human Resources and talk to an attorney (who is my sister, but she’s still pretty amazing and qualified).
No one ever brought up my body, what I was wearing, or my breasts again and I continued to work there for another four years.
Now almost a decade later I regret not going to Human Resources about this incident. It was completely inappropriate to be talking about my breasts in the workplace, but the secretaries felt entitled to because we often discuss womens’s bodies in the church and how they do and do not measure up to our standards of modesty. It was inappropriate for those concerns to be brought to someone in charge of my employment and not to me directly. And it was completely morally and professionally unethical for my supervisor to say that my body or breasts could cause someone else to violate another person.
Discussing my breasts and saying that I would be responsible for rape because of them is sexual harassment. It happened to me while I was an employee of the church by other employees of the church. This is my #MormonMeToo moment.
Marisa blogs at https://theirondaisywrites.wordpress.com/