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/

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10 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    I 100% believe you because I had an identical experience while working in off-campus housing at BYU. My boss was an LDS bishop, I was a returned missionary, and my supervisor was a young (non-endowed) adult woman with a flat chest who was offended by the way my body filled out my clothes. She complained to our boss repeatedly about me–something I had no clue about until one day the poor man pulled me into his office and, red-faced, stammered his way through a painful censure of my supposed immodestly, but let me know that although he hadn’t seen anything, my (all-female) coworkers had brought this to him time and time again which was why he was talking to me about it. I assured him that all my clothes were garment standard and I did not alter my garments; I was just top heavy. But, he said, the girls could apparently see cleavage when I was cleaning around the office. Well duh, I can’t wrap myself in a tarp. Heavier women DO tend to strain their clothes when bending down to clean a floor or when reaching down into a cabinet. Polite people look away. Or, if bothered by the view so much, they could stop standing over me so often or offer to scrub the floors or fetch the lower cabinet items themselves. (but no, these women were my superiors, so this was not to be). My sweet boss kindly offered me some money for wardrobe purchases, which was beyond generous, but honestly, what was I supposed to buy with it, turtlenecks? That was insane because my supervisors didn’t have to wear turtlenecks during Provo’s hot summer days with no AC in the office, so why should I? I bought the most tasteful tops I could with the money, then clasped a hand to my bosom whenever I bent down to clean, which made for painfully awkward cleaning/fetching sessions from then on, while my skinny supervisors got to clean with both hands free, but I felt ashamed and awkward and ended up leaving the job, even though the unendowed (in more ways than one!) supervisor who gave me the job was a close family friend. I’ve since lost touch with her, out of disgust for the way she complained about my chest to management.

    Thank you for helping me see this experience for what it was–sexual harassment. I hadn’t recognized it because it involved a woman and because I had wrapped it up in shame about my weight. I really appreciate this post!

    • Pamela says:

      Wow. People really need to mind their own business and just do their job. Huge eye roll to your boss and coworker.

  2. Pamela says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. This professional should have known better. I’m so glad people are speaking out and up about this kind of harassment. Until stories like this are shared, nothing will happen to protect the rights of others. Not acceptable at all.

  3. Ziff says:

    “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.”

    Un-freaking-believable. I’m so sorry that this got thrown at you, Risa. Thanks for sharing this, though. I agree with Pamela that it’s so helpful to have stories like this shared. Hopefully having them brought out will expose their absurdity and we can have a Mormon cultural shift away from shaming and harassing women.

  4. Mike H. says:

    Blame you, if a guy gets stimulated? I really think the picture of 2 guys leering at a woman in a Burka needs to be shared in the LDS realm. Look at how there’s not mass rapes at nude beaches. I also think of the Bishop that told a young woman in his Ward to try not to be so good looking, so as to not stimulate the men in that Ward.

    I also regret not going to HR a second time, after being harassed at a place I worked at, for a non-sexual issue. I complained to HR, then, the guy got mad at me for telling them. Yes, genuine retaliation, in hindsight.

  5. I wonder if he made up the complaints of the secretaries to cover his own behavior. Suspicious me.

    • Risa says:

      I’m 100% sure the complaint came from a secretary who loved to complain about others in the form of “feedback.” Nevertheless, if she had a problem with me, she should have discussed me with me, not my supervisor.

      My former supervisor is a good man that I very much respect. He was a wonderful mentor to me and is a person I trusted with some difficult personal issues. But just like a lot of good men in the church, he very much believes in rigged modesty standards, especially for women. Hopefully he doesn’t still believe that someone else’s figure or breasts could cause someone else to rape.

  6. Heather says:

    Thank you. This breaks my heart.

  7. Kristine N says:

    Perfect response. Really, putting your co-workers in their place without involving HR was probably more effective.

  1. April 12, 2018

    […] Cross-posted as a guest post at The Exponent […]

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