Guest Post: #MormonMeToo — Actionable Steps

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

Assembled by Dana HC

This list grew out of a “Mormon Me Too” discussion at the 2018 Midwest Pilgrims retreat (May 4-6 in Morgantown, Indiana).

Actionable Steps to Prevent and Address Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

General

1. Publish and distribute any Church protocols for addressing domestic violence and sexual abuse so that all members can access them.
2. Ask ward and stake leaders to publicize the updated guidelines for interviews from the pulpit.
3. Ask bishoprics to invite occasional Sacrament Meeting speakers to address the importance of healthy relationships, mutual respect, and appropriate boundaries using Preventing and Responding to Abuse.
4. Call for general Church leaders to create a domestic violence and sexual abuse survivors’ hotline that is independent and run by third-party professionals with a prompt response protocol.
5. Call for general Church leaders to establish church-wide protocols that direct every victim or survivor to a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or professional therapist and local support resources.
6. Call for general Church leaders to state in public written materials that Church leaders are generally lay people who rarely have expertise in the areas of psychology, mental health, or family law. Further, lay leaders cannot be expected to function as professionals in fields outside their expertise and must refer members with specific health or legal needs to outside experts.
7. Call for general Church leaders to create a protocol for situations where a Church leader such as bishop may have conflicting stewardships over both an alleged perpetrator and an alleged victim.
8. Call for general Church leaders to direct all members to respond to information about possible abuse by contacting appropriate child protection, law enforcement, or other government agencies before contacting Church leaders.
9. Ask leaders to designate and train a female advocate for sexual and domestic violence in each ward and stake.
10. Encourage wards, stakes, and other Church units to support violence shelters as part of humanitarian or community service. Help organize volunteer hours, donations, food, etc.
11. Post fliers and pamphlets about community resources for domestic abuse and sexual harassment on Church bulletin boards and in restrooms. Make this information readily available, not secret and shameful.
12. Discuss domestic abuse and sexual violence as part of ministering. Offer a listening ear, emotional support, or help accessing professional resources, if needed.

Children and Youth

13. Set aside an annual Sharing Time for the bishop to explain interviews (including the option to have an adult present). Teach in age-appropriate ways about personal boundaries. Invite parents to attend.
14. Send all parents of children and youth under age 18 a paper copy or email link to Preventing and Responding to Abuse.
15. Conduct interviews with minors in rooms with windows if no adult other than the bishop is present.
16. In a Sharing Time, teach children to identify five trusted adults they could tell if they (or another person they know) were being abused. Role play telling an adult about a friend who is being scared or hurt. Emphasize that Jesus taught that children should be cared for lovingly, and that we honor Jesus when we keep children safe.
17. Teach children that no adult should ask them to keep a secret (except about happy surprises like birthday gifts, etc.).
18. Ask bishops to share a list of interview questions with parents, teachers, and youth in an annual combined Young Men/Young Women meeting.
19. In a combined YM/YW meeting, teach youth to recognize warning signs of “grooming” (a perpetrator identifying and gradually acclimating someone to abuse), steps to report abuse, and local resources that can provide support. Role play reporting an abusive situation to a trusted adult.
20. With YM/YW, highlight the fact that most perpetrators of sexual violence are acquaintances, family members, or romantic interests of the victim.
21. Teach that respecting adults (including sustaining Church leaders) does not include allowing them to violate personal boundaries.
22. Make sure that children, youth, and adults are aware that 1/3 of child victims are boys. To reduce stigma, include examples about boys and men as victims and as helpers.
23. Consider watching and discussing the movie Spotlight (rated R) with older youth or young adults.
24. Share videos or writings of LDS abuse survivor Elizabeth Smart with youth. Invite parents to join a discussion.
25. Teach youth that blaming the victim is wrong.
26. Do not attribute sexual assault or abuse to the victim’s clothing. Do not imply that modest dress prevents assault or abuse. Perpetrators are not motivated by sexual desire but by the desire to exercise power over another person.
27. Teach that “virtue” cannot be taken from someone. Discuss the 2016 revision to Personal Progress books to eliminate the verse on rape.
28. Offer healthy relationship classes for YM/YW and through Young Single Adult wards.
29. To help youth function successfully in broader settings, teach the concepts of sexual consent and sexual harassment as currently used in many U.S. schools and workplaces. Note that consent applies to hugging, kissing, and touching as well as intercourse. Teach youth that they have legal as well as moral agency.

Adult Classes and Meetings

30. Look for ways to mention Preventing and Responding to Abuse in class discussions. Normalize talking about domestic violence and abuse so that victims and others can speak freely and without fear of judgment.
31. Make reference to recent news about LDS people involved in domestic violence and abuse to underscore the relevance of these topics for LDS audiences.
32. Discuss the pressure some members may feel to portray their marriages or families as celestial or perfect. Since a focus on appearances may make people less willing to report actual domestic abuse, talk less about “the family” and more about the wide range of “families.”
33. Ask if Relief Society presidents or other women leaders could be available to sit in on interviews if requested by the interviewee.
34. Role play ministering to a woman who seems afraid in her home or who hints at abuse. Role play contacting local authorities.
35. Teach parents not to make a child hug or kiss relatives, family friends, grandparents, etc., but rather affirm the child’s agency in choosing appropriate boundaries.
36. Invite a LCSW or other social services/mental health/justice system professional to teach adults and youth about domestic violence or sexual assault during a 5th Sunday combined meeting.
37. Invite women to lead combined 5th Sunday discussions on these topics.
38. Include men in discussions of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Do not allow abuse to be a woman’s issue.
39. Use 1st Sunday Council Meetings to discuss these issues. Ask Relief Society leaders to take ideas and recommendations to ward councils. Follow up on implementation.

Language

40. Teach ward leaders to model direct, plain language (assault, rape, abuse) rather than vague euphemisms (non-consensual immorality, getting physical, etc.). Professionals can provided guidelines on helpful, accurate language.
41. Avoid language that communicates shame (worthiness, purity, etc.).
42. In any discussion about the importance of marriage and family, mention that unsafe home environments are not “of God.” Marriage is not more important than physical or psychological safety.
43. Adopt language of empowerment (choose, want, prefer) rather than of obligation (should, supposed to, must, need to, have to, etc.). Emphasize each person’s fundamental agency.
44. Do not equate virtue (behavior showing integrity) and virginity (the state of never having had sexual intercourse).
45. Avoid or explicitly point out flaws in traditional purity metaphors: chewed gum, licked cupcake, crushed rose, etc. These metaphors objectify women, undermine the concept or repentance, and communicate harmful views of sexuality.
46. Reject as irrelevant any information about a person’s dress or sexual history in cases of abuse or assault.

Resources

• January 2018 BYU Benjamin Ogles Speech about Sexual Assault (text and video) https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/benjamin-m-ogles_agency-accountability-atonement-jesus-christ/
• October 2002 BYU Chieko Okazaki Speech “Healing from Sexual Abuse (text) http://www.ldswomenofgod.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Healing-from-Sexual-Abuse.pdf
(video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rs4XJURtSug&feature=youtu.be

Template for (More) Successful Recommendations

1. Situation/The Nod: Using neutral, uncharged language, describe a single issue in terms your audience can agree with. Both parties should be able to nod in agreement.
“Historically, church leaders have interviewed children and youth alone in private offices.”
2. Complication/The Blood Pressure Spike: What has happened to alter the situation? To minimize defensiveness, externalize the problem (“the world has changed”) rather than highlighting internal deficiencies (“you blew it”). If possible, create sense of urgency and show the danger of inaction.
“Recent abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and the US women’s gymnastics team have highlighted the need for greater protections for children and youth. Organizations that fail to safeguard minors betray their most basic stewardship. They may also be vulnerable to criminal and civil charges.”
3. Question/The Set-up: Ask a question that sets up your recommendation.
“What can we do to facilitate safe, appropriate interactions between church leaders and children or youth?”
4. Answer/Your Recommendation: Simply and clearly, make your point.
“Inform children, youth, and their parents that a second person can participate in any interview. Meet in rooms with windows. Provide list of topics or questions in advance,” etc.

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6 Responses

  1. jenna says:

    #1: Ask bishops why there aren’t two teachers/adults in every primary classroom yet.
    Am I the only one whose ward isn’t compliant yet? Where is the hotline for non-compliance with abuse prevention guidelines?

  2. Violadiva says:

    Really impressive list. Thank you for sharing! I’ll send your post to my local ward and stake leaders to see what from this list they can accomplish on their own. I agree that broad policies and guidelines from the top-down would be helpful in keeping our people safe and protected in church settings and otherwise.

  3. Anna says:

    As a social worker who worked in a domestic violence shelter and with wictoms of secular assault, I think your list is excellent.

    Just one small point that I would disagree with. Saying that the world has changed, so the church needs to adjust its policies is incorrect and makes the world the enemy. Personal interviews one on one with an adult has not suddenly become dangerous. It has always been dangerous. We as a church and society just ignored the problem while children were being molested. The world has only changed in now we are not shaming victims into silence. I had clients who were molested by bishops as far back as fifty years. They had lived with the shame and guilt thinking that it was their fault and even if they told, no one would believe them. So, they kept their abuse secret until society became more open on the subject of child sexual abuse. Society has not changed to make protecting children necessary in ways that we didn’t have to in the past. We failed children in the past. We need to stop failing to protect children. I think admitting the truth that Mormons were right there along with most of our larger culture and unaware of a serious problem does not blame the church, but makes it clear that our church is made up of people who can be ignorant of problems.

  4. Mary says:

    Excellent, excellent list!

    Favorite items, plus some suggestions and commentary:

    General 3 – 6 Wonderful!
    General 7! Wow! Why didn’t I think of that! I would add giving the victim permission to attend a different ward, possibly even a different stake (where possible). A bishop may do something like allow the perpetrator to bless the Sacrament as a way of shepherding them back to worthiness. Meanwhile, the victim doesn’t have too many options about whether or not to take the sacrament blessed by her abuser and her bishop approving of the whole situation. The victim should have a different person to talk to and possibly a different congregation, altogether.
    General 8 & 9
    General 11 and update/refresh them every year (my ward building had some magnetic placards with a general information hotline number that was sponsored by a local business. They had tear strip phone numbers on the bottom. All the tear strips got torn off, eventually. I ended up writing the phone number on my hand and memorizing it while I cleaned the building. It was the first number I called.
    General 12 – teach ministers not to tell the victim to repent or forgive or they should have had faith things would work out with the perpetrator. Teach the ministers to talk explicitly of faith, the importance of souls and agency.

    A few additions

    Bishops and Stake Presidents, bless their hearts, are human beings and may get things wrong. One of those things they have an excellent chance of getting wrong is how they handle an abuse case. Teach anyone and everyone speaking from the pulpit to refrain from saying these words: “I know that every decision the Bishop/Stake President makes is of the Spirit”. A victim hears that enough times and they’ll possibly come the conclusion the Spirit must not want them at church.

    Teach people to be advocates and bystanders if they see abuse happening. Give them a safe means of reporting. I know you touch on it, but my children and I were being abused in a meeting house one time and a woman who had been abused as a child and was traumatized rushed her children past me and out the door. She apologized to me later. She was my VT comp. She told me she was afraid and didn’t want to face retaliation.

    When calling someone to a calling, like a man to a calling to work with children and there are concerns, but nothing on any legal documents, DO NOT ASK THE SPOUSE IN FRONT OF THE PERPETRATOR IF THERE ARE ANY CONCERNS WHILE EXTENDING THE CALL TO THE PERPETRATOR. You will not get an honest answer, because the perpetrator is sitting right there and the victim will have personal safety and the safety of her children in mind. If you do have concerns, sufficient to ask, pull the spouse aside separately, beforehand, assure anonymity and confidentiality and then ask. Better yet, call someone else to the position.

    Children and Youth
    When someone abuses a child and that someone is released from the calling, immediately and privately reach out to the spouse of that person and inquire as to how things are in the home. If someone is abusing in public, they are almost certainly abusing in the home.

    Have youth protection training for children and adults. Update that training at least every two years. Require refreshers every year for the adults and every two for the youth and children. I like your current suggestions, especially the role play.

    Follow Elizabeth Smart’s Foundation’s example and teach martial arts to the young women. It’ll come in handy on their missions, too.

    Adult Classes and Meetings

    Recognize that rape can happen within in marriage. Openly discuss how this can happen.

    Another plug for letting victims go to a different ward. The victim may want to discuss their experiences, the problem is the perpetrator is known and loved by many people in the ward. If the victim can go where the perpetrator is not known and is able to speak freely then the victim can use their life experiences and examples and teaching experiences for others.

    Even with all of these changes–and this is a wonderful list–a person may still choose to leave the church over this issue, because they see abuse enabling and grooming within the doctrines. Do not shame this person. Stop saying that apostates are offended or wicked and quit using people who have disaffected over this issue–or other issues–as negative examples. I realize this may be a lot to ask, but it really does send the message that apostates aren’t worth anything in the eyes of God and that simply isn’t true.

    Language

    Teach people that many abusers simply don’t think like the rest of us. Doing something like standing up to them or fighting back simply angers the abuser, makes the situation worse and escalates the problem. Teach people not say, “You should fight back”, “you should stand up to him/her”, “I would never take that kind of treatment”. So much is wrong with all of those statements, especially in a church that essentially traps victims through sealing the marriage.

  5. Sarah says:

    These are all excellent thoughts. I might add one to the last comment. I agree that allowing an individual to attend another congregation might be helpful and give them a place to speak without pre-judgement due to the perpetrator being known. But there may be circumstances where it might be warranted to have the perpetrator be asked to participate in a different congregation allowing the victim to stay where they may have roots and not feel exiled from a ward family. That can be a vulnerable time and having to set new roots down in an unfamiliar setting may add to the stress that is already being felt. Every scenario may have a different right answer. So I share this as an alternative thought.

  1. November 8, 2018

    […] this year, there was an excellent Exponent guest post with 46 actionable steps to prevent and address sexual assault and domestic violence. These were specifically for the LDS […]

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