Guest Post: #MormonMeToo — Actionable Steps
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
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.
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.
• 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
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.