Guest Post: My Mission President Sexually Harassed Me #MormonMeToo

By Emily B.

My mission president sexually harassed me, although I was too innocent to call it that at the time. He targeted several other sister missionaries as well. During personal interviews he would tell us about things he researched about sex, making it sound like he was teaching us. He was lewd. Even though he tried to make it sound like he was just reminiscing about the past when he told me about the sexual activities of an old friend, for example, I knew that it was wrong. He tried to make his dirty talk look like a typical chastity interview. He was sly about it. He would mix gospel doctrine with sex talk in a way that made it sound like he was just being clinical or professional, and he’d add missionary work counsel that just happened to be about sex. But it was always too much sex, more than was normal in the bishop’s interviews of our younger days. It was always way, way too much sex talk to be an accident or chattiness.

It made me uncomfortable at first, then I learned to lean on the other sister missionaries for help. Friendly companions who believed me would help me get out of interviews early or would go into an interview with me. My companions and I tried things like linking arms and saying, “Gosh, president, there is so much unity in our companionship and we love each other so much that we want to have all of our interviews together!” That moment of physically protecting each other–of standing with our arms literally linked together–was so important to me. Those memories all came back to me when I read about Hollywood actresses helping each other survive Harvey Weinstein. But we weren’t actresses, we were full-time representatives of Christ. Unfortunately, not even the law of witnesses stopped him from talking dirty to Christ’s female ambassadors. He just kept commenting about our bodies or talking about sexual stuff in our interviews anyway. It frightened us into deeper silence to see how he didn’t even fear a witness in the room. Like he knew he was invincible.

My mission president didn’t verbally assault all of the sister missionaries with his awful sex talk. He had a “type” that he preferred to target. Those who were not harassed were manipulated through special treatment. The mission president granted them favors, like allowing one sister to leave the country for a trip, or giving permission to not go tracting when those sisters were feeling homesick, or telling sisters they could call home when they wanted. He earned their loyalty and they would never believe the sisters who experienced harassment. The sisters who were harassed came up with a shorthand term for those who were loyal to the mission president. Just as fangirls of Justin Bieber are sometimes called “Beliebers,” we had a name for those who would protect the mission president at all costs, even if it meant turning their backs on fellow sister missionaries.

Why didn’t we speak up or do something more to protect ourselves? Looking back, I am devastated by the question of why I didn’t stand up for myself. Why did I stay frozen in my chair every month? Why enter the room with him in the first place? Why not tell my parents when I wrote them?

We had been conditioned to be seated and stay seated for male leadership from the time we were primary children. I was in a new place adjusting to a new culture while the man the church assigned to protect and guide was instead somebody who made me feel gross and violated. We were told that our mission president was called by God. We had to sustain him to go to the temple.He had all the keys to get me anywhere, literally and figuratively. To this day I can’t imagine a scenario where I could have gotten help, had people believe me, and been able to finish my mission.

I have so many regrets that I didn’t do more to help other sisters. There are sisters I could have helped or warned or rescued from him. I didn’t act because of ignorance and the commandment to sustain leaders. I worry that what might have happened to women who followed me is my fault for not doing more. I should have done more. But what more could I have done?

There was one moment when it seemed like somebody with power might actually help us. An area authority spoke at our zone conference and he scolded our mission president in front of the entire mission for breaking rules. The sisters who had been harassed tried not to get too excited, but we were hopeful about what had happened. Was this it, were we being saved? Would this area authority tell the brethren in Salt Lake City about the fallen mission president and we would get a new one? Would this area authority interview us and use powers of discernment to say he knew all along and we could reveal everything that had been going on? Unfortunately no, that never happened. Instead, the area authority met with some office elders, but never any sisters. He brought his wife with him to our mission, but she didn’t meet with any sisters, either.

Today, that visiting area authority is an apostle. I sustain him, but I always watch his conference talks with a longing heart because I can imagine how he might have saved us from those filthy interviews. If only he had looked a little closer! If only somebody had talked to the sisters! If that future apostle or his wife had just talked to the sister missionaries, those years of sexual harassment might have been stopped. I wouldn’t have to carry these years of pain and this guilt for the sisters I didn’t save.

A few years ago, I did try to report what happened to me to a member of my local bishopric. He didn’t believe me and insisted that his mission president was one of the greatest men he ever knew, and that therefore my mission president must have been beyond reproach. He dismissed what I said so quickly I know it was never reported up the chain. I definitely won’t be reporting it again.

The three things I feared the most and that kept me from standing up to my abuser were fear for my church membership, the possibility of my mission ending early, and worry about whether I would be believed. The Church newsroom’s March 20 press release in response to the Joseph Bishop scandal used all three of my greatest fears to discredit the victim. They cast doubt on her statement, despite the recording of his confession. They pointed out that she is a “former” member of the church and that she was only “briefly” a missionary. It is evil to use an abuse victim’s greatest fears as a weapon against her and as a deterrent from future reporting of sexual assault and harassment.

I hope that in the future, the church will be more respectful of those who have endured this pain, apologize publicly when harm has been done, respect victims’ privacy, and take bigger steps to prevent it from happening again. As it stands, the Church’s response succeeded–I am too afraid to post this story under my own name or to name my mission president. He is still active in the church, still interacting with young women, still a threat. I hold the Church responsible for that because they have created a culture where women are silenced.

I want other sister missionary-survivors to know that they are not alone and that I wish I could have saved them. Abuse victims deserve to be believed, protected, helped, and supported. Just as the sisters in my mission literally linked arms and helped each other out each month when we went into that interview room, we sisters churchwide should be linking arms with the Joseph Bishop’s victim because she is all of us. We sisters should all serve, lift, and support each victim of abuse the way actresses in Hollywood united in the fight against Harvey Weinstein. Hollywood women shouldn’t be known as more supportive and nurturing females than our own Relief Society! Just as the sister missionaries in my mission helped each other survive my mission president’s filthy verbal assaults, today’s sisters should step up and support each other when reports of abuse are heard. We should be especially diligent in reaching out when the men among us use the media to attack our wounded sisters.

You may also like...

39 Responses

  1. That the General Authority never even spoke to female missionaries–even when he knew the mission president was guilty of some kinds of misconduct–is so unfortunately unsurprising. This is a great example of why being relegated to the bottom of the chain of command, only listened to when a male person thinks to ask for female feedback, is such a problem. Women need to be part of all ranks within the church so we can’t be overlooked.

  2. Pamela says:

    The 3 things you mentioned the abusers and “backers” (the Church) use to discredit the victim will continue until enough people like you are doing, speak out and change the culture of how the Church handles situations like this. Thank goodness people like you are sharing their stories and not turning a blind “obedience” eye. Your mission president should have to go through the repentance process and be held accountable for taking advantage of the innocence of the sweet missionary sisters. He should apologize to those he hurt. He needs to know that what he did was wrong. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened either. It happened….period. Too bad if it’s embarrassing and humiliating to him. Thank you for making a difference and sharing your story. The culture will continue until women aren’t silent.

  3. MDearest says:

    You’ve described a textbook example of how clever an evil perpetrator can be in manipulating naive young women in a climate where no women have power or voice. My goodness, you all had witnesses, you were witnesses together! And still he was powerful enough to get away with it. I wonder how and when this predator acted out his ugly desires with a vulnerable victim who is still hiding in shame. You may yet get the dubious opportunity to publicly name him and support another damaged woman. I believe you.

    The church knows too well how to divide women against themselves. I experience this in my family.

  4. AJ says:

    May I suggest you consider reporting again? Perhaps an anonymous letter to the apostle you mentioned. Maybe there is enough of a spotlight on the issue right now for someone at a high level to make a change that will protect current and future young women from this particular offender.

    • Jenne says:

      You could send your letter directly to the First Peesidency, if you are first willing to request your Stake President to send the letter on your behalf. You may also be able to decline from sharing details about your experience by holding a firm boundary on what you are willing to disclose and your expectations of him to abide by the handbook rules:

      Your situation clearly cannot be handled at the local level so your SP is ethically obligated to forward your letter to the FP.

      • Olivia Meikle says:

        Ethically obligated, sure. But the odds of it happening, and of the letter being read, and of it all not exploding back on the writer and ruining her experience in her stake and possibly in the church at all, are slim to none. Sending a letter would mark her as an apostate. It would result in a permanent black mark on her “record” (which as we all learned this week, may be made public at any time to discredit her.)

        The church has set up the structures of the church on purpose to prevent reports of abuse reaching anyone but local leaders who can do nothing but ruin the complainants life. They have set it up this way on purpose. And in this way the assure that abuse will always continue and continue to be covered up and denied.

  5. cj says:

    I’m male, but I am willing to take my lumps to prevent such abuse. Easy for me to say after having been a member for 50 years. But I have stood up against such actions as bishop and feel just as strongly today. The Church owes you a huge apology.

  6. Annie says:

    This is the moment for you to speak up! I understand how hard it must feel to do so, but the ball is now rolling, and it is much more likely that you will be heard now, and that your courage will benefit and protect other women. This is painful, and necessary!

  7. Gordon Stirling says:

    I’m an active, male Church member and an RM. I became a U.S. diplomat. At the UN, we used a tactic called Name and Shame. We would shame the Soviet Bloc by actually naming the political prisoners unlawfully held in the gulags. Those prisoners later said the international attention helped preserve them and gave them hope. I suggest you name and shame. I’d start by documenting for your stake president or Area Seventy, or even someone in the general Relief Society presidency, with as much specificity as possible – names, dates, places, witnesses (the other sisters who were aware or harassed themselves), statements made, reconstructions of conversations – and it would be extremely helpful if there were contemporaneous documentation – journal entries, letters home or to other missionaries, etc. I’d stay within channels as much as possible – your grievance is valid and needs to be heard – but not exploited by the adversaries of the Kingdom. Seems like the Lord will want you to forgive, for your own healing, but it also seems your perp needs to enter a repentance process. Persist. (If any of the foregoing is clueless or insensitive in any way, it’s not intended. Hoping for your relief.

    • Melody says:

      Since you mentioned it: this is not the place or time to give council about a victim’s potential need to forgive a predator. Her MP was a predator. Her forgiveness of him has no place here.

      You worded things carefully enough, but, in the future when/if you are privileged to hear a story like this (on-line or in person) you’d be wise to leave that out. Completely. It’s a common flaw among Latter-day Saints to jump to that.

      Don’t do it. Not here. Not now. Not ever. Unless the victim chooses to bring it up.

      • Steve LHJ says:

        It was interesting, I read your response comment before the one you replied to and was nodding my head the whole time. Then I read the comment – and I think you misunderstood it’s intent. I think the reference to forgiveness was a passing comment and not the main point at all, that even if forgiveness was in the authors best interest, still the perp should get called out regardless. Of course that’s up to the author, but I think actionable advice to help bring the perp to justice is useful. As much as I think empathy is important, and am glad other people are angry that such things happen, I’d find it even more satisfying if something were actually done to rectify the problem, and not let the perp go free if that’s an option.

  8. Lo says:

    If you choose not to report him, that’s perfectly ok. You are not responsible or accountable for him or his actions, so don’t feel like you have to put that on yourself. I feel for you that the current media conversations, though necessary, bring up painful memories and reiterate feelings of powerlessness. I’m sorry you are experiencing that.

  9. Kirsten says:

    Thank you for speaking up and sharing your story. I am so sorry you had to endure such awful behavior while a missionary. I am so sorry that it continues to haunt you. I don’t know how long ago you were on your mission, but to carry such a weight even for a few months must be so difficult. What you have shared here is important and it matters. Your story, unfortunately, is not unique— there are so many more I am sure that we will hear. With each one—first I cry, then I rage. This isn’t okay. These stories matter as do the people telling them. Please know there are so many of us out here, linking arms with you in love, support, and ferocity.


  10. Liz says:

    Emily B, I believe you, and I’m outraged that this happened to you and so many other women. I’m outraged that you weren’t protected or believed, and I agree that this man and the church are responsible for covering this up. Thank you for sharing it – it is a brave, vulnerable thing to do, and you didn’t owe anybody this. I stand by you.

  11. Melody says:

    Thank you for your courage and your voice. You deserve a standing ovation for telling the truth. Or a warm blanket wrapped around you. Or both. (And if you find yourself hit with a “vulnerability hangover” for sharing here, jut know that’s natural and it will pass and you will feel a lasting strength from having told.) Really, I can’t say enough about how amazing you are for sharing here.

    My hope is that we will all continue to shine light on the darkness the way you’ve done here. It’s good for everyone. Always. Well done! God bless you.

  12. Emily Ruth says:

    I stand with you. Thank you for using your voice.

  13. Eskymama says:

    I believe you.

  14. cj says:

    My hopes are: (1) that sometime someone in authority will have the courage to address the church membership and state that if any leader, general or local, says or does something against our conscience, we have the duty to call them out, and (2) that there is another communication channel to report it in addition to the next higher authority with feedback confirming the investigation took place.

  15. m says:

    How horrible! My mission was so hard and my first mission president and his wife were so kind that honestly I have no idea how I would have survived without them. When it was most critical, and I was at a crisis, he BELIEVED ME and found me the support I needed. What you describe is a horrible betrayal. I am so so sorry.

  16. Moss says:

    I believe you.

  17. Allen says:

    How painful and such a tragedy, that it happened at all and all that has happened since. I’m so sorry that people didn’t listen and believe you. I believe you. I hope for your healing.

  18. Mike says:

    Most of the comments here have been left by women. I hope you sense their support and draw comfort from it. I’m male. I am a lifetime member of the church and a returned missionary. I TOO BELIEVE YOU and am deeply saddened by your experience. I appreciate your eloquence and your thoughtful expression of your experience and feelings. The choice is yours, of course, but I too would recommend that you not be put-off by the unreceptive response you received from the person you reported this too. He may very well have had an excellent Mission President. That hardly has relevance to your experience. Report it to your Stake President. This is NOT your burden to bear alone and this is NOT your fault. Bless you, Sister. I too hope you are healling.

    • Olivia Meikle says:

      And when the stake president refuses to send a letter, puts a permanent black mark in her record, refuses her temple recommend, fires her from her callings?

      There is literally no way for a woman to be safe reporting abuse in this church. You are ALWAYS at risk of being punished, and there is no way to assure that your report reaches anyone at all. This is the reality, and as long as week pretending that “if enough women just keep trying it will have to be fixed!” It’s set up this way on purpose, specifically to PREVENT reports of abuse reaching anyone who can do anything about them. This wasn’t an individual “unreceptive response.” It’s another example of an abusive system working exactly as designed.

  19. Risa says:

    I believe you.

  20. Leonard R says:

    What a painful story, made all the more heart- wrenchingly real as I realized we might have served together…

    It’s a stark reminder that our instinct is to not want to believe. We don’t want to believe it’s possible with the people we know. But we have to believe. I believe you.

  21. Diana says:

    I believe you. My first night in the MTC, I had a super uncomfortable interview about sex with my assigned branch president. At the time, I naively thought he was verifying that I understood the law of chastity. But decades later I continue to be disturbed by it. Sadly, that experience as a 21 year-old has caused me to not fully trust my Priesthood leaders. Until last week, I had never told anyone because I doubted they would believe me. But last week I told my husband, and he was shocked. (We’ve been married 20 years.) And yes, he believed me.

  22. JNB says:

    I believe you.
    I am with you 100% on this: “We should be especially diligent in reaching out when the men among us use the media to attack our wounded sisters.”

    Just posted to reporter Chris Jones’ Twitter last night:

    “Docs uncovered by KUTV2News reveals how the LDS church responded to the sex scandal surrounding the fmr pres of the MTC. The church lawyers put together a massive dossier on the accuser. It includes her criminal record, past allegations, her church record.”

    • JNB says:

      I know all too well how abuse changes a person’s life from normal to one fraught with less-than-perfect actions. The church should have never dug up her sins and put them on display for their own self-interest. I stand with you, and her, and all “wounded sisters.”

    • Jan Signore says:

      Thank you JNB. I wish the church had put in that kind of effort to nail the perpetrator, right? To do that to the victim is beyond the pale, and illegal in a court. Very sadly, there is a culture that runs deep that supports the priesthood authority and seeks to find fault with the victim who speaks out.

  23. Chairoscuro says:

    What happened to you was wrong. Thank you for using your voice to raise awareness and speak against such abuse of power

  24. Katie says:

    Please report HIS name even if your too scared to say your own. So sorry this happened to you, you are not alone. I believe you.

  25. Crystal Legionaires says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you. It was stories like yours that gave me the courage to speak out at the Saturday Afternoon session of conference. If you would like, I would like to share you stories with the stories of others

    • EmilyB says:

      If this really is the woman who cried out at conference, I thank you. I could never do such a thing. I was conditioned by my upbringing in the church to be silent and just take what the male leaders have to dish out, and my few awkward attempts to report, as you can see, yielded nothing. So did waiting on God’s servants to help me. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank that voice in the solemn assembly for crying out for me and for all the other women out there who are hurting. You are truly heroic. I pray with all my heart that the brethren will listen and realize that the strength of your voice represented the pain we’ve been carrying for years due to ecclesiastical policy errors.

  26. Eric says:

    Emily B. — In a healthy church, someone in the hierarchy would be reaching out to you about now to determine if this person is still in a position where he can cause harm and/or to apologize to you on behalf of the church. I believe you, and you shouldn’t have to go through what you did.

  27. Ziff says:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, Emily B. I think this that you said is just a perfect explanation of how the Church organization and culture are such a perfect setup for abusers:

    “We had been conditioned to be seated and stay seated for male leadership from the time we were primary children. I was in a new place adjusting to a new culture while the man the church assigned to protect and guide was instead somebody who made me feel gross and violated. We were told that our mission president was called by God. We had to sustain him to go to the temple.He had all the keys to get me anywhere, literally and figuratively.”

    Mormonism stands for complete deference to authority, so as you said, how you were taught set you up for making it pretty much impossible to report your MP’s harassment. I’m glad that you’ve shared your story here, though.

  28. erindixon says:

    Emily B, I believe you and I am so sorry that this happened to you. Yet another way the patriarchy fails women – we are completely at the mercy of the men who have power over us. Men’s voices are heard and believed before women’s voices. Men choose whether or not to hear and believe our voices and we have no say who our leaders are or any power to discipline those who abuse. Thank you for speaking up. The church shouldn’t need hundreds or thousands of women to speak up about abuse to begin to make meaningful changes, but sadly that seems to be the only way.

  29. Greg says:

    His actions were inappropriate. Also not so uncommon. The real mistake is believing that the church or ANY of its leaders are authentic or “inspired.” It’s a fake club/cult designed to gain and keep loyalty, grow in members and wealth, and control behavior of members. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both did much worse than this Mission President so if you stay in the church then you support an organization that has suppressed and controlled women (and men) since it’s foundation. Joseph Smith was a pretender and a womanizer who abused the faith and trust others had in him, marrying girls as young as 13 and 14 as well as telling already married women that they were given to him in the pre-mortal life and that it was God’s will that they be married (while still married and living with their first husbands). Most, if not all of Joseph’s extra marriages were kept secret from members and usually Emma (his first wife) too.

    • SC says:

      Giving orders to abused women is never, ever acceptable. She bravely came forward and shared her truth, so here is what an appropriate response should be: “I am sorry this happened to you. I am here for you. How can I help? How can I better advocate for other victims like you? I stand with you.”

      NEVER tell abuse survivors what they should or should not think or do or say. The decision is theirs alone.

  1. April 2, 2018

    […] responsible for in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. This horrific story is sadly just one of many that are now being revealed regarding some male church leaders who have taken advantage of their […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.