Poll: Sexual assault

Despite a 60% decline in reported sexual assault since 1993, the numbers of women (and men) that fall victim to these crimes are still staggering and hard to reconcile. Depending on which statistic you look at, it is estimated that the minimum is around 16% of the population every year, or 1 assault every 2 minutes. In college we see the common statistic of 1 in 4 women, which drastically increases our personal proximity to those that may be among these numbers, which are still far too high.

If you feel inclined and comfortable, please share your experience by voting in this week’s poll. If you have been a victim, do you feel that being a member of the Church affected how you reacted to or dealt with the trauma, for good or bad? Has it changed how you feel about women’s issues, LDS or not? How do you view these statistics? Does it frustrate you to be reduced to a number? What do you wish would change about how we deal with this ever present threat that primarily affects women? How do you wish the Church would deal with it? Do you believe bishops should be involved?

There may be women out there suffering that have not felt empowered to report or get the help they need. If you want to anonymously share your experiences or any advice, please do. And for all others, please keep the comments respectful by keeping in mind the readers that may be strongly affected by this topic. For more statistics and info on ways to give and get help, visit http://www.rainn.org/statistics (includes a list of international agencies and resources) or http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/mission.htm


Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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30 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    My most dramatic experience with sexual assault (or maybe aggression is a better word) involved being chased through the Paris subway system at midnight by a man who was pulling out his penis and masturbating. That was scary, but at least he didn’t touch me.

    Other incidents involved men pushing up against me in crowded buses so that I could feel their erections. I was too young and polite at the time to push them away or anything. There was always that question about whether or not it was just accidental…

    These incidents have, for me, made me wish that I had been trained to be a bit more assertive, and not so concerned about being polite and nice. I wish now I would have turned around on the masturbating man in Paris and screamed in his face to get away, rather than just running.

    • Corktree says:

      I had a similar experience while traveling Caroline, and what struck me, and what seems similar in some of the comments, is that it isn’t much between aggression and assault, the line is very thin. Any victim that falls into one category could easily fall into the other, and the difference isn’t based on the intention of the attacker or aggressor – very often it is simply chance that allows someone to get away. But it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the victims to protect themselves or run. We need to make these acts unfathomably unheard of so that men don’t think they will get away with it.

  2. Still anon says:

    Mine was in college at BYU. I didn’t tell anyone or report it for fear it would get back to my bishop and he wouldn’t take is seriously or would blame me for putting myself in the situation. I didn’t want to risk my ecclesiastical endorsement or my temple marriage (I met my husband a few days after the assault, and in Mormon fashion, was engaged in 3 months) in case he thought I needed to repent from it.

  3. Anon says:

    I’ve never told anyone but my husband that it even happened and it wasn’t even that bad. I can’t bring myself to even really talk about it here, anonymously. And really, I can’t figure out why it’s even such a big deal to me. I just freeze up.

    • Corktree says:

      I hope you have found healing in being able to share with your husband.

      I think it’s very normal to freeze up, and very understandable, whether in the memory or the moment. When I had someone attempt to get to me to go somewhere with them, even though they weren’t being violent at the time, I froze and didn’t believe that I had a choice.

  4. Anonymouse says:

    Like Still Anon, it happened to me at BYU, twice, both by RMs almost 40 years ago. The first was our student ward elders’ quorum president, who asked me to come over to his apartment one day because he needed to talk to me. When I got there, he told me that sex was a beautiful thing and sanctioned of God and as long as we didn’t have actual intercourse, it was okay between two unmarried people. When I tried to leave he literally jumped on me, tearing at my clothes and grabbing me in all the wrong places. With a lot of kicking and screaming I was finally able to fight him off and make a run for the door and back to my own apartment across the street. I told my roommates. It was hard to hide, because I was so shaken up and physically bruised. We talked about telling the bishop, but decided that he would never believe us. This EQ pres. was admired by everyone and the bishop often talked about what a fine young man he was. I was just a freshman and very intimidated. However, we did warn other girls in the ward.
    Just a year after this incident, I was dating a graduate student who forced himself on me one evening when my roommates were all out. After my previous experience, I had learned a few self-defense moves. A knee to his groin incapacitated him enough for me to get away from him. Sometime later he apologized to me and told me he had gone to his bishop to confess. Then he told me that he thought I too should go to my bishop because I had to take some responsibility for tempting him. This made me angry, but eventually I did talk to my bishop about it. Bless that bishop, who told me I was not responsible, that I had nothing to repent of, and that I should have nothing to do with this young man again.
    It was just a few months after this second experience that a devotional speaker at BYU, speaking on sexual morality, said that it was better to fight to the death than to let a man rape you and take your virtue from you. That was the prevailing “wisdom”, that if you were raped, you were “damaged.” I preferred to believe my bishop, not what I heard over the pulpit.

    • Corktree says:

      I’ve been wondering if this is more common at a place like BYU because of the teaching to youth that masturbation is unnatural and sinful, whereas sex at some point will be “okay”, creating a skewed view of what is truly right and wrong in dealing with controlling sexual impulses. Does anyone think that if men felt more normal using release “techniques” that they wouldn’t become so aggressive when presented with an opportunity to act on their urges? Don’t know if that holds any water, but I’ve heard a lot of stories like this.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, and I’m so glad to hear of a good outcome in telling a Bishop.

      • MJK says:

        Just my two cents here but -Yes and no. I think that you would find it prevalent in any society where women tend to be separated as “other”. I also think that the teaching against masturbation may lead to more men who thus view women as the only ‘acceptable’ outlet for their sexual desires and some come to only see them as that. I believe too many young men are brought up in the mindset of “women are the cause of my desires” and not taking any responsibility for it themselves. I also feel that denying masturbation would emphasize this. “Women cause me to feel this way and sex is the only acceptable release,” would make it very easy to blame a woman for “asking for it.”

        My husband is a convert; his family is not LDS and his parents raised all three of their sons to be wonderful men who, like my husband, I could not imagine ever sexually assaulting anyone. I have thought a lot about the differences between my husband (and his brothers) and the men I grew up with and still am around in church. I have thought even more about it now that we have a son of our own.

      • Corktree says:

        I agree, and it’s interesting that you mention your husband’s upbringing as a possible difference. My husband is also a convert and has just a brother, and I’ve often wondered how much he is a product of his parents’ attitudes toward things like premarital sex, masturbation, marriage, etc. And I do think that what they taught (or didn’t teach in some cases) which in many ways is drastically different from Church teachings, helped him to form a world view of more respect for women, and more responsibility for his own feelings and actions. And I’m trying to figure out how to create this same experience for my son as well.

    • Mike H. says:

      Then he told me that he thought I too should go to my bishop because I had to take some responsibility for tempting him.

      I would have said back “You got to be $#%& kidding me!” Unless you put some serious moves on him, you had nothing to confess!

  5. Onanon says:

    I think I heard once that most women have had at least one unwanted sexual encounter in their lifetime. I can count 3 before the age of 15. The first two were ‘flashers’ the 3rd was more serious when I was forced to help an older teenage boy masturbate. I can remember feeling some shame about it but only because I was annoyed at myself for being trusting.

    I was pleased to hear that Anonymouse received good council from her bishop. In a ward I was in several years ago there was a youth leader who touched some of the youth inappropriately during private tutoring lessons. It was poorly handled by the bishop at the time – due I think to inexperience. If there isn’t training at the moment on the subject – I definitely think there should be.

  6. spunky says:

    I was sexually harrassed at combined YM/YW activities quite regularly when I was a beehive… it seemed to settle down when I hit Mia Maids, but the YW leaders had introduced self-defence classes at mutual activities, so that may have had something to do with it. I think that we are taught to “let our guard down” at church, and sadly, there are predators who will take advantage of that. Add to the mix that I was taught- even as a Merrie Miss that I would be better off dead than if I was raped, and in YW that if I was sexually assauted, it would be my fault because “men have less control in that area.”

    It seemed to me then and now that there is an institutionalized habit of giving Mormon males permission to have less self-control, and as we are culturalized that men are church leaders, we are to follow their “leadership” in almost blind faith, even if it is in dangerous situations. I mean, who hasn’t heard the pick-up line from the uber-creepy RM, “God told me that I should ask you out because you were ready to be married”? Bleeech.

    Its funny because I used to think that the admonition that a Priesthood leader should never be alone with a woman was prudish… besides it was described to me as being a protection to the priesthood. (from what? what am I going to do to the “priesthood”? ask for a blessing? ugh.) But now, I think that it is excellent advice for the protection of YW and even YM from predators- forget about “the priesthood”!

    I am not sure if it is worldwide church policy, or just a local habit, but in my last few branches and wards, every member was asked to complete a “working with children” background check– the reasoning was that in case you were called or asked to sub in youth or primary, you could be “ready to go”. This inferred to me that there is a policy in place to have youth and primary leaders who have obtained the same government clearance as school teachers. I have come to realise that the policy/habit is good in part because it does raise red flags for the members who were not granted the clearance. (I also realise that this can get sticky with atonement/forgive/forget issues.)

    • Corktree says:

      I believe that my husband had to fill out a background check form when working with scouts, but I think it would be nice to have it for primary workers and youth leaders as well. I don’t think we can ever be too careful with impressionable young bodies and minds.

  7. Keri Brooks says:

    I count myself fortunate that I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but I have been sexually harassed. When I was on my mission, my companion and I were riding the bus and some teenage boys (they appeared to be between 16 and 18) got on. I sized them up immediately as problematic, but my companion engaged them in a conversation. They proceeded to verbally harass us. They asked us if we were virgins and made lewd remarks. I rather sharply told them off and they stopped bothering me. My companion tried to be sweet and kind, so they kept making remarks toward her until a man on the bus intervened and made them stop. We got off at the next stop even though it wasn’t our destination and we waited for the next bus. It was a frightening experience. I felt so vulnerable, even though they stopped when they realized I wasn’t an easy target.

  8. Jenne says:

    It wasn’t until recently that I realized that some of my experiences probably should be defined as sexual assault while others are probably harrassment. First was as a young teenager when my boyfriend held a knife to my chest as he encouraged me to kiss him. It seemed like he was joking and was probably trying to use the thrill of danger seductively until I realized later, he was holding a knife to my chest! It seems ridiculously now that I wasn’t disturbed by it at the time.

    Another boyfriend lied to me about his status as a virgin (he was but told me he wasn’t) and that was enough for me to feel pressured into having sex with him.

    Next was shortly after my baptism when (another, this time LDS) boyfriend was upset for my decision to be baptized. He was frustrated that I was now unwilling to have sex with him and tried to manipulate me into breaking the commandment that I willingly took upon myself. I was grateful for the protection that commandment could give me but it meant that I would have to end my relationship with him if I was to be able to keep it. It was at that point I learned what it felt like to have to choose between God and Mammon.

    An RM in college tried to push me to go further than I was willing but backed down. It seemed like he might have just been tempting me to see if he could get me to go further but didn’t turn insistent or aggressive.

    The one instance I did identify as assault is one that I have to argue with people, which no victim really wants to do in order to be taken seriously. When in labor with my son, I was coerced and manipulated into consenting to serial vaginal exams. Perineal stitches were also done without my consent. Many people would say that coercion by medical professionals can’t be called sexual assault but what else can you call assault that occurs to a person’s genitals? As a result, I had PTSD from my experience which in the course of my recovery, I became an activist for mother-friendly maternity care (www.motherfriendly.org). Birth trauma, assault and rape are not very well accepted in our dominant society and given the LDS culture of trusting your doctor, there is very little recognition of it. You just won’t hear the church talking negatively about relying on doctors or questioning their authority (well, Brigham Young did) but with the LDS push for conformity (and the high proportion of doctors in the church), you don’t hear it so much anymore. There are many LDS mothers who are aware of this but it is certainly a minority, and the church cannot provide any support beyond referrals to therapists and the encouragement to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause” or “comfort those who stand in need of comfort.” So this topic is most likely one that will not be recognized or discussed in the church.

    • CatherineWO says:

      Jenne, my oldest daughter had a similar experience to yours with her first child. It resulted in a c-section too. Fourteen years later (and two years of counseling), she still bears the emotional toll. This was with an LDS doctor in Rexberg, Idaho. I’m totally with you on this one.

      • Anon#1 says:

        As someone who has dealt with infertility for years, I seriously thought this was only an issue for infertile women. I have been in situations where I was exposed, and the doctor opened the door and called in other doctors I guess for a second opinion, but I don’t know… felt like a peep show to me. After years of being exposed and prodded and uncomfortably poked, I blamed myself for feeling assaulted after these appointments, and I blamed my Mormon-ness for being overly prudish rather than scientifically victimized. Maybe it isn’t just the infertile that have their organs treated like sexual road kill?

      • Jenne says:

        Catherine, I hope you’ll tell your daughter about Solace for Mothers (www.solaceformothers.org). We have an online discussion board for mothers who have been traumatized by their birth experiences (and childbearing experiences in general too, Anon #1. you are welcome there as well). The women there support, empathize and encourage one another while sharing resources to healing techniques. In fact, Solace is an acronym for Support Overcoming Labor and Childbearing Experiences.

        Anon#1, you are right. Childbearing women in general have their organs treated like roadkill. I had no idea, no preparation for it when my son was born and I was shocked. Many women who have been traumatized by their childbearing experiences describe feeling like they were treated like an animal. Its very dehumanizing. No one expects to be treated like an object when it comes to bringing forth new life. Its mind-blowing that other people act as if its okay. One explanation I can come up with is for providers, they are just doing their jobs and get into a mode where they stop thinking that the vagina they are reaching into is attached to a thinking feeling person still.

        Catherine, this may sound off so forgive me if it does, but from the perspective of one who felt so violated by my birth attendants, the worst of my fears would have been for those assaulting me to gain access to my body through a surgical incision. Its just horrifying and I am so sorry that your daughter was forced to experience that.

        Thanks for the validation I’ve received here. I came across as defensive and I’m glad to find compassion rather than what I’m used to.

    • Corktree says:

      Jenne, I hope that some day you will not need to defend your experiences and that by spreading awareness it will become less and less common, but also more understood in terms of the damage that this type of treatment causes. By talking about it, more women will see if for what it is, because I think there are far too many that have had similar experiences and just accept it as something they have no control over.

    • It’s not the fact that they were medical professionals that would make it not sexual assault, it would be the absence of any sexual intent, which I believe is generally required to meet the definition (though individual states may differ).

  9. MJK says:

    Jenne, glad to hear someone else speaking out against the assault that can and does go on against women who are giving birth and are – if you think about it – even more vulnerable than they would otherwise be. I’m so sorry you had that experience with your birth, and think it’s great you’ve been able to get into activism.

    I’ve been very lucky in my life – twice I was in situations with guys where I did not know if they were going to stop when I told them to stop. But both of them did. (And I gave birth to my son at home with the help of two wonderful midwives!)

    • Jenne says:

      I agree with you that women in labor are uniquely vulnerable. We’ve kind of got other things going on that makes it hard to stand up for ourselves, you know?

      My son’s birth was actually with midwives as well but not at home thankfully. There’s a whole other level of trauma when you are assaulted by a midwife in your own house, which can happen as well, though will less frequency (but then again homebirths happen with less frequency as well).

  10. Corktree says:

    Did anyone notice how close to 50/50 the poll numbers were all day? I found this interesting, but then I began to wonder if these types of trauma, especially if they are in any way connected to the Church, are part of what propels some women into feminism. I wonder if a broader study has been done to see what the statistics look like within a larger body of members, or at BYU.

    • spunky says:

      This is very interesting, Corktree…. and alarming. It would be interesting if a poll could be done in the church at large- just to see what percentage of sexual harrassment and assault occurs as a result of Mormon relationships, i.e. “too trusting” of RMs, Bishops, etc.

      • CatherineWO says:

        Yes, this is interesting, Corktree. I know that my oldest daughter’s experience is definitely what turned her to feminism. What is also surprising to me is that whenever this subject comes up in a group of women, there are so many stories that are told. Just the other day, one of my adult daughters mentioned an interview she had with a member of our stake presidency many years ago in which he grilled her in detail about dating and her own sexuality. I see this as a form of sexual harrassment that is regularly tolerated in the Church. I am proud to say that in this case, my daughter just lied to him, figuring it was none of his business. It is telling though that she has not forgotten the incident.

  11. MB says:

    Okay, in defense of physicians and Mormon men, I should at least pipe up and say that the delivery of my children in hospitals with male physicians were fine and positive and the two sexual assaults I experienced as a teenager were perpetrated by teens who were not LDS. My bishops and stake presidents never asked prying questions in interviews. And every one of the LDS men I dated treated me with respect. And I appreciate that.

    There are bad apples in every barrel, but lets not paint all the apples with the same broad brush.

  12. val says:

    I was sexually abused by an older brother. My Parents handled the situation very badly, asking me to ‘forgive’, and then assuming that there was no more problem after the abuse stopped.
    There was a lot of talks and firesides at church about sexual abuse- this was when the catholic priest sex abuse cases where getting a lot of media coverage- and my mother told me specifically to not tell anyone at church, and that teenagers go through an “experimental phase” and that church leaders understand that.
    I was too young (11 and 12) to understand that this was all wrong.
    Because there was so much talk at church about preventing abuse, and not blaming the victim, I think that the church would have helped me. To be fair, reporting abuse is always traumatic and difficult.
    For a time I thought that I needed to “forgive” my brother by acting like nothing had happened, but when I had kids I realized that the definition of forgiveness is a bit more broad.
    I live far away and am cordial at family gatherings when we have to meet. This is not a perfect eternal family, but the situation is not my fault.

  13. Mike H. says:

    I’ve not been been a sexual assault victim.

    But, I was nearby when my sister was. It was at my grandparents house when I was about 8, and 2 of my cousins were in the attic bedroom there with my sister. I wondered why they had locked the door, and wouldn’t let me in. Years later, it came out one of those cousins raped my sister, and the other held her down. Should I blame myself for not making a fuss for their not opening the door? Was I prompted to try to find out what was going on to make my cousins come to their senses before it was too late? I don’t know. I do know my Father & my Grandfather would have blown a fuse, to put it mildly, if they had found out about it.

    This cousin went a few years later on a mission. Did he confess this? I don’t know. He could have lived a lie after that incident. Eventually, he was a Counselor in a Bishopric. That fact makes me gravely concerned, if he had no remorse for what he did. Eventually, he was killed in an accident at his workplace.

    Antidotely, I do think the statistics of 33-50% of women being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives is accurate.

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