(trigger warning: sexual assault)
When I write, it feels like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs from the edge of a cliff. It’s like I’m getting rid of everything clogging my mind. Finally after repressing, recovering, and reorganizing every polarizing thought for over a year and a half, I’m going to scream it.
It seems strange to say something like this to random readers on the internet. But for some reason it feels safer. I don’t have to see the look in my sisters’ eyes when I tell them something I once loved so much broke me. I don’t have to hear my best friend cry because she wishes she could have done something. When I write it down, no one gets to see how painful it still is to relive it over and over.
I recently fell away from the church. Hearing the hurtful teachings of confused men and women who are convinced they speak truth became too much. The white-washed history that is constantly denied became too much. The denial of any fault within the church became too much. But it was not anger that fueled this departure from something I once loved, it was betrayal. It was confusion, and it was heart break.
The event contributing to my apathy toward the church is this “something” I’ve been wanting to scream. It is not a singular event, but it was something that triggered my need for seeking answers, and something that opened my eyes to the worst part of the church that everyone seems to ignore.
In early September of 2017, I was sexually assaulted while attending BYU-Idaho. And I said nothing.
I remember walking over to a friend’s apartment after I had just moved into mine, and we were going to watch a movie. It had just rained, and I loved the smell of the rain. I was wearing the slightly baggy jeans that almost fit, but never fit just right, and an old red flannel mens shirt I had just gotten at DI.
We were in his living room with his roommates, and with a signal from him, they left. Whatever, his roommates were still in their rooms, I didn’t plan on doing anything. He began to kiss me, and I kissed back. Then something else happened, he had managed to unbutton my pants.
I said no.
He said his roommates wouldn’t be coming out any time soon.
I said no.
He said it was fine.
I said no.
He said he’d keep his pants on and he wouldn’t go any further.
I. Said. No.
But that didn’t matter.
He held me down so I couldn’t move. Pinned down my arms so I couldn’t push him back. I didn’t know what to do, I said no so many times I could not give you a number. He was bigger, stronger, and I got so tired. He told me to be quiet, not to cause a scene, so I gave up. He went too far. Farther than I wanted. By the time he was done, I felt sick. He sat on the other side of the couch and told me I could leave whenever I wanted. So I left.
I ran home. I sat in the shower for who knows how long, trying to let the scalding hot water somehow clean off what had just happened. Then I curled up in my bed and prayed.
I told Heavenly Father I was sorry.
We lived close to each other and attended church meetings in the same building. I saw him walking to church the next day. He was holding a bag of bread. And he smiled at me.
Whenever I heard stories about sexual assault, as much as I tried to understand, I wondered why it took so long for anyone to speak up, why sometimes nothing was said at all. How come so many people let their abuser walk free?
Then I understood. There is a common theme of students at church schools not coming forward with these things, whether sexual assault, or mistakes they want to repent for, they hold back. Because there is a fear of being kicked out of school, being embarrassed, or not being taken seriously. This is mostly due to the honor code at each school that can influence students to keep quiet on things that they feel they can’t let out without major consequences.
Although I understand this is a major contribution to so many situations, overtime I’ve come to understand that it can be so much more than that. I’ve realized in the last year and a half that not being believed, or facing consequences I didn’t deserve wasn’t what kept me quiet. It was the guilt that too many are conditioned to feel from too early of an age within the church.
At the time of my assault, I had worked in the Executive Office of the university for almost two years. I worked with administrators and executives that I had come to love. If I would have said anything about it, I have no doubt they would have stopped at nothing to make sure I received justice.
Unfortunately, I realize this is not the case for most victims of assault, and too many are not taken seriously. However, that was my case. And the reason I never went forward was because I felt guilty. From such an early age I was taught that it was my job to keep priesthood holders worthy. They held the priesthood, and to show respect, we should keep them worthy enough to have it.
The words this man had whispered into my ear as he broke me played over and over again, “What did you expect?”
What did I expect? Should I have expected to give up my right to say no? Was it actually my fault? I did not expect to have my dignity ripped away from me by a man I saw as a friend.
I am going to say it, I have never met anyone more entitled than a mormon man who thinks God made him untouchable. Some of the worst, most terrifying men have come from the LDS church. I say this because it’s the men we are taught to trust that are developing these behaviors. It’s terrifying because I was taught to see priesthood holders as good men, and then I trusted one and he tore me apart. I still trust and see my priesthood holding friends as amazing, and worthy, but they do not see themselves as untouchable, immune. It is, maybe the few, but too many other men who are blinded by their conviction of superiority. There are groups that justify each others’ actions with the mormon culture they believe is doctrine. I know “not all men” and the next person that says that to me I’m going to egg their house.
The point I’m getting at is that there are too many.
That night I ran home, I prayed. And I said I was sorry. I was sorry. For something that shouldn’t have happened to me. After normalizing this behavior for so long, the harm was so completely done.
I was too afraid for too long because of the idea that I was in trouble. Because of a culture that shames those who don’t want to stay quiet about things that are happening anyway. This is so dangerous. This mormon culture surrounding sexuality, marriage, and women is so dangerous. Let it die. Just because you’re uncomfortable with the fact that entitled men never receiving consequences doesn’t fit your idea of the perfect church you love, does NOT mean it doesn’t exist.
Are you aware of what this culture is capable of doing? Are you aware that the things so many of you ignore are causing so many of those you claim to love to rot from the inside? Are you going to keep turning away from this conversation because it makes you uncomfortable?
I want to reiterate this to you just one more time; I told Heavenly Father that I was sorry.
Because of someone who I trusted, someone that I saw as a good priesthood-holding young man, I was broken. I felt betrayed. I spent so many nights under scalding hot water, letting it turn my skin red because it felt like I was cleaner. I still spend Sundays zoning out because I remember more details about that night in a boys apartment. I feel cheated out of something I put so much work into. After the assault, I decided to go through the temple. I threw myself into the church because maybe if I did, I could be complete. I did everything I was supposed to do. I studied every scripture I could, I gave my testimony in church, I taught classes, paid my tithing, and I prayed. And as much as I begged myself to feel complete, I never did.
Because after that night, I began to look more closely at those around me. I saw the toxic culture being taken as truth, and I noticed how so many people around me were oblivious to the faults within this ungodly thing they worshiped. They were more concerned with pleasing an institution than being human beings.
I tried. I really did. And like some of my friends have already told me, no, I did not distance myself from the church because “I fell for the temptations of the world” or because a bad man ruined my testimony. I distanced myself because after already questioning the harms of a culture and the teachings of an institution, I saw the ugliest side of something I once though was beautiful.
We talk about “causes of sexual sin”, we argue about the credibility of victims. We talk about how to prevent it, how to defend ourselves, but when are we going to talk about the amount of perpetrators? When are we going to discuss the narrative that makes them think this is okay? When are we going to stop acting like this isn’t a big enough deal? Especially in recent months, the conversation has become larger and louder, but it’s just not loud enough. We are just not doing enough.
To the good men that respect the women they date, the women they’re friends with, and any woman they come across, thank you. But we need you to do more. We need you to listen to us, to believe us, to help us. To yell with us.
It’s not enough to just be a good guy. You need to start a conversation as well. Talk to and educate your friends, roommates, brothers, classmates, and remind them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Educate one another, and be an advocate for women. This is not just a conversation for victims, but one for those who are willing to listen.
Support us. Support every woman and man who will come to you seeking comfort. Do not let this culture that you’ve grown used to restrict your right to speak up. Don’t let it make you believe that you are less than you are. Let yourself get angry about this, then do something about it. Don’t let that anger sit with you, but put it towards changing the narrative that allows this to happen. This is just too common, and it doesn’t need to be.
There are too many men I’ve had conversations with that think this idea is radical. When I speak up about this terrifying and growing issue in the church, I am radical. When did the notion that your sisters in the gospel deserve to be treated like women of God become radical? When did men who wear white shirts once a week become untouchable? When did questioning the culture forced by people, not a gospel, become apostate? When did conforming to fit the ideal in a toxic culture become more important than having faith in Christ?
I know what too many of you are going to say, “this is not a common thing, there’s just a few bad eggs making a bad image for everyone!” Stop. That reasoning is why it is still happening. Brushing it off because it’s not big enough for you is what is making it bigger.
This behavior and this culture of being untouchable and ignoring the voices of hurt or concerned women is not taught by the gospel. It is taught by entitled men to others.
I am adding this paragraph due to the comments from members of the church stating I let one man ruin my relationship with God. He did not. If anything it brought me closer to God than ever before. I do not blame the priesthood, I do not blame God. I am pointing out the culture of the church that makes some men believe they are immune from consequences. The culture that has conditioned young women to feel responsible for things they shouldn’t be responsible for. I love my God and Christ and I have felt the comfort of Him in my worst times. My testimony of them is not reliant on my testimony of an institution.
I am not radical. I am not apostate. I am not overreacting. I am desperate for others to listen to so many people who have been hurt and silenced. This church is not perfect. The people who lead it are not. Your bishops, leaders, and teachers are not perfect. I have been taught too many times that things the common man teaches should be taken as gospel. But that is what got us here.
That is what got me here.
I would also like to add that this is not the end of my contribution. I’m not done telling these stories, or participating in this conversation. To the brave women and men who came forward and inspired me; thank you.
To the men that have taken me and so many women for granted, harassed us, assaulted us, made us afraid, and kept us from speaking; this is not over. I hope the fear that you will not always be free to walk away from your decisions sits with you. I hope it forces you to see yourself for what you really are. I hope what you have done rots you from the inside, like it has to us. We are not done with you yet.
And as for me, I don’t know if I will ever be brave enough to say his name out loud. He knows exactly what he did. I confronted him, and he mocked me. He still finds ways to contact me, to . patronize me. I understand why it is so difficult to say their names out loud. It was terrifying. But I am no longer afraid of him. I am no longer as angry as I used to be. And although he walks free, and he fools everyone with a pat on the back on Sunday afternoons, I know exactly who he really is. And I think deep down inside, that scares the shit out of him. Maybe this is why the men that are too many, continue to become more aggressive. They get uglier, sneakier. It becomes a common behavior, because if it happens more than once it’s no longer a mistake. The cold, holy exterior hides the fact that they are exactly what they swear they are not.
And because he seems to find me no matter how hard I try to hide from him, I have a strong suspicion that this incredibly ugly man will eventually find this article. So I dedicate this last bit to him.
I won’t try to convince a jury or an institution that you are not who you say you are, because I have found peace in a better justice.
The God you think made you untouchable, is the same one that is going to remind you that you are not.