LDS World: Being sensitive to victims of sexual abuse

Published: Sunday, Nov. 21 2010 6:00 a.m. MST

In classroom settings, particularly in my women's studies classes, I announce that statistically speaking, at least two women in my small audience that day have been sexually abused. One semester two students came to my office, at different times, and each confirmed that yes, they had been raped when they were young.

Over the years others have come to discuss the devastation and difficulties that similar assaults have produced. What exactly is sexual abuse? By definition, it involves "any sexually stimulating activity between a child and an adult or another child who is in a position of power, trust or control."

Some time ago, one of my brightest BYU students, after the classroom emptied, matter-of-factly announced that she was sexually abused by her father. Tiffany (name changed) explained that at age 10, after assaulting her for a number of years, her father told her that what had happened to her was wrong and if any man tried to do that to her in the future she must resist. He never abused her again: little consolation there.

When she was 15, her mother admitted that she knew about the abuse. She had confronted her husband and told him it must stop. He sneeringly warned her she could not live and care for herself and the children alone — basically "shut up and stay out of my way." The abuse continued.

Tiffany does not know why the abuse stopped. She does not understand why her mother told her when she was 15, and exquisitely vulnerable, that she knew about the abuse yet did nothing to intervene. With exhausted intensity, Tiffany wondered why her mother did not wait to tell her when she was a grown woman and more emotionally equipped to make sense of such intimate betrayal.

By this time we had migrated outside the classroom and she pointed, almost accusatorily, toward the southeast. "It happened just 10 miles from here in my LDS home." Her father grew up in the LDS Church and had served a mission.

Does it surprise anyone to learn that Tiffany has trust issues? She recognizes that she creates emotional and even physical barriers to fend off people who seek to intrude into her "safe" space — that part of the world that she CAN control. Other challenges present themselves as well, esteem issues and depression. Tiffany also served a mission. She has read the Old and New Testaments, and the Book of Mormon countless times. She is intellectually adroit and wise. Nevertheless, life is difficult at times.

Does it surprise anyone to learn that these horrors occurred in an LDS home? This ,I hope, does surprise and repulse. However, as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Perhaps (child abuse) has always been with us, but has not received the attention it presently receives. I am glad there is a hue and cry going up against this terrible evil, too much of which is found among our own."

At another time, "The terrible, vicious practice of sexual abuse ... is beyond understanding. It is an affront to the decency that ought to exist in every man and woman. It is a violation of that which is sacred and divine. It is destructive in the lives of children. It is reprehensible. ... Shame on any man or woman who would sexually abuse a child. ... He or she stands condemned before the Lord."

A First Presidency missive states, "Victims of rape or sexual abuse frequently experience serious trauma and unnecessary feelings of guilt. Church officers should handle such cases with sensitivity and concern, reassuring such victims that they, as victims of the evil acts of others, are not guilty of sin."

In a recent general conference, Elder Richard G. Scott, of the Twelve, spoke to both abuser and abused. He implored, "If you are currently being abused or have been in the past, find the courage to seek help (now) ... Seek the support of someone you can trust. ... Explain how you have been abused and identify who has done it. Ask for protection .... Do not fear — for fear is a tool Satan will use to keep you suffering." Further, "Do not be discouraged if initially a bishop hesitates when you identify an abuser. Remember that predators are skillful at cultivating a public appearance of piety to mask their despicable acts."

He spoke to abusers, "(Jesus Christ) has warned: 'Whoso shall offend one of these little ones ... , it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.'.... Heal the anguish that you have caused others. Talk to your bishop or stake president (now)."

As members of the LDS Church we must be sensitive to the realities of the world in which we live. We need to educate and warn in family and church settings about this malignant evil, comfort and support those who have suffered abuse, live lives of personal purity and outspokenly condemn such acts in the church and before the world.

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