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Guest Post: Advocating for Victims in the LDS Church, Part 1 #MormonMeToo

by Ann

It’s been nearly two decades. Yet, I’ll never forget sitting through training to become a victim’s advocate where the trainer pointed out how ridiculous it would be if robbery trials were handled like rape trials.

The trainer explained that in court, you would never hear the victim of a robbery being asked, “What were you wearing? You OBVIOUSLY looked like you had money and a wallet. ANYONE can see you’re just asking to be robbed when you’re dressed like that.” “What were you doing walking down the street with a wallet? AT NIGHT? You must have wanted to be robbed if you were there.” “You’ve given cash to other people before. What’s the big deal? It’s not like this is the first time you’ve shared cash with someone. In fact, 10 years ago, you were giving out money for free, and now you complain about it being taken?”  Yet, in a rape trial we often see victims blamed for what they were wearing, blamed because they were not virgins, or blamed because they did not have a spotless past.

Yet, as absurd as this is, we see the same thing happening in our communities and in our church.  It is happening now with the sexual assault case of Joseph L. Bishop.

In a recent statement, the LDS church said:

“The Church, as a religious organization, does not have the investigative tools available to law enforcement agencies. Nor can the Church substitute for the courts in adjudicating legal claims.”

Yet, the church had the resources to pay for lawyers to draft a 5-page dossier about the victim’s past – EVEN when there was at least one other victim of Bishop’s sexual abuse.

The statement later read:

“The Church has great faith in the judicial system to determine the truth of these claims. “

Yet, the church provided the PERPETRATOR, his son, AND the legal system with 5 pages destroying the victim’s credibility and intimidating her into silence because her past was less than ideal. This is manipulative.

The LDS church evidently had the resources to investigate the victim, but not the perpetrator. What if that effort had instead been put into finding out whether there were other victims, or how many women were taken to the basement MTC office?

To the lawyers who drafted the dossier, I would say, SHAME ON YOU!  Shame on you for blaming the victim. As a former victim’s advocate, I can tell you that victims don’t always have a perfect past. Being a victim can lead to poor life choices down the road. It’s a result of the trauma. Perpetrators often prey on victims who don’t have ideal life circumstances. A victim is still a victim. A perpetrator is still a perpetrator. No matter the past history of the victim, it never excuses or justifies the abuse committed by the perpetrator. There is NO excuse for abuse!!

There is nothing noble, honorable, or Christ-like about trying to destroy the credibility of character of a victim while trying to protect the perpetrator. This puts other victims at risk. It silences victims who see the intimidation and bullying. It puts the victim on trial rather than the perpetrator.  By protecting the perpetrator while simultaneously trying to destroy and silence the victim, the church has become complicit in the abuse.

The victim is NEVER to be blamed. As a society, we must hold perpetrators accountable.

Ann lives in the Northwest, and enjoys advocating for social justice, teaching, and spending time with her family.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience as a victims advocate. I agree with what you said

    Also, there’s a typo in your first paragraph about the dossier. I assume layers should be lawyers.

  2. My understanding is that the church’s counsel was legally obligated to share the information they had with the perpetrator and his son/attorney as part of discovery. Is that incorrect?

    Also your robbery analogy is a little incomplete.

    What’s happening here is that someone gets robbed, and when they report it to the police, the police say. “Okay you’re saying you were robbed, but you’ve told us you’ve been robbed before and it turned out you were lying those other times and you’ve lied about being a victim of other crimes. So we’re going into this investigation a little skeptically.” It’s not ideal, but it’s not unreasonable.

    Frankly this whole situation sucks. She’s had a horrible history of being victimized by multiple abusers and (consequently?) victimizing herself.

    Bishop deserves whatever justice can still be meted out to him, and the church got dragged into a no-win situation. I’ve heard people consistently hammer on the church for previously trying to handle these things in-house, and now this post criticizes the church for handing the situation over to authorities and 3rd party representation who, predictably, don’t use the scriptures and Christlike compassion as a guide to handling crimes like this one.

    • Statistically, false reports of rapes are very small, so this is a moot point and not at all applicable. Also, a victim’s past (lying, etc) are illegally inadmissible in court, which is why the church’s lawyers submitted them instead to the court of public opinion. However, the troubled past of Bishop’s victim is definitely a common trait that pedophiles watch for when selecting a candidate for grooming; authority figures are much less likely to listen to reports of youth from troubled backgrounds than upright youth with powerful/privileged parents.

      Venturing out to confront and record her perpetrator after years of reporting and failing to get help from church leaders was the ultimate act of bravery, for which this woman deserves praise, not accusations of “victimizing herself.” She has opened the door for countless other Mormon women to finally begin discussing their own silenced/paid-off abuse experiences in the church. Male statements of blame and disparagement like the one above further reinforce what Ann has written here: “There is nothing noble, honorable, or Christ-like about trying to destroy the credibility of character of a victim while trying to protect the perpetrator. This puts other victims at risk. It silences victims who see the intimidation and bullying. It puts the victim on trial rather than the perpetrator. By protecting the perpetrator while simultaneously trying to destroy and silence the victim, the church has become complicit in the abuse.”

      QED

      • I completely agree, JNB. Ryan, sure, sharing info. RELEVANT to the case would be important. But, the name of a victim’s child she placed for adoption? Irrelevant. I didn’t see the church sharing relevant information, like the fact that this woman wasn’t the only accuser. Your statement, Ryan, blames the victim. As the blog said, victims are often victimized by multiple people. This doesn’t make them at fault for the abuse.

  3. “Yet, the church provided the PERPETRATOR, his son, AND the legal system with 5 pages destroying the victim’s credibility and intimidating her into silence because her past was less than ideal.” This is distressing to me. Not to mention that Bishop’s son/lawyer then leaked this information — given to him by the lawyer hired by the church — to various news outlets. Why couldn’t the church have responded by expressing concern and compassion while it examines the situation, rather than jumping to attacking the victim?

    I thought that Julie de Hazevedo Hanks’ comments (in Peggy Fletcher Stack’s latest) about the chilling effects this kind of behavior might have on victims was said about this was apt. “Seeing the MTC case unfold in the media … and knowing that the church’s attorneys can put together a list of your past legal mistakes will make it even less safe for victims to come forward and tell their story,” Hanks said. “The church’s initial statement used language that served to undermine the victim’s credibility … showing that coming forward publicly may put your own reputation and credibility at risk.”

    Thank you for your post, Ann, and for your work for victims. Our Mormon community has a lot to learn about how to treat victims ethically and compassionately.

    • Caroline, Yes – I agree, this will prevent other victims from feeling like they are safe to come forward. When private church records and church closed adoption information is shared, it’s a huge deterrent for other victims to feel safe.

  4. I don’t think handing over pertinent information is “attacking the victim”.
    A victim’s past is prevalent. It effects their psychology and willingness to lie, or even whether they experience delusions and can’t sort out what is real and what isn’t. People who are abide young have issues with people in authority. And a stressful situation like a mission could have triggered something.
    I agree the church should have stayed completely out of it, but I doubt they could have seeing as at the time of the incident he was working for them. Honestly, I still don’t understand why victims don’t come forward sooner.
    I think everything should be looked over justly. I read the transcript of her interview with him on mormonleaks and he does sound like he has problems and possibly a memory issue. But she also sounds like she’s unsure. I don’t doubt that something happened between them, but until proven guilty, what can you do?

    • Comments like this are why my abuser continues, unfettered and protected, to enjoy a life of prestige among the highest ranks of the church, unidentified as an abuser of women, in the greater Salt Lake area–employed by the church, even.

      Good luck with him, everyone. I hope, every time you receive an “inspired” calling or patriarchal blessing, or talk from a very high up priesthood authority you get the privilege of wondering if it was my abuser. Courtesy of comments like this, my lips remain sealed. Until this mentality leaves the church, I’m not safe to report my abuser to the church.

      • Emily,

        (I hope this gets moderated to be shown)

        Of course you can report him, and you should. If you are not comfortable doing it with a priesthood leader, then go to the police. No one should ever get away with this.

        Someone in our stake was reported by his daughter. He is now in prison and his disciplinary council is scheduled.

        I believe you – unfortunately I am not in a position to assist you.

  5. It is one thing to provide lawyers with a dossier on an accuser’s previous legal history – as in so many run-ins with the law, so many marriages, etc…. That’s a normal thing that any PI could dig up on a witness. That doesn’t really bother me too much. I mean, I think it’s rude and nasty for the Church to provide that info but, not unexpected.

    HOWEVER the dossier provided by the Church through their lawyers ALSO includes details about previous chuch discipline/counseling and revealed the the identity of her adult biological daughter who was placed for adoption through LDS Family Services. That is information that ONLY the Church could have provided and it is informatuion that I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE she believed was to be kept within the sacred confines of the confessional at the time she chose the adoption and/or recieved counsel. This is a hideous, ungodly, sickening betrayal of the compassion of Christ and the purpose of the Atonement. It is a slap in the face to every individual that has been affected by LDS Family Services adoptions, whether Birth parent, Adoptive parent or adoptee. It is a clear demonstration that the Church will keep information on file about you in order to protect ITSELF or it’s beloved leaders but it will not keep or make available any information that could protect YOU if you are the victim of abuse thanks to church policies, procedures and culture.

    I’m a strong, righteous woman and I’m virtually impossible to offend. But I’m deeply offended by this. I do not see my Savior in any of these actions. In fact, lately I’ve been seeing him carrying a torch and a whip, headed for downtown Salt Lake.

  6. I’d be more willing to believe her if her phrasing in her press conference didn’t sound lifted word-for-word from the activist website of Sam Young. If things happened as she said they did, I feel for her, but she does she know she’s being exploited yet again by another man with an agenda?

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