What Abuse Survivors Need From Church Leaders

The following post was written by my husband, DeltaHotel (DH). Think of him as a “guest columnist”. Hopefully he will write further at other times and give some additional perspective on surviving abuse from a spouse’s point of view.
— Jean Marie

What Abuse Survivors Need From Church Leaders
Written by Delta Hotel
May 2014

To any priesthood leaders that are reading this, Thanks for your time. Please get your own spiritual confirmation of the principles that I’m about lay out. Please don’t take my word for anything.
First I want to outline my goals and hopes for this writing. My wife has been feeling the need to report her situation to the church since her early teens but circumstances have never been such that it was possible until now. We went to our church leaders without any expectations that the process would in any way undo any of what has happened. The state has investigated all of the details and they assure us that except for the statute of limitations her’s would be a very solid case, but the statute of limitations prevents the criminal justice system from taking any action whatsoever on my wife’s abuse. This is the case for survivors more often that you know.
Per D&C 134:10 The church has only the power to excommunicate and withdraw its fellowship. This would be perceived by us an expression of solidarity and an effort to extend comfort, but I would not expect any action within the power of the church to actually repair the harms that have been suffered by the offender’s victims. The atonement of Christ is the the only mechanism that can have any real effect in correcting the wrongs that the survivors have suffered.
In short these 5 things are what we asked of the priesthood leaders involved in our situation, and I would suggest them to other church leaders as a blueprint for handling any case of childhood sex abuse (incest in particular):
1 – I recommend that you would consider thoughtfully the information that the survivor will present to you, and that you will make this consideration under the guidance of the spirit.
2 – I recommend that you would additionally actively seek and consider the opinions of any professionals that may have worked with the survivor’s case, namely any criminal investigators that may have worked the case as well as the survivor’s counselor if they have one.
3 – I would ask that you seek the guidance of the spirit as you determine for yourself what really happened regarding the events that are described to you, and the effect that they have had upon the survivor. A “finding of fact” this is called in the legal world (it may seem premature to make a finding of fact before speaking to all of the related parties, but as I will explain this order is deliberate)
4 – Then I would ask that you speak with the offender so that he may have an opportunity to make a confession should he see fit to do so. I feel to warn you that great care must be taken at this stage, and I will say more on this later.
5 – After making a finding of fact and hearing the offender’s statements I would ask that you seek the spirit as you render a decision (“conclusion of law” is a relevant legal term), and ask you to remember that you are acting on behalf of the whole church as you act, or as you do not act – because in cases like this taking no action also sends a message. The eyes of many will be upon you at this point. As you will come to see the offenders in these cases typically have had many other victims besides the survivor that you will meet. Those victims will all be silently watching, and you will be speaking to all of them in the name of the church as you render your decision. I do not envy you this responsibility.
These things are all that I feel its fair to expect of a priesthood leader.
As you go along it will be useful for you to understand a few general characteristics of pedophiles (and sex offenders in general).
First you should understand that a person may steal just one time, from greed or to meet some urgent need, and then have no more inclination to steal. A person may commit adultery or fornication just one time, in a moment of weakness or lust, and go on to have no more inclination to do so. A person may even murder just one time in a fit of rage, and then go the rest of their life with no more desire to kill. But pedophiles are fundamentally different, PEDOPHILES ARE SERIAL OFFENDERS IN NEARLY EVERY CASE (this assertion is supported by the professional literature).
Pedophiles must necessarily be serial offenders, because pedophilia can’t be committed in a rash moment. It requires significant set up and preparation, what is professionally called “grooming.” Grooming is a process where the perpetrator prepares the victim by taking mental control of them so they can safely be abused over and over and not report afterward. In my wife’s case her mind was “booby trapped” to self destruct rather than report the abuse (she literally became suicidal). The perpetrator also prepares those around the victim to mistrust the victim and to discount any report that the victim may attempt to make. The manipulation is extensive and it is deliberate, it is never accidental. And the grooming stays with the victim thus making them an easier target for other offenders later on, even if they are only partially groomed at first.
Other details that you should remember: perpetrators always look polished and speak smooth or flattering words (think Korihor, or whited sepulchers). They bear no resemblance whatsoever to a “one-eyed man” – which I will come back to later.
On the other hand victims, especially child victims that are grown to adulthood, almost always have an an image problem of some kind. They frequently have bad habits that less polite people would call sins. Things like alcoholism, drug abuse, or sexual deviancy. And other markers of a coarse character as well; like self scaring, poor hygiene, tattoos and piercings, poor self-esteem, a fondness for extremes in dress, music, media and other entertainment (adrenaline junkies etc.) They may have psychological problems, anxiety (especially when discussing the abuse – they might stutter, blink, zone out or lose their train of thought frequently), anger management issues, eating disorders, anti-social tendencies the list goes on and on. … And as a church leader you should also be aware that they often leave their church – any church that they may have been a part of – because of feeling misunderstood, judged and rejected.
All of this serves to isolate the victim from any support systems and polite society in general and by contrast it also serves to embed the perpetrator into that polite society more firmly. And this is consistent with the verses found in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 “for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”
This is particularly ironic, because the apparent flaws in the victims are the fruits of the abusers actions, and then become the evidence in the eyes of the community (including all to often the rank and file members of the church) for the superiority of the abuser over the victim (who is inferior by all outward appearances). It’s a double win for the predator. They get to point to the evidence of what they did – the mess that THEY MADE in another person’s life – as evidence that their accuser should not be trusted or believed.
The responsibility for these “sins” or this anger, or this “failure to forgive” (which all of these things are really manifestations of abuse), the responsibility for all of this placed back on the victims with never a thought given to the actual source of the problems. Think about that last part again for just a minute.
I will wait …
What is the source of the problems?
Got your answer yet?
Ok, let’s to move on…
So the victims are often told to repent and forsake their sins, and to let the atonement in to their lives so that they can heal and forgive etc., but seldom does anyone ever try to understand the underlying causes or offer any real acknowledgment of the abuse itself. This is a second great tragedy, that heaps itself on top of the original tragedy in the lives of survivors.
By the way … “failure to forgive” may be a sin, but it’s not one that requires priesthood authority to resolve. It’s not one that affects a person’s membership standing in the church. So please, please, PLEASE, you priesthood leaders when you encounter someone that is angry over their abuse, please be so, so very careful that your counsel to them does not come across to them as though their anger is really the greater issue in the situation (because its not *).
You naturally want to help. And your first instinct is to apply the atonement of Jesus Christ. But please remember, and please make clear to any survivor that you counsel with, that part of the atonement was for the “forgiveness of sins”, and part if it was “so that the Lord may know how to succor his people.”
Abuse survivors are groomed to take on overly large and disproportionate feelings of guilt and to take disproportionate responsibility for what happened to them. They need to be reminded of this second part of the atonement much more than the first. Survivors need understanding, they need love, and they need time to work with the Lord to address their anger (again I reiterate “failure to forgive” is not a sin that requires priesthood authority to resolve. Yes, as a priesthood leader you can help them, but they CAN do it just between them and the Lord as well. So don’t present this as a matter that REQUIRES priesthood authority to resolve or you will be seen as accusing them of something).
Abuse survivors do not need forgiveness from the Lord as much as they need “succor” from Him. And if you insinuate anything to the contrary then you run a grave risk of alienating them from the church, and putting the church in a position of seeming to go along with the perpetrator and the grooming that makes them feel culpable for their own abuse. DON’T DO THIS. Please, please, please don’t do this.
It’s additionally ironic that the abusers reserve for themselves any benefit of the doubt, but at the same time position the community to deny the benefit of the doubt to the victims. This is why its such an up hill battle for victims of abuse to report. Its easier to disappear into self medicating with booze or drugs, or join a counter culture or even to commit suicide, than to break free from the mental controls of the grooming and turn to fight the abuser on their own turf, with no allies, and on a battlefield that you know is slanted heavily against you. When some one shows the courage to face those dangers and those terrible odds they deserve to be heard out with compassion, and they deserve your respect and you careful and thoughtful consideration of what they have to say.
All of this is not intended to be a criticism of the church. But you need to see that this is what perpetrators use the church for. They co-opt it and form it into a badge of honor for themselves as well as a club to beat their victims with one more time. And too often the lay leaders in the church play right into this by alienating survivors of abuse from the church out of a well meaning, but dangerous, lack of awareness.
Moving on I want to make a little prediction and to warn you. When you speak to the offender you will hear statements that are subtly crafted to undermine your opinion of the survivor. Things that are intended to portray her as an unreliable source from which to draw reliable facts. You will hear statements that will prey on your natural tendency to extend the benefit of the doubt to the offender. You will hear things that are intended to create an equivalency in your mind between yourself and the offender. You may even begin to consider how you would feel if you were in his place. In short you will hear lies and you will hear statements of false concern for the survivor come from the abuser (and more than likely from others around the two of them as well) that are intended to show the offender in a sympathetic light, while simultaneously discrediting the survivor’s character and minimizing her account of events. And you will hear minimized and partial confessions, used to cover up much more grievous misdeeds.
I want to express to you also that the survivor probably (and with justification) has grave concern that the things that she tells you need to be kept in confidence and NOT be shared with the offender (or any other person that has any level of contact with the offender). The reason she feels the need for this confidentiality, and the reason that I ask you to make a finding of fact BEFORE speaking to the offender, is that an offender will never confess to misdeeds that he is not accused of. The offender will wait until he knows what you know (either he will get the information from a 3rd party or he will tease it out of you without your realizing it) and then he will confess to an altered or minimized version of what has been alleged.
He will do this in a way that will make the actual allegations seem over heated or overblown or spiteful. There is also a strong chance that he will feign concern for the accuser and say something to the effect of “Wow, I pity them, they must be so confused and in such pain to make such an accusation. I can see why they would say it that way, but what really happened is this …” then he will insert some denial or some straw-man version of events and confess in tears to this alternate and minimized narrative.
This is a trick. Consider the following statements and how they relate to this scenario:
“Those who put all their ingenuity and energy into fooling us usually succeed.” ~Malcom Gladwell (author)
“People feel like [… they] need to hear both sides of the story. There’s not two sides to this story. There’s only one and that’s the survivor, and being truthful about the abuse that happened, and having that come to justice.” ~Desirae Brown (of the 5 browns)
“There is only right and wrong. There is only supporting the victim or supporting the perpetrator. [And] No one should ever be doing that.” ~Gregory Brown (of the 5 browns)
You just watch the offender. You watch him and you will see the moment that he knows what has been claimed against him he will very quickly (perhaps even right on the spot) come forward with some alternate version of events to minimize your perception of his misdeeds. This is a clear mark of a false repentance.
This leads me point out something that you will NOT hear from the offender. Once armed with the facts that the survivor will present to you, you will not hear him confess to something worse than what you already know about, or anything new and unrelated to the statements against him. This is because genuine confession and genuine repentance is not a part of his program. It’s not part of any pedophile’s program. Repentance would require a turning from sin, which would first require a rejection of it, and this you will not find in any pedophile. They love their sin, they don’t want to give it up. They love their smooth public persona and they don’t want to have it tarnished.
The offender may appear to play along with church discipline. This is so he can turn it into a feather in his cap later (which is precisely what happened within my wife’s family after her father’s faulty church discipline in the 90’s). Another thing that you will hear pedophiles and their defenders say in general is “The state looked into all of this before and they found it was nothing.” Unstated is the mention of the fact that abuse survivors are so easy to disbelieve and are pre-programmed through the grooming process to self-sabotage their reporting. And that laws often have very narrow requirements for what can be prosecuted.
It may seem hard to believe, but due to the difficulty in reporting there is a good chance that every allegation of sex abuse that you have ever heard of was real. Though the perception of the public is that false reporting of sex crimes is common, it is in fact vanishingly rare.
At some point I realize that I run the risk of sounding paranoid, and of ascribing “superhuman mind control powers” to pedophiles. I am aware of my vulnerability to being charged with putting forth an unfalsifiable hypothesis (see this link for a refutation). But I assure you that I have both my feet on the ground, and these people are just as slippery and just as dangerous as I make them sound. If you don’t want to believe me then look around a little more. Talk to a professional counselor that has handled sex offenders. Talk to a cop that works these cases. They will tell you the same things.
In theory pedophiles should be able to repent, but in practice they do not.
Jesus said in Matthew chapter 18 (speaking of those that harm children):
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. … Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones” (Matt 18:6,8-10)
If thine eye offend thee pluck it out, and cast it from thee! A repentant pedophile, if you were ever to find one, would look like the spiritual equivalent of a one-eyed man. Sex offenders have too carefully crafted their public image to ever go around with “one eye plucked out” … No, the ones that will have the disfigurements are the survivors.
While the devil is busy transforming himself to appear as an angel of light, the savior and those like him have “no apparent beauty that man should him desire.” (hymn 175, O God, the Eternal Father)
Isaiah wrote of the messiah:
“Who hath believed my report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? … he hath no form nor comeliness; and when I shall see him, there is no beauty that I should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and I hid as it were my faces from him; he was despised, and I esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:1-3)
False reporting HAH!!! If that is what’s happens to people who tell the truth it’s not much of a sales pitch.
Kumbayah followed by a big group hug is not in the cards in cases like this.
Jesus said of himself: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 10:34-39
What does that mean? Think about it … Jesus is typically thought of as a healer, but he says he is come to send a sword, and not peace. I can’t tell you what this means. The spirit will have to. But I implore you to consider it and get your own answer. You are going to need one.
One thing is clear, Christ came not for the proud and the rebellious, for they are not worthy off him. But Christ came for those who would humbly give up all that they possessed, including if necessary their most cherished relationships, and take up their cross in order to follow his way. When you look at the people involved in these situations… see which one of them is carrying a cross (hint: the one with the cross is not the perpetrator).
Trust me any incest survivor would like nothing better than to have a happy, ordinary relationship with her parents and her siblings. To have her children to grow up with happy memories of their grand parents and of family parties and holidays. But only a self-deception could ever allow this to be, and once awakened the survivor will not be readily self-decieved again. Families may be divided as if by a sword. Some family members (even though victims themselves) may reject the survivor’s account and side with the offender. So be it. May the lord reward them according to their works (2 Timothy 4:14).
My wife is a brave, brave woman. It is at the risk of permanent alienation from her parents and sisters, and even from the community where she has grown up that she has come forward and spoken to the church the words of truth that she has struggled so hard to find and to give voice to.
I pray that the spirit of discernment will attend you priesthood leaders as you hear survivors stories, and as you consider what must be the underlying facts which give rise to the things that they say. I further pray that this same spirit will attend you as you hear the things which I know that the offenders must be allowed to say. And finally I pray with all my heart that the spirit of discernment will guide you as you DECIDE. As you decide what action the Lord would have his church take in regards to the matters laid before you. That the Lord’s will may be done, and that the mourning may be consoled, and those who have been denied comfort may have a measure of comfort from the hands of the servants of the Lord, long though it may have been in coming, is my fervent prayer.
* – I realize that in D&C 64:9 the lord says clearly:
9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men
But the lord goes on to say:
11 And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
12 And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation.
13 And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver— [emphasis mine]
A survivor asking the church to hold a perpetrator to account is not automatically an indication that they have not forgiven.
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