Can you keep a Secret?
Here's a little, dirty secret for you that you might not like:
LDS culture is rampant with childhood sexual abuse.
Shock and horror, if you are feeling squeamish after reading these sentences, I am sorry, but sometimes the Truth is Hard. And this is a Truth that needs to come out. I feel inspired today by a friend of the blog whose post, The Courage to Heal, really got me thinking.
This topic is always close to my heart. I'm just going to put it out in the open and say my sister and I are both survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I have always been "lucky" in a way, because I was young enough when it happened that my memories of it are limited. My sister was not so "lucky" and has struggled so intensely to overcome the shame, the feelings of worthlessness. Even with limited memories, I also feel that shame, that fear of loss of value. And as I read my friend's blog, I recognized a fear I've often felt. That paralyzing fear of speaking out, of "breaking the silence...breaking the power that it has over me."
Ah Ha! That's it! This dirty, little secret, it has such a power over me, a power I don't want to admit to. A power I didn't agree to. But why? Why? I mean, I have spent years educating myself on this topic, been an activist with my local Children's Justice Center. Studied and written countless articles on this topic in my schooling... and it all comes back to the power of The Secret. Was I alone, though, was this phenomenon peculiar to me?
For the answer to this I turned to a friend, a therapist here in Salt Lake for LDS Family Services. I asked her about childhood sexual abuse, was it rare? Did she see many clients who had experienced this? Was I alone?
"Oh no, " she said sympathetically, "the majority of my caseload is usually those affected by sexual abuse and incest. We even have several groups in LDS Family Services just for those who have survived this exact thing." In further conversation with her, we talked about how this wasn't a new phenomenon within LDS culture,
that their services had been overrun with those seeking shelter from this storm for decades, since it became culturally acceptable to admit such things, even if only to your therapist.
Why is this so rampant in LDS culture? Admittedly, it is rampant in the US, where 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused. But LDS culture seems to be an amplified microcosm of the problem. Fair warning, what follows is my personal musings and interpretations. I believe that LDS culture has a widespread problem with childhood sexual abuse, partially because LDS culture makes it easy to Buy into The Secret. When we don't like something, when it's too shameful to make a good conversation starter in Sunday School , we sweep it under the rug and pretend like it doesn't exist. Polygamy, bah. *sweep sweep* Mountain Meadows Massacre, old news *sweep sweep*. Childhood Sexual Abuse, ooohhhh *steer conversation away faster than you can say "CTR"*. Why does this work so well for sexual predators?
Out of morbid fascination, I spent a significant amount of time in my undergraduate degree learning everything I possibly could about pedophiles, about their mentality and methods. I felt like I needed to understand their methods, so that I could make sure that the same thing Never Never Never happened to my children. Most pedophiles abuse victim after victim because they train those they are hurting to keep the dirty, little Secret. They make their victims feel like it is their fault, and they shame or threaten them into silence. And it works. In some cases it works so well that the abused carries the Secret that warps their soul until they become the abuser. It's horrible, it's sickening, it's completely unpalatable for the rest of society, a dirty, little Secret that they can't bear thinking about. And THAT is the problem, because by not thinking about it, by not talking about it, we feed into it. We Keep the Secret for the Abuser. We make it so that those who have been hurt can feel the Power of the Secret that we are also buying in to. We want to believe that it will always happen to "other people" never to someone we know, but that just isn't true. I don't have all the answers, but I know that something in our culture needs to change to fight the silence. I know that people have to speak out. The Secret can't continue, and somehow, some way we've all got to figure out how to make this right. Ideas???