My name is Joanna. I am a 26 year old exmormon living in Fillmore, the first capitol of Utah and the very heart of both the state and the lds church. If you’ve been following any religious news out of Utah recently, you’re probably aware of the Stop Protecting Sexual Predators protest that happened live in general conference just a matter of days ago that has started an entire movement to #protectldschildren. This movement is having a hard time getting any mainstream media attention because of the insurmountable control Mormons have on all forms of media and narrative in Utah. It has also coincided with the now public case of McKenna Denson ( reference article: https://www.sltrib.com/news/2018/04/05/woman-accusing-missionary-training-center-president-of-rape-stands-in-front-of-cameras-to-say-she-is-a-victim/ ), and comes not long after the now public and notorious BYU rape policies and treatments of victims.
This highly secretive cult has never been properly investigated or exposed in DECADES, and this includes the Romney race as well as the public case and arrest of fundamentalist lds leader Warren Jeffs. The mainstream Mormon Church has perpetuated serious cases of abuse, manipulation, harassment, assault, and has always managed to cover it up enough to defy any real media attention.
I am dedicated to changing this, and it’s for this and many other reasons I’ve decided to make my own story, as well as several other key accounts and testimonies, public for the first time, no matter the personal cost. This is too important of an issue that no one is addressing to maintain the silence any longer. I fully expect the church to come after not only me, but my family and loved ones, in an effort to silence me yet again. And this time I plan to be fully prepared. But I know that no amount of trying to tell truth to power will matter here in the face of the formidable Mormon media. Which is why I am sending this information out into the world, specifically for independent media and journalists, in hopes these true stories and testimonies like this will be at least considered and can be honestly accurately reported to a public audience we alone could never hope to reach that could affect real change.
Let me be clear, we are not doing this out of a sense of revenge or malice, but out of a sincere and desperate attempt to stop the kind of atrocities that happened to us from every happening to anyone else, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN, ever again.
We’ve all tried at various times throughout our lives to have these abuses and issues reported and handled, and have been consistently met with opposition from every level of power in our communities, from police officers to bishoprics, teachers to therapists, and even government officials.
A clear cut example, one of the immediately provable and public cases, is with our high school English teacher at Millard High School until 09, Keith Gillins. He was caught groping an underage student in Beaver UT, but instead of facing serious time or even revoking his teaching license, he was simply fired and then moved one county over to Millard County. While living here, he was an English teacher, a coach, a bishop, AND the MAYOR for 12 years. While in his class, we all witnessed his very creepy and stalker-ish behavior with underage girls, especially if they were athletes or participated in his pet hobbies like student government. In 2009, during his English class, the topic of conversation came to gay marriage and the Mormons hand in prop 8. He proceeded to go on an angry homophobic rant out of nowhere in which he used the slur “those damn queers”, causing another student to burst into tears. I was the only student who stood up to him, which was unheard of in our small town, and I immediately left the class with my fellow student to file a report and demand something be done or he be fired. He was reprimanded lightly and put on watch, but I was told to go back to class and not speak of it again. Only a few weeks later, he was FINALLY found in a compromising position with an underage student, and enough people that weren’t influenced by him were paying enough attention to him after the incident with me, that charges were filed and both the church and the state stopped trying to protect him. The underage girl, however, was practically run from town and ostracized for being, to the Mormons, “a whore”, despite her own father’s public testimony about how Gillins groomed her for 2 years with leadership positions, special privileges, gifts and even a special phone for her calls only, making her believe he truly loved her and would leave his wife before he destroyed her life and moved on to the next kid. He eventually pleaded guilty to 3 first degree felonies – – 2 attempted rapes and attempted sodomy, and 2 counts forcible sex abuse, but even then that was shaved down from a minimum of 15 verifiable instances. And we ALL knew she wasn’t the only one. But as soon as the story hit Utah local news (for all of a few days), many of the adults, especially those in the church, argued that she, the underage girl, was responsible for what happened to her while excusing his abhorrent behaviors. Once that happened, every single one of his other victims chose silence over persecution and harassment from their own neighbors and communities.
(reference articles : https://www.ksl.com/?sid=7598927
This sick way of thinking is still VERY prevalent throughout the lds community and the state of Utah. The evidence of this also can be easily found just by looking again at this last week’s general conference, in which Elder Quentin L. Cook, when trying to talk about the #MeToo movement, referred to rape, sexual assault, and molestation as “nonconsensual immorality”. The full quote is:
“It is commendable that nonconsensual immorality has been exposed and denounced. Such nonconsensual immorality is against the laws of God and of society. Those who understand God’s plan should also oppose consensual immorality, which is also a sin.”
It’s these ways of speaking about rape and sexual violence that leads to women being treated as less than even second class citizens in many ways in Mormon communities, empowering men to get away with an enormous amount of wrong, and leaving those who have been victimized terrified to come forward and stop this from happening again. The few and far between cases that get ANY public attention are also very carefully monitored, edited, and censored because of the church. Even Elizabeth Smart, the teenage Mormon girl that was kidnapped and held hostage for 8 months by a religious fanaticist while the entire country looked for her, has publicly talked about the “chewed gum” culture that many Mormons are taught to perpetuate, that basically compares any woman, whether victim or not, that has experienced anything sexual before marriage as forever “ruined” pre-chewed gum. Not only does this thinking influence how people treat lds women, but it also highly influenced how people here treat children that are adopted, especially if it can be proven the child was born out of wedlock. I have personally witnessed and been the victim of the churchs practice of pressuring unwed pregnant Mormon girls to either get rid of it or adopt it out, just to try and avoid the treatment and tortures other children and their parents would inflict on the baby if the mothers kept it. My own birth mother gave me up at birth for this exact reason, because my birth grandfather was Mormon and related to fundamentalist polygamist groups in Washington state, near where the Blackwater polygamists settled after breaking away from the Jeff’s FLDS. Children put up for adoption from these communities are very hard to place with families honestly, because of the notorious health issues and “child graveyards” (reference article to FLDS child cemeteries : https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/qkgymp/tiny-tombstones-inside-the-flds-graveyard-for-babies-born-from-incest ). My birth mother became pregnant out of wedlock and felt pressured to give me up, but she specifically wanted me to go to a catholic or atheist family to get me out of Mormonism. However, after 4 families in a row fell through so close to my due date, the lawyer over my case made the conscious decision not to inform the family that did end up adopting me where I came from, as well as failing to disclose to my birth mother that the only family left willing to take me was Mormon, and so I ended up going from fundamentalists in Washington to mainstream Mormons in the very center of the most Mormon place on the planet. My entire life was rife with abuses and atrocities, many of which the church had a firm hand in, but no matter the situation, I was always the one eventually saddled with the blame and responsibility of the actions of those around me or to me, and the church all but refused to really help me. While the list of injustices could go on for pages and pages, the best single example I could illustrate to help you understand where we’re coming from happened in 2007-2008. I was being drugged and sexually assaulted by a female friend I trusted, and while she abused me steadily for 8 months, on at least a minimum of 2 separate witness verified occasions, one on high school property, her assaults were violent and sexual enough to cause me significant bleeding in my private areas from penetration of foreign objects. The only reason the abuse stopped is because after I confronted her about it, she immediately moved on to her next target, who had a mental disability and couldn’t understand what she was trying to do to him. It was when I witnessed her planning to hurt others that I came forward to my school’s LDS seminary teacher, thinking he and the church would surely help and support me on this. After shepherding my accusations and complaints to the front office, I was told to leave church property. I was immediately interrogated with the principal and a room full of male policemen who all had bad history with me, and I was forced to try and relive the moments I could consciously remember everything that had been done to me or I had been told someone witnessed in front of them. One of the officers even laughed at me when I voiced my fears of retaliation and even being gay bashed for something I couldn’t control by members of her family that were reported to be in a gang for coming forward about it all. I was taken out of school to a safe house to be interviewed the next day, but a lot of what happened to me wasn’t even asked about. After the whole thing was over, I was told the case would go to court and the church would help me seek a permanent therapist and real counseling. Neither of those things happened. I was later told that, female on female sexual violence isn’t considered rape, and even if there was penetration, what happened wasn’t that bad and I just needed to learn to get over it. I saw a church therapist for ONE half hour session in which he related my life to an episode of the Simpsons, and when asked what I should do about my severe depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation and self mutilation that was all occurring specifically because of this incident, I was told to turn to my scriptures and “stop being so sad all the time”. No talk of further sessions, medication, or any other assistance. This is just one in an entire series of events that, unfortunately, are anything but rare or uncommon here. And those that speak out or try to do something about it are threatened with excommunication, banishment, losing their families, and all kinds of consequences. The rampant sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and cult like behaviors of this church NEED to be investigated. These people’s stories NEED to be heard. If for no other reason than to get the discussion going so we can stop this from happening to SO MANY KIDS in the future. This affects people on every single level of life here, but it’s completely hidden, covered up, and justified or explained away, and we can’t in good conscience stay silent and not do everything we can to help the women, children, and victims finally be free from this toxic and controlling institution and environment.
These stories should be heard. This kind of systematic abuse goes far deeper than I think anyone even realizes. The number of recorded accounts of church leaders saying and doing these kinds of injustices are starting to pop up all over YouTube. As a fundamentalist descendant who was even given a leadership position in the churchs youth at one time, and my partner in this projects direct lineage from Joseph Smith himself and raised by a wanted polygamist in a mainstream Mormon community, our stories and experiences carry real weight. Although they’ve never been made public, they are important and they matter. I witnessed the beatings, the verbal and mental abuse, and when we tried to go to DCFS and the authorities after they beat her in front of me as a kid, they didn’t even bother with a proper investigation and demanded her to return to the home. A few years and many incidents later, they were assaulted and became pregnant. Over halfway through the pregnancy, 3 of their family members, one armed with a golf club, attacked them in their home all at once, punching their stomach, trying to murder the “produced out of wedlock” and unborn child. When they attempted to flee and were followed, they tried to defend themselves and the police were called. When the authorities arrived, instead of being worried about this singular pregnant persons safety, they instead purposefully tased them, causing a full blown seizure and uncontrollable soiling of themselves, then placed this person in handcuffs and picked them up so roughly it dislocated both of their shoulders, before being trotted out in front of their home and publicly humiliated in front of the entire town for an hour, ALL WHILE BEING OVER SEVERAL MONTHS PREGNANT. They were publicly humiliated in front of friends and family while barefoot, pregnant, covered in their own piss that they refused to let them change out of, and with both shoulders dislocated and the taser prongs embedded in their back, which they later elected to rip out of the flesh without medical assistance. This is just one example of many of the kinds of wrongs we have suffered with in silence for our entire lives with nothing being actually done OR EVEN REPORTED about it.
Our full accounts and testimonies will be recorded and spread publicly as soon as we can get some proper media representation, and it’s because of this I’m writing this more detailed description of the kind of content our stories contain in hopes of getting the word out to as many interested sources as possible, but it’s going to take social media and the help and support of people like YOU to get this into the public eye and reach the people whose lives this will make a difference for. It only takes a couple of seconds to share this post and website with the world. Help our cause go viral so we can #protectldschildren and #stopprotectingsexualpredators once and for all!