I would like to take this moment to set the record straight.
Yes, I am the one who was asked disgusting questions by my bishop after coming to him about being molested by my lds neighbor in his temple garments when I was 6 years old. I’ve decided to make this part of my story public for clarification, and if anyone is interested in more of my story, feel free to ask questions or wait for our book. I speak from a place of truth, and I will not be silent about my experiences. Share if you please. These kinds of things NEED to be talked about, and if I have to put my name on it to raise some awareness and possibly help even ONE CHILD from enduring this hell, it will be worth it all.
My first adult attackers name was Leo Soderstrom. He groomed me for months with my parents occasionally present before I felt comfortable enough to drop by his house several times a week on average to pick up box tops and milk jug lids for my local school. Even then, I was still cautious. He was always trying to get me alone in his dead wife’s old room full of handmade crocheted dress dolls, and it scared me enough I started bringing my dog with me. I continued to go because I thought I was doing good, visiting an older lonely man and earning money for Fillmore Elementary School.
I will NEVER forget that day. I came onto his porch, left my dog in the walkway, and knocked on the main door. I heard his voice welcome me inside, so I opened the door. I didn’t see him when I first entered, but I saw this big beautiful shiny remote control toy speedboat, which is similar to what I asked for every year for Christmas. He knew it would draw me in and distract me. His voice came again from the back of the house, telling me to sit down and look at his new toy while he gathered the box tops and put them in a bag. And so I didn’t even notice when he came into the room until he was almost upon me. He was only wearing his temple garments. At first I was shocked and embarrassed, because he was so near naked, but I had seen my dad and friends parents at sleepovers wearing them occasionally, so I just assumed he had been sleeping and hadn’t dressed yet. I stood up quickly to take the brown paper bag in his hand, clutching it in my fist between us like a shield. Suddenly I was being pushed up against the cheaply boarded walls, his hands groping at my 6 year old chest underneath my favorite rainbow shirt. I was frozen, terrified and speechless, not quite understanding what was happening. He started to breathe heavily close to my face, moving his hand down into the side of my overalls while holding me pinned to the wall by my right breast with the other. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally pulled his hand out, but to my horror he reached down into his temple garments and grabbed his penis, pulling it out and exposing himself to me. It was at this moment I was able to manage a small, strangled sort of cry, which caused my german shepherd/rottweiler mix dog Nakeeta to start barking and scraping at the porch door trying to get to me. It was enough to shake his concentration on my childish body and distract him so that I could break away from his grip and run out of the door, down the porch, all the way back to my own house just less than a block away.
I fought with myself for several days about what to do. The year before, a group of popular mormon boys had cornered me on the bus and threatened to do whatever they wanted to me, because I was adopted and different. I still remember the nightmares they caused me to have, visions of being dragged to the creek behind my house and beaten, raped, and abused until I was dead, even though at that age I could barely understand what they were describing they would do to me. I had immediately gone home and told my father, who went straight to the boy leader of the group and his father. The boy admitted it outright. My dad chose not to press charges, because the boys dad was a prominent member of the community and he wanted the boy to get help rather than punish. But the anger he showed when it happened…I knew if I told him what Leo had done, he would have strangled that old pervert with his bare hands. I wanted to save my family. But I felt like I couldn’t just sit silently with what had happened to me.
In the church, we’re taught as children to look up to our authority leaders and trust our bishops implicitly. We’re also taught to go to them first, whatever happens to us. All I could think to do was to go to my bishop. Police never even entered my mind. We aren’t taught to go to those kinds of authorities first.
I went in and told him how Leo had hurt me, how confused and in pain I was, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t come to church and avoid these people that added to my feelings of pain and shame, I didn’t know what to do. That’s when the re-traumatization began.
It started with asking me to get more and more graphic about what exactly had happened. Going over the details again and again with someone who clearly didn’t believe me and was not sensitive to my pain was deeply wounding. Soon it turned into, what was I wearing, why was I alone with him in the first place, why hadn’t I told my dad like I had the first time, was I mentally stable enough to even make an accusation or was I just lying or looking for attention, did I misinterpret his affections, did i like it, basically was I aroused (which I didn’t understand) and on…and on…and on.
I have said it before, I will say it again, and I will never stop saying it: I DON’T KNOW A SINGLE 6 YEAR OLD WHO CAN COME UP WITH A GROWN MAN’S GENITALS IN TEMPLE GARMENTS FROM IMAGINATION.
My parents were never told. He made it clear to me I was to keep this to myself, not to tell anyone what happened, and to turn to my scriptures for guidance and help. No talk of therapy, going to police, telling my parents, disciplinary actions, or help for me at all. I was a good mormon child, so I kept my silence for YEARS. Even when Leo started to stalk me, following me around and showing up at our house, and I would have full on panic attacks and sometimes just black out, I didn’t say anything. I was afraid. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.
When I was 14, I was attacked again by a female predator. I was object raped multiple times and molested, twice badly enough to cause vaginal bleeding and severe pain. I was using anything I could to escape my pain growing up a survivor and a pansexual genderqueer person in a church that didn’t want me, stalked and harassed me, persecuting me and my friends for things none of us could help. It wasn’t long before I was caught up in the chemicals this predator was feeding me to take advantage of me. I had witnesses. It went on for almost 7-8 months. I swallowed all of my pain and kept silent. Only when it was clear she intended to create another victim from a mentally challenged friend of mine that I felt enough concern to come forward once again, this time to my seminary teacher at MHS. He told me he couldn’t help me and shepherded me to the principal’s office, where police were FINALLY called, but the experience wasn’t much better than the first time. I was laughed at when I voiced my fears of being gaybashed or attacked by the church (which DID happen mere weeks later, multiple times, mostly from “good old mormon boys” in groups who would corner me on the streets between the high school, my home, and Pioneer Market in Fillmore). These mormon sheriffs were NOT interested in helping me. They were required to. I was taken to a safe house near the SLC area of Utah where I was put in a small room full of safari themed decorations and stuffed animals that all had cameras and wires in them. I was absolutely scared to death and at some point in the graphic questions they asked, I disassociated and started to black out. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. The authorities told my parents they would investigate and get ahold of them within 2 weeks. We never heard from them again. Not one phone call or letter. I found out later they asked 1 person about the incident before dropping the case entirely. The church paid for one half hour meeting with a church counselor, who compared my life to an episode of the Simpsons (being mormon I had been raised not to watch this show, so he had to explain to me how I was like Bart who had gotten a tattoo, and his sister wouldn’t stop poking the hurt spot on purpose? To this day I have no idea why he went on this tangent.), told me to stop being depressed all the time and to turn to my scriptures and my leaders if I felt bad or wanted to continue to self harm (cutting, burning, suicide attempts). He also wanted to get graphic with me, but I refused to get into the sick details unless he was interested in actually working with me. He complimented my Pink Floyd hat and sent me on my way, I never saw him again and I never got any other help from the church. If anything the church added to my pain consistently over the years and many of those member’s names are practically sewn into the scars that cover most of my body today, including those who literally shadowed me for the church for years with intent of harm.
I never lied. I never made anything up. And the worst part about my story, is that it isn’t unique. I am consciously aware every single day that I don’t just stand for myself, I stand for all the children who were abused here in this area who could not or can not stand for themselves. When I was a president of the beehives in young women’s, I had so many younger girls and boys come to me about how they had been abused and were hurting. I will never forgive myself for recommending them all to the church instead of the proper authorities, where they might have received REAL HELP.
As a result, I’ve been dedicating the last few years of my life to making things right. I’ve tried to follow up with as many cases as I can remember and make sure they are all ok. Some I wasn’t able to get to in time. But others have told me their full realized truths. Turns out, that same bishop who caused me so many problems was actively trying to molest several of my friends when we were children. A few of those same sheriffs who laughed at me were caught doing similarly heinous things. And the vast majority of those I’ve spoken with here DO NOT have good experiences from the church, just traumatic ones.
This is systematic. It’s widespread. I don’t believe it’s the minority, or certainly not in this small founder family town I have the most experience with, it’s the majority.
THIS. HAS. TO. STOP.
Now, on the Fox13 clip, I said a lot of very good things about the movement and was able to keep it together for the brief interview, but of course they just wanted the shock value little clip on my experience. The crying shot was after the matter, talking to some of the other members of the movement about the details made me lose my composure. But nothing I said was not TRUTH. It was all real.
To those who want to hate on my life story…you don’t know me. You don’t know my experiences. Not only am I not alone, I have an entire list of people who would be more than happy to corroborate. It’s just the reality of the situation. And we have ALL been quiet, kind, and considerate about it LONG ENOUGH.
If this policy doesn’t change and this church doesn’t take some serious steps to bring about transparency and reduce trauma, EXPECT US, and DON’T expect it to be kept cute for your comfort level. This is wrong. It has always been wrong, since the very beginning of Mormonism with Joseph Smith himself and 14 year old CHILDREN.
We are standing up against this kind of spiritual abuse and child abuse for all the right reasons. If you can’t see that, I don’t know how else to get through to you. As a human being, I don’t understand those who have no sympathy or compassion for this cause. But for those of you who recognize this for what it truly is, I am begging you to STAND WITH US. PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN. PROTECT EVERY SURVIVOR IN THERE. DO THE RIGHT THING.
If you’re interested in reading more true stories about abuse in the church, I highly recommend Protect LDS Children .