When a Victim of Abuse Cries For Help: The Perspective Needed to Be a Modern Good Samaritan

My previous post on the horrifying abuse scandal involving a former president of the Missionary Training Center resulted in valuable feedback from an expert on abuse and a former victim herself. She shares a perspective that is vital for LDS leaders and members to understand, especially regarding how we deal with those who come forward claiming to be victims of abuse. For now, she would like to remain anonymous, but has given me permission to share this:

In this case, the accuser is a woman, so for easiness’ sake, I’m going to use the feminine pronoun, but it could be either a guy or girl. It’s important and I said something like it to you once, many, many years ago.  You alluded to it in your article as well.

If someone comes to you as an ecclesiastical leader, a counselor, a friend, or whatever and says that she has been molested, raped, beaten, verbally, physically or sexually abused, or that she’s suicidal, you need to believe her.  She’s got a problem and she’s asking for help.  This particular woman’s problem is that she was molested or raped.   Maybe it was just porn the guy showed her like Leavitt said or maybe he raped her.  I don’t know.  In either case, she felt violated.

What I’m not saying is this: I’m not saying that you need to jump to conclusions about the character of the alleged assailant or that he or she needs to be arrested or excommunicated immediately.   What I am saying is this:  The accuser has a problem.  She’s coping in the best way she knows how.  She’s doing everything she can to help herself and she needs to know that someone’s got her back because she’s being as brave as she knows how to be and, unless she is terribly evil and is willing to truly be horrible and accuse someone falsely, there is no reason not to believe.  Something needs to be done.  Questions asked privately.  Stories checked out….etc.  Rather like you said in the article.

She told her story to someone.  It doesn’t matter if Leavitt “thought” her story had “much credence.”  His job (as a person, a leader, or an all around nice guy) was to help her or to find a way for someone else to help her.  Him saying that he “wasn’t going to risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report” makes me want to vomit.  Of course we don’t want to believe that Mr. Nice Guy is an offender.  We don’t want to believe that a friend could be so sick.  We don’t want to believe bad things about good people.  We don’t want to believe our family members could be perverted. Our world views get shattered.  But, bad things do happen and goodly seeming people aren’t always good.

We also don’t want to hurt someone who really is innocent.  Whether it’s the accused or the accuser, it is the same.  We do not want the innocent hurt.  But, if J. Bishop really did do something to her, he was not an innocent.  He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pouncing on an innocent.  And, if she’s not telling the truth, she’s not an innocent.  That’s why it should have been fully investigated when Leavitt heard about it [she refers to Ron Leavitt, the former bishop of a Provo, Utah single adults ward to whom the incident with Joseph L. Bishop was first reported; see  “Woman who accused MTC president of sexual assault has been telling her story for 3 decades“].  Church leaders should be advised of that, in my opinion.

Another thing that people don’t think about is how it affects people.  In Leavitt’s estimation, her mental health was not as important as Mr. Bishop’s reputation.  Why?  Because Leavitt may not have known (and still may not know) the damage that type of violation can do to a person’s mind.  In the last 20 years, since I began my DID [dissociative identity disorder] journey, I’ve come to find out that people don’t think that abuse is that destructive to a person’s mind.  However, we both know it is.  It may interest you to find out that researchers are beginning to discover stuff that you and I learned on our own so many years ago.  Dissociative disorders are real and they are more prevalent in society than once thought.  There is a reason that Christ said in Luke 17:2 that “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”  It’s because things affect us to the third and fourth generation.  I can only think of my mom’s response to my telling her: “Honey, that’s what uncles do.”  What if my mom had said something to her mom? Perhaps she did and was told, “Honey, that’s what uncles do….”  Sick.

The woman in your story was violated in some way.  She sought help.  It should have been investigated.  As far as I’m concerned, Leavitt is guilty of hurting her as well and she deserves an apology from him, too.  I do not believe it was an intentional hurt, but it is still something that he should apologize for simply because she has had to deal with this for over 30 years.  Had he done something, (I’m sure he innocently thought nothing of it as the years went on) the woman may have healed sooner.  I hope and pray she finds healing. 

I think your idea of making a note of an accusation on a record is brilliant, but needs caution.  It’s not something that just any member of a ward counsel should see unless the person was actually convicted of a crime. [Note: I agree. The intent is for the annotation to only be visible to, say, a small, highly confidential panel in Salt Lake.] People gossip and it can ruin a reputation even if it is false.  But, an accusation should be there.  Not to be a detriment, but as a precursor and precaution to a second or third accusation. 

You’re right that the tape can be checked out.  It should be.  Immediately.  If it’s true, kudos to her for having the guts to stand up to the man who hurt her.  I don’t have that kind of bravery. (However, you had another comment that if the guy is in his 80’s he could be open to manipulation.  That’s true, too. Again, who’s the innocent?)  Thankfully, I’m not an avenging angel.  I’d smite a heck of a lot of people for minor infractions.  

Also, I’ve read the stories of Rob Porter (White House Aide) in the SLTrib and other media.  Apparently his two ex-wives both told bishops that he was abusive.  They were told (in different words) to put up with it.  Why?  Because most people are the type of people who don’t want to “risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report.” 

It’s wrong [to ignore the report of a victim].  It doesn’t have to be shouted from the rooftops unless there is truth to it because we are innocent until proven guilty.  But, one cannot be found guilty if one’s crimes are ignored.

Anyway, I don’t know if I helped or not.  I’m glad you wrote the article.  I think that there are a lot of good leaders out there who just have no clue as to what to do and someone ends up getting hurt. That’s not the fault of the individual leaders, but rather due to a lack of training in an area that shouldn’t, but does exist.  I think that if something like this is brought to their attention, it needs to be investigated.  Investigations can be done in confidence and with tact so as not to hurt either the accused or the accuser.  Leaders also need to know that when someone comes and says something, it takes a lot of bravery to do it.  As I said, I don’t think Leavitt’s slight was intentional, but be that as it may, it was there and it hurt. [emphasis added]

I want to emphasize her comments on our obligation to listen to victims, to take them seriously, and to do something.

We don’t have to jump to conclusions about the alleged perpetrator, but we need to have the compassion and charity to see that the victim has been hurt and is in pain. She may be suicidal. Her self-esteem may be destroyed. She may be damaged emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically by what has happened. In many ways, her life may be ruined or face ruin if urgent and loving help is not provided. This is not the time, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, to cross to the other side of the road to evade the inconvenient victim. This is not the time to step aside, worried about sullying someone else’s reputation or sullying ourselves by lending a hand to the abused. This is the time to help, to listen, to love, and to heal.

This is the modern parable of the Good Samaritan, and we need to be prepared to be the good guy, not the self-righteous one who feels he is protecting the Church or the Lord’s anointed by leaving the injured victim alone, unheard and unhealed.

Imagine that in the hall at Church some Sunday, a disturbed woman runs up to you with a bleeding arm and whispers, “Help me! The bishop just stabbed me with scissors!” Would I say, “No way am I going to sully the bishop’s reputation!” and just walk away, leaving her alone and bleeding? When we can see the trauma, of course we will do something to help, such as apply first aid, call an ambulance, and report to authorities that something bad may have happened. The wounds of the abused often are not so readily visible to us, and the worst damage may be invisible psychological scars. Mental wounds are just as real and debilitating as a broken kneecap, and are often longer lasting. Neglecting such wounds can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc. But when the trauma is mental, invisible, we too easily dismiss it and dismiss our duty to help, fearing that taking action is about sullying a person in power rather than helping some soul who has been hurt.

Help and first aid are needed, regardless of what might be revealed about the source of the injury. Listen, love, take action, and give victims a chance to begin healing. Ignoring them is always tempting, but is one of the worst temptations and weaknesses in human nature. We must move past that and take steps to prepare to respond properly and also take steps as an institution to make it easier to accept and track the data victims provide, even if we doubt their story.

Update, March 27: See the following post,
Church’s New Policy on Personal Interviews in the Church and New
Guidance on Preventing Abuse: Welcome Steps in a Messy World
.” The new policies are incorporated in a document on preventing abuse, which will be in the official handbook used by leaders.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

7 thoughts on “When a Victim of Abuse Cries For Help: The Perspective Needed to Be a Modern Good Samaritan

  1. Knowing the careful and deliberate way the First presidency councils on all matters this has probably been in the works for some time.

    One of the things that keeps coming up in these contexts is how devastating abuse, especially sexual abuse, is too the sense of self-worth and courage of the victim. I know that Moroni 9:9 has gotten a lot of criticism from people who see it as being used as justification for victim blaming, but I wonder if what Mormon is trying to articulate is not that the victims have had their purity taken from them but their power.

  2. Thanks, Joseph. Yes, the new policy adjustments and other steps announced are welcome changes. I hope units and families will take steps to discuss these and strengthen their own awareness of the risks we face and the steps we can take to keep our members and friends safe in a world where predators exist.

  3. … I wonder if what Mormon is trying to articulate is not that the victims have had their purity taken from them but their power.

    Call me crazy, Joseph, but I would argue that purity and virtue mean purity and virtue. It seems to me that you're engaging in the rankest kind of revisionism, merely to make the text comport with modern values.

    Jeff, I too think the new policy is welcome, though I can't resist adding that it is obviously a belated concession to secular progress (as is so often the case with the church — e.g., black people and the priesthood). One would expect prophets of God to be ahead of the curve rather than behind, but here they are, playing catch-up once again.

    I should also add that "worthiness interviews" remind me of the Catholic practice of confession. Just another way in which the LDS Church has converged with the Great and Abominable Church.

    — OK

  4. The Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation has very little in common with Mormon worthiness interviews.

    For one thing, Reconciliation is a completely voluntary thing. A Catholic confesses when and what he or she feels they need to. For another, there is no probing. A priest listens to what a Catholic wants to share as briefly stated or in detail as the confessed deems appropriate. A priest would never ask a child if they had masturbated and would never draw out details. Never, never, NEVER.

    Secondly, just as a Catholic attends Mass in any congregation of their choice, a Catholic confesses to any priest they care to whether that is someone that they know and who knows them or another priest to whom they are completely anonymous. The absolution is complete in any case. And the Catholic has every expectation that what they discuss in a confessional goes no farther than that small booth. A priest does not go home and discuss it with his wife who just mentions it to one Relief Society member who just happens to mention it to…

    Finally, the sacrament of Reconciliation does not conclude with shame or with anyone being barred from full participation in the church. Reconciliation means precisely that. Once confessed, being absolved and performing and act of reparation or a penance a Catholic is free to participate in any other sacrament or activity of the church.

  5. Making a comment anonymously here (for obvious reasons). There is a lot that is true in this. I was someone who had false accusations of abuse made about me — I don't know how common they are in general, but in at least my case they were false. The Stake President took her seriously and I was excommunicated as a result.

    Years later now, having been rebaptized and reunited with the Church I am in an ongoing process of gaining perspective. But what struck me in this post is the idea that an accusation, whether true or false, is a sign that someone is in serious danger. If true, the accuser has been horribly hurt by the abuse. If false, as in my case, that is likely a sign that the person has been horribly hurt by other abuse and is making an accusation against a 'safer' target (that's what happened to me — she was actually abused by someone she remained frightened of so the accusations were made against me). But it seems very certain that anyone making such an accusation is injured in some way — even if not by the accused.

    I wouldn't go as far as to say to believe all women (I have a well-founded reluctance to that position), but I do agree that if someone is making accusations of abuse that is a desperate cry for help from someone seriously hurting. Whether true or not, they need to be seriously considered and whatever resources are available need to be brought to their aid.

    And having been through the process, I can testify both that leaders should be careful both not to punish those falsely accused (it was a painful experience, to say the least) and that the Lord will walk hand in hand with those who are falsely accused and make things right in the end (He has blessed me in ridiculous measure with the experience).

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