My heart has been heavy as news has come out about the LDS church using an abuse “help line” to cover up cases of abuse. I am enraged. I am grieving. I am deeply hurt. And I am fed up.
I was one of those cases.
After my abusive relationship, I decided to share my story. A huge part of my healing journey has been speaking up about what really happened. After many sleepless nights, I finished writing an 18 page detailed account of the sexual and mental abuse that he put me through. First, I shared it with my parents as they had no idea of the extent of my abuse. Then, I decided I wanted to share it with influential people in his life – both church leaders and his parents – in hopes that they could help prevent this from happening again and be aware of his destructive pattern of behavior. Not only did I share my own story, but one of his previous girlfriends also decided to share her own experiences with him. So together, we gave our letters to my bishop, his bishop, and our stake president. Outside of my close circle of family and friends, the church was the first place that I spoke up about my abuse.
At first, we felt hopeful. The stake president told us that our healing was his main priority. He consulted with the church “help line,” got in contact with the church’s law firm, Kirton McConkie, and consulted with church social workers on what to do next. Unfortunately, these “resources” aren’t centered on protecting the victim but rather protecting the church’s image. My stake president relayed his version of my story to the “help line” and based on that account, they determined that my story was invalid… that it didn’t line up with normal patterns of abuse. Which was a slap in the face. Because if they did ANY further investigation – spoken with the actual victim, or my parents, or my therapist and psychiatrist – it would have been very apparent that this was textbook abuse. I was deeply traumatized – having regular nightmares, graphic flashbacks triggering panic attacks, in a constant state of fear and anxiety about the possibility of running into him again at the grocery store, hypervigilant in all my actions, all the while seeing several mental health professionals including an EMDR therapist, a CBT therapist, and a psychiatrist.
But instead they wiped their hands of my case and continued considering my abuser for a mission. My stake president’s tone changed drastically. It seemed that he no longer believed us. He began defending my abuser. He said belittling things about me. He was going through mental gymnastics trying to discount any aspect of my story – stating that abuse was just one of the possible explanations for my story. The others were that we were just scorned exes; that I just regretted breaking the law of chastity; that I was perhaps too mentally ill to accurately depict my reality; that I was exaggerating his wrongdoings while leaving out my own – the list could go on. No longer did it seem that his main priority was the victims’ healing as the victim blaming and abuse apologist attitudes rolled in.
And then I met with my bishop in hopes to receive further guidance during my healing process. I poured my heart and soul out to him. Sharing how I felt I received this personal revelation, this unwavering knowing that I had a purpose. That I needed to speak up and share my story. That I survived my personal hell in order to use my voice for good and be a help to others who’ve experienced similar things. But he shut me down. He told me that was not the way to move forward. That I should just “forgive and forget.” He called me to repentance through this process – told me I wasn’t to take the sacrament for a while. He told me that in his professional opinion (as a practicing lawyer), he wouldn’t report this to the police because it was useless. He explained how hard it is to prove cases of rape or abuse and thought it wasn’t going anywhere outside of ‘he said/she said.’ So he discouraged me from taking legal action outside the church.
And so as my story fell upon deaf ears within the church, I decided to speak out more publicly. I shared my story via video on social media. Again, this was monumental in my healing journey. I was connecting with so many women who said “Me Too.” Women of all ages and walks of life, opening up to me about their stories. Some who had never said the words out loud to another being. Women as old as 60 years old, whose mothers went to the grave not knowing what happened to their daughters. It brought about collective healing as others felt heard, seen, supported, validated, and advocated for through my story.
But that upset my church leaders. We received more letters from my stake president. Letters proclaiming how extremely disappointed he was in me for sharing my story publicly. Telling me that I was un-Christ-like. Telling me that I was hurting my abuser and not being a “sympathetic victim.” Telling me that matters like this were supposed to be handled in the confidence of the church, NOT in the eye of the public. (Even though he had already made it clear that nothing was going to be done about my abuser and I wasn’t believed nor supported any longer). He demanded that I take down my story. He told me that this wasn’t the “correct” way to heal. That I was going to regret this for the rest of my life.
Well President [Redacted], never once did I regret it. What I do regret is ever trusting you with my story. I regret turning to the church for help and guidance. I regret believing that I would be safe within your community. Because I was never safe. Instead I was shunned. I was blamed. I wasn’t believed. I wasn’t supported. I was treated as if I was making it all up. As if a 16-year-old girl would fabricate gruesome details of abuse for kicks and giggles??
And for a long time, people tried to tell me that this was a bad apple case. That I just fell into the hands of shitty leaders… “imperfect men who were trying their best but ultimately failed you.” But I won’t take that as an answer anymore. That’s not what happened. What happened you might ask? The church was founded by a manipulative, predatory man. From the beginning, the church has protected abusers. The church was built on a foundation of patriarchy, purity culture turned rape culture, and abusive men in positions of power. After news broke of countless cases of abuse being covered up by the church, I now know I am not alone. I am not crazy. I am not the bad apple case. They treated my case like they have many other cases – shove it under the rug, try to convince the victim to be silent, protect the abuser, and wipe their hands of it all to save face for the church as a whole.
As I’ve distanced myself from the church for the sake of my own well being, I’ve never felt the strong need or desire to fully remove my records. But this latest story was my breaking point. I cannot be associated with a church that has a systematic pattern of protecting abusers, blaming victims, and never taking accountability or apologizing for their extremely harmful wrongdoings. So I cut official ties and received a sense of closure as my name will no longer be tied to this evil organization that did nothing but invoke more trauma for me. Deep-seated trauma that I am still actively working through with professionals.
The AP News Story
For reference, here is the story that recently came out about the church’s involvement in covering up horrific child sexual abuse in Arizona – AP News Article.
The Final Emails
Also for reference, here are the emails exchanged between the stake president and my father after I shared my story publicly.
Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 8:08 PM
President [Redacted] to My Father
Dear Brother and Sister Rogers,
I have learned recently, that Brother and Sister [Redacted] have written you a letter when they learned that Whytli has posted on YouTube and a Podcast her claim that she was raped by [Redacted]. I am very disappointed by her actions in so posting, and believe that she has very much overstepped appropriate bounds in doing so. She has not improved her situation nor her healing by doing so. She has only damaged many others besides [Redacted], and will likely incur more damage to herself. I tried to explain why posting in this way would backfire and be damaging to her. By her posting this accusation on YouTube and her Podcast, I believe she has done far worse to herself and others.
This is not the Lord’s way. Every sin confessed within the Church is held in confidence. That is where real repentance occurs. We do not broadcast everyone’s sins. Not yours, or anyone else’s. This would not have been done had it been you. The Bishop, nor the Stake President nor any Church leader publicizes the sins of others. They are kept in strict confidence so they can be resolved and repentance can take place. The Bishop would not broadcast your sins, if it were your confession. For her to act in this public way, this very irreversible way, in which she vilifies another makes her a much less sympathetic victim. This will not help her cause.
I feel that this approach is unnecessarily and very destructive. I feel that it is just wrong. I am very disappointed.
I would ask you to have her withdraw her posts. I’m having a very difficult time imagining that this behavior will help Whytli heal. I believe it will do just the opposite. This has spiritual and legal consequences for everyone. The internet is a very unforgiving and unforgetting environment. Whytli will find that she will get back far more than she bargained for and I am certain that it will not be pleasant or productive. It will be more negative. She will probably get very hurt in this process.
If you were trying to protect her, I believe that this process of posting in this way will be even more injurious to her in the long run. You have said that conflict and contention eat you alive. I have worked to try to protect you as well. I fear this approach will produce much more conflict and contention that you have anticipated. It will likely drag on a long time and take a turn very negative for your family, and especially for Whytli. She will have opened the flood gates, so to speak. In the end, I’m sure she will wish she had never done this.
She has publicly accused him, leaving him no room to defend himself, and tell his side of the story. There are always two sides of any story. You know that. We all know that. You can cling as tenaciously as you wish to Whytli’s story, but there are always two sides and the other will eventually come out, like it or not. If you were in this situation and felt you were being wrongfully accused, you would want the opportunity to defend yourself. She has taken that away from him, with no questions asked. That is just wrong. I am so sorry how this has played out. This could have been addressed in so much better ways than the one she has chosen.
Please, I invite you to see that these posts are removed until this matter can be fully resolved to Whytli’s benefit, and for yours. I hope to hear from you as soon as possible.
With prayers for your family,
Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 1:12 PM
My Father to President [Redacted]
This represents my last attempt at communicating with you about this issue. I have said what I’ve had to say multiple times and in multiple ways. It seems that my words are falling upon deaf ears. I’ve thought long and hard about how to respond here. At this point I don’t think it will do any good, but at least it will benefit me by helping me sort and flesh out my thoughts and feelings on the matter a little more.
Ultimately, the decision to share her story belongs to my daughter and to her alone. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable you are with it. It doesn’t matter how much it may stress me out because I dislike conflict. This happened to her. Not you. Not me. To her.
You talk around her like she is not the single most important factor in making that decision. You seem to think that I have some magical power or influence here. That I can just “see that these posts are removed” and override her say in this incredibly personal and traumatic matter. She’s not seven years old. I just can’t force my will on her. She’s even legally an adult now. Since my daughter came forward with what happened to her, she has not wavered. Her story has not changed. You think that the parents meeting with each other will somehow change her mind? Am I supposed to convince her somehow that this didn’t happen? What am I supposed to do? Tell her, “Hey, [Redacted]’s parents say he’s really a great guy after all and would never do those terrible things. Sounds like a big mix-up. Let’s just drop it”? Or, “Hey, I really think you’re making all of this up. Maybe don’t tell anyone about it after all”? Or, “Hey, all the times you told him no but he wouldn’t take no for an answer? That’s not his fault”? Or, “Hey, you know those times you told him to stop and he didn’t? That wasn’t really rape. You just didn’t say no hard enough”? Or, “Hey, I believe you but the stake president doesn’t believe you and says there are two sides to the story, so maybe you should reconsider”? What kind of outcome are you really expecting there? Don’t you realize how ridiculous your request sounds?
The bottom line is that you do not believe her. I do. Her doctor and her therapist, with whom she has spoken extensively, absolutely do not doubt her story. We have discussed it with them at length. You want to dance around the issue, proposing different possible reasons and motivations for what she’s saying, performing extreme mental gymnastics. Maybe you simply are not comfortable with the idea that this kid has done some awful things and you are desperately looking for other answers. Maybe you’re scared of his parents. All of that four quadrant stuff and trying to understand how much each possibility factors in. Is it abuse? Is it mental illness? Is it a scorned woman? Is it sin? Maybe the reason is the simplest and most obvious one, the one that’s been staring you in the face the entire time but that you are trying so hard to avoid – that she is telling the truth. That the other girls who had similar abusive experiences with him are telling the truth. There are three separate witnesses to his abusive behavior, but you’re still trying reeaalllly hard to come up with your own alternative explanation. You consistently bring up that “sniff test” nonsense, which I’ve consistently pushed back on since you introduced it. It never made sense. You know what your “sniff test” is? It is victim blaming. It took a while for it to dawn on me. But that’s exactly what it is. You want her to “balance” her story and admit fault. You want her to admit that she brought some of this upon herself – that it’s partially her fault that she was mentally abused and raped. “Well, yeah – he did some bad stuff – but she’s 12% to blame!” Here’s an idea – maybe we should place the blame for abuse on the abuser, not grasp at alternative theories to try and explain things away differently. But this is what happens. Abusers are believed. Victims are not.
I try to understand some of your feelings. It sucks to be in your position. You’re stuck in the middle here and don’t want drama. You don’t like that details have been shared about [Redacted] that are unfavorable for him. You ultimately want to help him and that doesn’t necessarily further your goal. Your hands are tied to a large extent as far as what you can actually do. It’s fine if you feel helpless and like you can’t do anything to help the situation. It’s another thing entirely to question her story, tell her she’s healing wrong, defend her abuser, and tell her to remove her public statements. That’s no longer a neutral position. Telling me to have her take it down is leaving neutrality and siding with abuse.
Despite all of your best efforts and intentions, you have failed. You may feel that you nailed him down on his sexual sins, but you have been too afraid of the abuse aspect to share the details of that abuse with his parents. You have been manipulated and deceived by a liar, narcissist, and likely psychopath, and his lawyer father. You’re not the first and, at this rate, you definitely will not be the last. Not recognizing and trying to address the much larger problems he has means you are ultimately not helping [Redacted]. Him not coming to terms with what actually happened does not help him – by letting it slide you are actively hurting him.
You say that she will not find healing with her approach. Do you not understand how ridiculous and offensive it is to suggest that you can put yourself in her shoes, tell her how to feel, and tell her how to go about healing from something so terribly awful and personal? This isn’t about what you are comfortable with. This isn’t about what you think is best for [Redacted]. This is a survivor of abuse choosing her path forward on a lifelong healing process. She cannot fathom living with herself while keeping quiet and brushing this under the rug. She went to church leaders in faith. They have repeatedly counseled her to not speak publicly about this, even when she has expressed her own personal, burning spiritual answer that she needs to speak out. She finds strength and healing in heeding that spiritual answer. She finds strength and healing in standing up for herself. She finds strength and healing in those that reach out to her with their own stories, looking for help. She finds strength and healing in the idea that her ability to discuss what happened to her can help others, many of whom have not been strong enough to come to terms with what happened to them and be open about it. She will continue to advocate for those who have been similarly hurt. Healing is not likely to be found in avoiding the pain and discomfort associated with tragedy. It may mean standing up to it and dealing with it head-on.
Woman after woman, girl after girl approach her with their own tragic stories. Sexual assault and abuse is so incredibly prevalent – it’s terrifying. The most recent one to confide in her is an inactive member of our ward, who was raped years ago. She had never told anyone about what happened to her – until now. She watched Whytli’s video. She listened to her initial podcast episodes. She is finding the strength to confront her own horrific past and to move forward with faith and courage. A friend of a friend now realizes that what was done to her by numerous past boyfriends and husbands also was rape. Just because it was perpetrated by a boyfriend or husband does not change that fact. People are learning and healing. But no – Whytli’s decision to speak up is “wrong”. No. It’s not. She has put herself and her incredibly upsetting story out there for others to hear, so that she can help. And she is helping.
You say we shouldn’t go around broadcasting others’ sins. That’s fair. But the problem here is that someone else’s sins are tightly wrapped up in the abuse they inflicted upon another person. You really expect her to share her story in a way that doesn’t come out unflattering for him? Throwing him under the bus isn’t her objective but, unfortunately, his sins are sort of the crux of the problem here. You say that her sharing details about him will make her a less sympathetic victim. Maybe that is true in some people’s minds. But guess what? Her goal isn’t sympathy. Her goal isn’t pity. Her goal is spreading awareness by sharing what happened to her. She doesn’t need your sympathy. And guess what else? Her story sucks. It sucks for her to tell. It sucks for others to hear. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. Some people won’t like it. Some people won’t believe it. It comes with the territory. She knows that victims that speak up are often not believed. But Whytli discussing her story is not about him. It is not about publicizing his sins. It is about her. Period. The fact that you are trying to spin this into him now being the victim is absolutely sickening.
You don’t think she is telling the truth, but indulge me for a moment and assume that she is. At what point is she allowed to tell her story? Does she have to wait long enough for people not to associate it with [Redacted] anymore? How long does she have to protect her abuser? Two years? Five years? Ten years? Forever? Can she only tell the parts that you are comfortable with? The parts that don’t reflect poorly on him? Where is that line? When has she “very much overstepped appropriate bounds”? Yeah, let’s talk about “appropriate bounds”.
It sounds like the only thing that is going to make you happy is if she is justified by a third party. So what happens if she goes to the police, which is certainly still an option? Maybe they conclude that they don’t have enough to press charges. Or maybe they do, and he goes to court and rich daddy lawyer gets the best defense money can buy and he gets off. One significant downside is, at that point, those that don’t believe her can proclaim, “See! Innocent! She was making it up! Two sides to every story!” If the legal system does not produce justice for her, does she then have to shut her mouth forever? Move on with life and act like this never happened, even though she knows the awful truth, that it did? Lack of charges or lack of conviction does not mean it did not happen. And don’t pretend like you proposed these great alternatives to what she ultimately chose to do. You said we should not share her story with the [Redacted (his parents)]. You didn’t voice disagreement that going to the police might not only result in more pain for her, but potentially wasted effort given the difficult nature of the situation. The only thing you ever suggested is meeting with the [Redacted (his parents)], which was also pointless. “Hey – your son’s a liar, narcissist, and possible psychopath. He abused and raped our daughter. What do you have to say about that? What? You don’t believe us? You say he’s not and none of that happened? You say our daughter is crazy and lying? Hmm. Well, this is awkward. Ok, thanks.” I’m sure it would have been extremely productive. Not to mention the fact that it was not something that our daughter endorsed, which is a pretty big factor for us, if not for you.
And there you are again with the mission stuff. I just do not get it. It still boggles my mind that this is even a question. Can a bishop or stake president not make that decision on their own? Maybe that’s just my ignorance of the process. Even if we subtract the fact that he’s nearly destroyed three separate girls with his abusive behavior and actions, it’s hard to understand how his track record of a long-term porn addiction, an extended period of extensive immorality, and his completely planned and premeditated “repentance” don’t already stop that idea dead in its tracks. I guess “raising the bar” didn’t result in it going very high. Maybe you’re scared of his father. Maybe he’s going lawyer mode on you and telling you that you can’t deny his son. I do not get it. Should it happen, I’ll feel sick to know that this kid is out there representing my church and my Savior. It’s beyond messed up. But that’s out of my hands.
Personally, I had low expectations going in. There’s too long of a track record of this kind of stuff being handled poorly by church leaders to have much hope. We’ve seen this happen with extended family members. We recently spoke with a close family friend about her 20 year abusive marriage to a narcissist and how leader after leader did not believe her. But your initial response was very positive, which gave us some hope. Then eventually you were swayed by the abuser’s side of the story. You know the problem with an abuser’s side of the story? It’s basically guaranteed to be a lie. He’s not going to come clean to you. So now we’ve come full circle and the end result is as bad or worse than my initial expectations. Now you’re actively criticizing the victim, on behalf of her abuser, for how she has chosen to heal and speak up. You have now joined a long and tragic list of church leaders who have chosen to believe and defend abusers over victims, in the name of “two sides to every story”. Welcome to the club.
This is why victims don’t speak out. This is why they try to bury what has happened to them. Because they are not believed. They’re called liars. They’re called crazy. It took an incredible amount of courage for Whytli to approach you with the information she shared. Consider how vulnerable she felt sharing all of that awful detail with a group of grown men. But they were men we trusted. Men that could potentially understand and communicate the gravity of what happened to people that might get him help. They failed her. Whytli’s trust in church leaders has been severely damaged. She went to the Collin Kartchner event last week. Although she appreciated the message, she was so uncomfortable being surrounded by men who did not believe her and counseled her to remain silent. Is it any wonder that she does not feel comfortable at church? Is it any wonder that her faith in the church organization is hanging by a thread? I do not blame her. You can try and push that one back on her to ease your own conscience, but that is on you and the others who have chosen to not believe her.
Yes, perhaps the road ahead will be incredibly difficult. We did our best to consider the negative possibilities associated with her choice. We are not stupid nor naive at this point. Retaliation. Ostracization. People not believing her. People calling her crazy. People thinking she’s doing it out of spite and to ruin his life. People absurdly claiming she’s doing it for attention. The rich, powerful attorney father working together with his lying son to try and paint a different picture of his son’s lies, manipulation, and abuse. His attorney father threatening legal action (which is exactly why one victim has been too scared to say anything to anyone other than a select few in the first place), etc. We have already begun to endure some of that, including from you, of all people. We are doing our best to be prepared for what lies ahead. We cannot control nor predict all of the outcomes. We will simply move forward with faith, not fear (of you, the [Redacted], or anyone else) and support our daughter to the best of our ability.
Yes, I will continue to “cling” to my daughter’s story. What should I cling to? Your doubts and alternate theories? The version told by her abuser? Her story makes sense. The pieces fit. We are more and more sure of that as time passes. I am at complete peace with her story, and her decision to share it, come what may. My wife is as well. We believe our daughter. We are proud of her strength.
I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt for a very long time in this matter. I tried to be patient as you tried to work through this and considered your viewpoints, even though I often strongly disagreed with them. It has become clear to me that there is no reason for me to waste my time and patience with you on this any longer.
I echo your disappointment. But my disappointment has graduated to disgust.
Do not attempt to communicate with me or my family regarding this issue again.
2 thoughts on “How the LDS Church Failed Me After My Abusive Relationship”
Wow, I am so sorry this happened to you and I love your power and voice you have helped so many people already by shedding light on this and I have been grateful for you in my life. Reading the letter from your stake pres in light of the AP news story show how pervasive this thinking was/is. And almost any woman I have known who has experienced abuse in marriage has not had good experiences with being validated and holding abusers accountable, lots of just forgive and work on your healing and baby the perpetrators. Love the way you put this to words, thank you, so powerful: “The church was founded by a manipulative, predatory man. From the beginning, the church has protected abusers. The church was built on a foundation of patriarchy, purity culture turned rape culture, and abusive men in positions of power.”
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad your dad is standing up for you, but I wish more dads would do this. More dads, more moms, more ecclesiastical leaders. The church has a long and grand tradition of protecting predators, from the inception of the organization. From its founder. This is not a case of individuals doing bad things and covering things up. This is systemic, and has been from the beginning. My best wishes for your continued healing and thank you again for your courage and tenacity.