Another LDS Stake Takes Steps Towards Comprehensive Protection for Their Children

British Flag 2Adventures in LDS Safeguarding in the UK – Some great news!

By Peter Bleakley

Safeguarding children from sexual abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is absolutely the last thing I want to even think about, never mind get involved in proactive advocating for.  It is disturbing, depressing and it should definitely be someone else’s responsibility.  But the tragic reality is that the people who should be taking responsibility for it too often are not, specially at the top of our global organisation, so it has by default become the job of grass roots members to do the Mormon thing and take action where there is a need.

As I grew up in the Church the first I became aware of this being an issue was when a relative of mine in Ireland was supporting a victim of abuse and having their testimony and trust in the priesthood leadership rocked by the dreadful failures in how they responded to the situation.  It was my first glimpse of all the key ingredients of the horrors that ripple out from LDS child abuse scandals still today – totally untrained local clergy not knowing how to be professional, blaming the victim, letting their perpetrator buddies in the old boys’ network off lightly, demanding that everyone forgive and forget quickly and not cause a public scandal or prosecution, and if the victim’s families refuse to play that game turning the social and legal resources of the Church and its community against them.

Some local leaders do a far better job than that, but not enough of them.  There have been some baby steps of improvement in the Church’s global practices, but not enough of them.

Nothing focuses your mind on the urgent need to revolutionise our safeguarding practices like having a case of child abuse in your own family or ward, or in my case moving into a ward still reeling from the aftermath of a serving bishop being convicted and imprisoned for child abuse-related offenses as we did a few years ago.  It strips away all the comforting buffer zones of wishful thinking and complacency and tears open a wound that is very hard to heal for everyone.  Every parent questions why they sent their children into one-to-one interviews with that person with a mandate to discuss the most private details of their sexual selves and experiences.  They agonise over what might have been, or actually was.  The abuser’s line managers and fellow leaders question how it was they felt spiritual witnesses confirming that they should sustain and ordain that person to a position of authority and responsibility when they were absolutely the last person God would have wanted or needed in that position of trust.  The families of the perpetrator and victims are embarrassed and traumatized.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

And then hopefully the inevitable next question is, how on earth did we as responsible adults who know that child abuse happens and have professional safeguarding training in many of our workplaces let this happen on our watch?  In our sphere of influence?  In an organisation where children should be the most safe and protected they can possibly be?  How is it possible in the Church of the Christ who valued children above all others?  Who talked about putting millstones around necks and drowning anyone hurting them?  How is it that instead of prioritising the safety of children we created written policies and cultural norms that prioritised the public reputation of the institution, the public reputation of the adult abusers, and the damaging opinions of General Authorities speaking from their out-dated and ignorant social conditioning in isolated Midwestern American religious communities instead of professional expertise and basic common sense?

Soon after that I became aware of Sam Young’s heroic campaign to Protect LDS Children that has evolved into Protect Every Child, and I started researching the Church’s official policies and guidelines regarding safeguarding.  I discovered policy statements and official declarations of an ethos of safeguarding on the Church website that were not just inaccurate wishful thinking, they were objectively delusional.  They were claiming that the LDS Church is not aware of anyone that has better safeguarding procedures than ours when in fact in the community of churches ours are among the absolute worst, and people have been telling them this for years.  They have finally had the shame to seriously edit their press release and remove most of the crazy claims about a ‘gold standard’, but still it seems no one with any professional safeguarding expertise has had anything to do with formulating either their propaganda or procedures.

I also discovered that the Church already practices several ingredients of our wish list in Australia.  There it is a legal requirement for anyone working with young people to have a regular background check and a card confirming this or all hell breaks loose, so the LDS Church is very careful to ensure this is followed.  People cannot be called or remain in a position working with young people if that legally mandated scrutiny lapses. They still have one to one interviews I expect, but it is a glimpse of how things could be everywhere.

My anger about the negligence became personal as I reflected on the impact throughout my adolescence and young adulthood of constant ‘worthiness’ interviews and the uninformed and unhealthy rhetoric, expectations and mind games played with LDS young regarding all things sexual.  We are fed into a mincer that piles on guilt about totally normal sexual feelings and explorations from before some of us even begin puberty.  My priesthood interviewers were unfailingly kind and exemplary role models and dear friends to whom I am profoundly grateful for their years of service contributing to my peers and I having a fantastic youth in many ways, but as they were instructed to I was regularly asked about whether I masturbated.  Like most young Mormons I soon began to learn to lie and declare I was ‘morally clean’ when I knew by those criteria I was not.

I felt guilt ridden and ‘unworthy’ pretty much all the time but my embarrassment was so deep I couldn’t bear to talk about it to anyone and only risked confessing twice at points when I was pretty sure the repercussions would be minimal.   As so many Latter-Day Saints and their therapists have described as they have reflected on this, our consciences kind of split into our public religious life and our secret shame.  Now as I reflect from an adult perspective, instead of feeling bad about that I am incredibly relieved that I protected my privacy.  I now understand that that whole process of intrusive scrutiny of children was completely unethical and psychologically unhealthy.

Young people put into a situation of an inherently abusive power relationship will have something click in their brains to protect themselves from dangerous intrusion and instinctively lie to protect their psyche from a clear and present threat.  Of course the religious indoctrination is so intense that, believing they are speaking to a man representing actual God with a magical ‘power of discernment’ to read their minds who should be answered honestly as if they are Jesus Christ because religiously there is no difference at all, many young people will not have the strength to protect their privacy by lying or simply calling their bluff and refusing to disclose such private information.  They will admit to their terrible crimes that according to the ‘For the Strength of Youth’ booklet and the teachings of the LDS prophets are all, ALL of them, even having sexual thoughts, “second only to murder.”

I would love to go back in time to my 12 year old self, pat me on the head and say “Quit feeling guilty – you are absolutely doing the right thing.  No one should be asking you about this, you are a normal healthy kid protecting your dignity and privacy.  These well-meaning but totally untrained men are not Gods, and you are frankly a proper goody two shoes.  Drugs are still bad, but definitely go to some live music concerts while these bands you love are at their peak.  Satan didn’t write their music and in the 2010’s no one even talks about that any more in the Church. Or the occult paranoia and Ouija Boards…. but I’ll let you find out about what Joseph Smith was up to with all that when you’re older and not spoil the fun.”

Most of our young people under the regime of regular harassment just go inactive and never come back.  Jana Reiss’ recent research has confirmed what we all know from our own wards, that the young teenage years are when the LDS Church loses most of the 80% of its young people globally who leave by their mid-twenties.  Why are we surprised when this is what we do to them?!  Those that stay and are honest are often fed into a totally unprofessional psychodrama of shaming Church discipline with disfellowshipment, young men having to very obviously say “No” when asked to pass the sacrament, not taking the sacrament in front of your family and entire ward, and even worse these days in the hysterical paranoia about pornography coming out of LDS communities in Deseret, being labelled an “Addict” completely inaccurately, and even being fed into the Addiction Recovery Program.  Meanwhile those of us unwilling or unaware that we should be confessing these things to our bishop look squeaky clean and progress unscrutinised through our young Church lives.

The whole thing is a mess of injustice, trauma, secrets and lies in stark contrast to what are meant to be our religious ideals and values.  I had pretty close to the mildest experience possible for a youth in the Church, beaten only by those lucky few who won leadership roulette and were never once asked about specific sexual things in interviews because their leaders were in a different branch of the random tree of leadership awareness and formative experience and passing on different norms through their lines of non-training.  But it was still far more of a burden of guilt, confusion and worry than I should ever have had to carry.

As a teacher in a boys’ secondary school with experience of delivering sex and contraception education and receiving the professional child safeguarding training that is now the norm in schools, professions and most voluntary and religious settings and organisations, I am not shy about speaking about these matters.  When Sam Young asked through social media if any supporters of the Protect Every Child campaign and petition in the UK were willing be interviewed by a journalist who had approached him, I and two others gladly volunteered and to our amazement found ourselves with a 10-15 minute slot on the BBC’s flagship news channel daily chat program ‘The Victoria Derbyshire Show’ and headed to the iconic Broadcasting House in London.  Our interviewer was superb and we were able to share our concerns in a respectful but clear way, particularly making the points that these interviews actually introduce young Mormons to the sexual practices they are meant to be deterring in unhealthy ways, and that as a body of millions of lay clergy the adult men and women running our congregations understand and practice modern safeguarding at work, but tragically too often throw it all in the bin as soon as we walk through the chapel doors.

The Church recently released a slightly interactive safeguarding training film that it will now require all members working with young people to review regularly.  This tipped me over the edge into full rage.  It claims to have been produced in collaboration with professionals, but I cannot see a shred of evidence for that anywhere in its content.  Even calling it safeguarding training is a deception.  It simply isn’t.  It’s one point repeated over and over is basically that no adult should be alone with a young person.  But it completely ignores the compulsory worthiness interviews where they often are.  They might as well not exist.  It doesn’t even take the opportunity to remind everyone of the recent change that a young person (not their parent…) can request a second adult in the room.  That’s more than negligence, it’s intentional.  And the thought that this is replacing the much more thorough professional training provided by Boy Scouts of America that at least some LDS youth leaders in the USA used to get is even more perplexing.

Real professional standard safeguarding training teaches you that an adult should never be alone with a child even once in any circumstances ever unless you are a professionally trained and supervised counsellor.  It teaches you what you must and must not do and say if a child discloses abuse to you so that you do not ask leading questions or screw up a criminal investigation.  It teaches you who your safeguarding line managers are, and who to talk to above them if you are not satisfied with their response.  It teaches you how to report suspicions you have about potential abuse to the right trained people in your organisation.  It teaches you exactly what physical and emotional signs to look for in a victim of abuse.  It teaches you how to speak to that child and reassure them as the adult they have chosen to trust, and what to do to ensure their immediate safety.  This stuff is safeguarding 101.  None of it is in the new official ‘training’ that isn’t training. This is why we must use actual professionals to deliver training in our stakes and wards until the in-house training matches basic professional standards.

In response to the scandals in our area, the UK government’s enquiries into safeguarding and abuse cover-ups in the Catholic and Anglican Churches, and the Protect Every Child campaign all shining a light on the matter, plus basic common sense, my stake leadership have been fantastic.  They decided that a much more robust protocol was required to fulfill the Church’s avowed intent, repeated in a statement at the end of our TV appearance by the Europe Area Presidency, to always be seeking ways to improve our safeguarding.  They consulted with several stake members who have high level professional responsibility for delivering safeguarding training in their professional careers.  They consulted with a Welsh member of the Church who is involved in safeguarding policies and training with the United Nations, who also delivered some excellent training for the young people and adults in our stake about the ethos and principles of a safeguarding community.  They even graciously gave me the opportunity to look over the draft policy and make recommendations.

After also consulting with the bishops to get their feedback and approval, our new stake child safeguarding policy has been released, and it is a doozy.  It has 99% of the wishlist of anyone professionally competent regarding safeguarding and the Protect Every Child campaign.  It outlines in detail what the different forms of physical, emotional and sexual child abuse are.  It describes an ethos of collective responsibility and vigilance.  It requires that every member of the Stake working with children and teenagers will have regular enhanced police background checks using the national DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) system paid for with stake funds if needed.  We will have regular professional safeguarding training that is provided annually for free to voluntary organisations by local councils in our area, (and hopefully available in all areas of the UK), that will match the training we get as school teachers.

The most thorny issue is the 6-monthly one to one interviews starting age 11 now.   The policy states that the expected norm will be that there will always be a second adult in the room unless the young person is really insistent, after we try to persuade them otherwise, that they want to be seen alone.  If that is the case it will be a short interview with the door ajar and an adult outside.  This is spectacular progress but of course that 1%, or maybe it should be regarded as much more than 1%, of lone interviews is still an issue.  It endangers the interviewer as much as the child because there is no witness at all of what was actually said in that interview.  If an accusation is made about that the interviewer has no evidence for a legal defense at all and it is all down to who believes who in any ensuing criminal investigation.  I hope the individual leaders will recognise this and simply refuse to put themselves, their families and their careers at such risk.

But I’m not about to rain on this particular parade!  As we all get used to ministering this way the last areas of concern will I expect quickly be abandoned.  My stake has not just stepped up but taken a quantum leap towards gold standard, best practice child safeguarding. And the BIG lesson to learn is how EASY it is to do.  You just decide to do it.  All the resources and systems are there to pick up and use in the background checks and free, or more than affordable, professional safeguarding training systems out there in our communities.   Most stakes in the developed world at least are teaming with professionals who receive or even deliver state of the art safeguarding training.  We know that a proper safeguarding system looks like.  We have a lot of in-house expertise.  Our ward Relief Society president trains community carers and on one ‘5th Sunday’ delivered state of the art safeguarding training for all the adults in our ward in the Sunday School slot.  Simples.  Where there is a will there is a way.

Good ideas spread fast.  My Stake President is happy to share the new policy with other Stake Presidents if they request it – no point reinventing the wheel.  But it really isn’t that complicated to reinvent the wheel if you have to.   We can fulfill the mandate the Church has given us all to constantly improve our safeguarding, and learn from each others’ innovations and experiences.  And hopefully one day soon the international ethos and policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will be to ensure EVERY child in our Church has the best possible safeguarding protection available anywhere, in every ward and branch, rather than the minimum legally required by their local secular governments.  Then we will know that their priority really is the safety and well-being of every child of Heavenly Parents who love them equally, not their institutional legal defense when things inevitably go horribly, and avoidably,­­­­­­ wrong.

Another LDS Stake Takes Steps Towards Comprehensive Protection for Their Children (a)

British Flag 2Adventures in LDS Safeguarding in the UK – Some great news!

By Peter Bleakley

Safeguarding children from sexual abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is absolutely the last thing I want to even think about, never mind get involved in proactive advocating for.  It is disturbing, depressing and it should definitely be someone else’s responsibility.  But the tragic reality is that the people who should be taking responsibility for it too often are not, specially at the top of our global organisation, so it has by default become the job of grass roots members to do the Mormon thing and take action where there is a need.

As I grew up in the Church the first I became aware of this being an issue was when a relative of mine in Ireland was supporting a victim of abuse and having their testimony and trust in the priesthood leadership rocked by the dreadful failures in how they responded to the situation.  It was my first glimpse of all the key ingredients of the horrors that ripple out from LDS child abuse scandals still today – totally untrained local clergy not knowing how to be professional, blaming the victim, letting their perpetrator buddies in the old boys’ network off lightly, demanding that everyone forgive and forget quickly and not cause a public scandal or prosecution, and if the victim’s families refuse to play that game turning the social and legal resources of the Church and its community against them.

Some local leaders do a far better job than that, but not enough of them.  There have been some baby steps of improvement in the Church’s global practices, but not enough of them.

Nothing focuses your mind on the urgent need to revolutionise our safeguarding practices like having a case of child abuse in your own family or ward, or in my case moving into a ward still reeling from the aftermath of a serving bishop being convicted and imprisoned for child abuse-related offenses as we did a few years ago.  It strips away all the comforting buffer zones of wishful thinking and complacency and tears open a wound that is very hard to heal for everyone.  Every parent questions why they sent their children into one-to-one interviews with that person with a mandate to discuss the most private details of their sexual selves and experiences.  They agonise over what might have been, or actually was.  The abuser’s line managers and fellow leaders question how it was they felt spiritual witnesses confirming that they should sustain and ordain that person to a position of authority and responsibility when they were absolutely the last person God would have wanted or needed in that position of trust.  The families of the perpetrator and victims are embarrassed and traumatized.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

And then hopefully the inevitable next question is, how on earth did we as responsible adults who know that child abuse happens and have professional safeguarding training in many of our workplaces let this happen on our watch?  In our sphere of influence?  In an organisation where children should be the most safe and protected they can possibly be?  How is it possible in the Church of the Christ who valued children above all others?  Who talked about putting millstones around necks and drowning anyone hurting them?  How is it that instead of prioritising the safety of children we created written policies and cultural norms that prioritised the public reputation of the institution, the public reputation of the adult abusers, and the damaging opinions of General Authorities speaking from their out-dated and ignorant social conditioning in isolated Midwestern American religious communities instead of professional expertise and basic common sense?

Soon after that I became aware of Sam Young’s heroic campaign to Protect LDS Children that has evolved into Protect Every Child, and I started researching the Church’s official policies and guidelines regarding safeguarding.  I discovered policy statements and official declarations of an ethos of safeguarding on the Church website that were not just inaccurate wishful thinking, they were objectively delusional.  They were claiming that the LDS Church is not aware of anyone that has better safeguarding procedures than ours when in fact in the community of churches ours are among the absolute worst, and people have been telling them this for years.  They have finally had the shame to seriously edit their press release and remove most of the crazy claims about a ‘gold standard’, but still it seems no one with any professional safeguarding expertise has had anything to do with formulating either their propaganda or procedures.

I also discovered that the Church already practices several ingredients of our wish list in Australia.  There it is a legal requirement for anyone working with young people to have a regular background check and a card confirming this or all hell breaks loose, so the LDS Church is very careful to ensure this is followed.  People cannot be called or remain in a position working with young people if that legally mandated scrutiny lapses. They still have one to one interviews I expect, but it is a glimpse of how things could be everywhere.

My anger about the negligence became personal as I reflected on the impact throughout my adolescence and young adulthood of constant ‘worthiness’ interviews and the uninformed and unhealthy rhetoric, expectations and mind games played with LDS young regarding all things sexual.  We are fed into a mincer that piles on guilt about totally normal sexual feelings and explorations from before some of us even begin puberty.  My priesthood interviewers were unfailingly kind and exemplary role models and dear friends to whom I am profoundly grateful for their years of service contributing to my peers and I having a fantastic youth in many ways, but as they were instructed to I was regularly asked about whether I masturbated.  Like most young Mormons I soon began to learn to lie and declare I was ‘morally clean’ when I knew by those criteria I was not.

I felt guilt ridden and ‘unworthy’ pretty much all the time but my embarrassment was so deep I couldn’t bear to talk about it to anyone and only risked confessing twice at points when I was pretty sure the repercussions would be minimal.   As so many Latter-Day Saints and their therapists have described as they have reflected on this, our consciences kind of split into our public religious life and our secret shame.  Now as I reflect from an adult perspective, instead of feeling bad about that I am incredibly relieved that I protected my privacy.  I now understand that that whole process of intrusive scrutiny of children was completely unethical and psychologically unhealthy.

Young people put into a situation of an inherently abusive power relationship will have something click in their brains to protect themselves from dangerous intrusion and instinctively lie to protect their psyche from a clear and present threat.  Of course the religious indoctrination is so intense that, believing they are speaking to a man representing actual God with a magical ‘power of discernment’ to read their minds who should be answered honestly as if they are Jesus Christ because religiously there is no difference at all, many young people will not have the strength to protect their privacy by lying or simply calling their bluff and refusing to disclose such private information.  They will admit to their terrible crimes that according to the ‘For the Strength of Youth’ booklet and the teachings of the LDS prophets are all, ALL of them, even having sexual thoughts, “second only to murder.”

I would love to go back in time to my 12 year old self, pat me on the head and say “Quit feeling guilty – you are absolutely doing the right thing.  No one should be asking you about this, you are a normal healthy kid protecting your dignity and privacy.  These well-meaning but totally untrained men are not Gods, and you are frankly a proper goody two shoes.  Drugs are still bad, but definitely go to some live music concerts while these bands you love are at their peak.  Satan didn’t write their music and in the 2010’s no one even talks about that any more in the Church. Or the occult paranoia and Ouija Boards…. but I’ll let you find out about what Joseph Smith was up to with all that when you’re older and not spoil the fun.”

Most of our young people under the regime of regular harassment just go inactive and never come back.  Jana Reiss’ recent research has confirmed what we all know from our own wards, that the young teenage years are when the LDS Church loses most of the 80% of its young people globally who leave by their mid-twenties.  Why are we surprised when this is what we do to them?!  Those that stay and are honest are often fed into a totally unprofessional psychodrama of shaming Church discipline with disfellowshipment, young men having to very obviously say “No” when asked to pass the sacrament, not taking the sacrament in front of your family and entire ward, and even worse these days in the hysterical paranoia about pornography coming out of LDS communities in Deseret, being labelled an “Addict” completely inaccurately, and even being fed into the Addiction Recovery Program.  Meanwhile those of us unwilling or unaware that we should be confessing these things to our bishop look squeaky clean and progress unscrutinised through our young Church lives.

The whole thing is a mess of injustice, trauma, secrets and lies in stark contrast to what are meant to be our religious ideals and values.  I had pretty close to the mildest experience possible for a youth in the Church, beaten only by those lucky few who won leadership roulette and were never once asked about specific sexual things in interviews because their leaders were in a different branch of the random tree of leadership awareness and formative experience and passing on different norms through their lines of non-training.  But it was still far more of a burden of guilt, confusion and worry than I should ever have had to carry.

As a teacher in a boys’ secondary school with experience of delivering sex and contraception education and receiving the professional child safeguarding training that is now the norm in schools, professions and most voluntary and religious settings and organisations, I am not shy about speaking about these matters.  When Sam Young asked through social media if any supporters of the Protect Every Child campaign and petition in the UK were willing be interviewed by a journalist who had approached him, I and two others gladly volunteered and to our amazement found ourselves with a 10-15 minute slot on the BBC’s flagship news channel daily chat program ‘The Victoria Derbyshire Show’ and headed to the iconic Broadcasting House in London.  Our interviewer was superb and we were able to share our concerns in a respectful but clear way, particularly making the points that these interviews actually introduce young Mormons to the sexual practices they are meant to be deterring in unhealthy ways, and that as a body of millions of lay clergy the adult men and women running our congregations understand and practice modern safeguarding at work, but tragically too often throw it all in the bin as soon as we walk through the chapel doors.

The Church recently released a slightly interactive safeguarding training film that it will now require all members working with young people to review regularly.  This tipped me over the edge into full rage.  It claims to have been produced in collaboration with professionals, but I cannot see a shred of evidence for that anywhere in its content.  Even calling it safeguarding training is a deception.  It simply isn’t.  It’s one point repeated over and over is basically that no adult should be alone with a young person.  But it completely ignores the compulsory worthiness interviews where they often are.  They might as well not exist.  It doesn’t even take the opportunity to remind everyone of the recent change that a young person (not their parent…) can request a second adult in the room.  That’s more than negligence, it’s intentional.  And the thought that this is replacing the much more thorough professional training provided by Boy Scouts of America that at least some LDS youth leaders in the USA used to get is even more perplexing.

Real professional standard safeguarding training teaches you that an adult should never be alone with a child even once in any circumstances ever unless you are a professionally trained and supervised counsellor.  It teaches you what you must and must not do and say if a child discloses abuse to you so that you do not ask leading questions or screw up a criminal investigation.  It teaches you who your safeguarding line managers are, and who to talk to above them if you are not satisfied with their response.  It teaches you how to report suspicions you have about potential abuse to the right trained people in your organisation.  It teaches you exactly what physical and emotional signs to look for in a victim of abuse.  It teaches you how to speak to that child and reassure them as the adult they have chosen to trust, and what to do to ensure their immediate safety.  This stuff is safeguarding 101.  None of it is in the new official ‘training’ that isn’t training. This is why we must use actual professionals to deliver training in our stakes and wards until the in-house training matches basic professional standards.

In response to the scandals in our area, the UK government’s enquiries into safeguarding and abuse cover-ups in the Catholic and Anglican Churches, and the Protect Every Child campaign all shining a light on the matter, plus basic common sense, my stake leadership have been fantastic.  They decided that a much more robust protocol was required to fulfill the Church’s avowed intent, repeated in a statement at the end of our TV appearance by the Europe Area Presidency, to always be seeking ways to improve our safeguarding.  They consulted with several stake members who have high level professional responsibility for delivering safeguarding training in their professional careers.  They consulted with a Welsh member of the Church who is involved in safeguarding policies and training with the United Nations, who also delivered some excellent training for the young people and adults in our stake about the ethos and principles of a safeguarding community.  They even graciously gave me the opportunity to look over the draft policy and make recommendations.

After also consulting with the bishops to get their feedback and approval, our new stake child safeguarding policy has been released, and it is a doozy.  It has 99% of the wishlist of anyone professionally competent regarding safeguarding and the Protect Every Child campaign.  It outlines in detail what the different forms of physical, emotional and sexual child abuse are.  It describes an ethos of collective responsibility and vigilance.  It requires that every member of the Stake working with children and teenagers will have regular enhanced police background checks using the national DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) system paid for with stake funds if needed.  We will have regular professional safeguarding training that is provided annually for free to voluntary organisations by local councils in our area, (and hopefully available in all areas of the UK), that will match the training we get as school teachers.

The most thorny issue is the 6-monthly one to one interviews starting age 11 now.   The policy states that the expected norm will be that there will always be a second adult in the room unless the young person is really insistent, after we try to persuade them otherwise, that they want to be seen alone.  If that is the case it will be a short interview with the door ajar and an adult outside.  This is spectacular progress but of course that 1%, or maybe it should be regarded as much more than 1%, of lone interviews is still an issue.  It endangers the interviewer as much as the child because there is no witness at all of what was actually said in that interview.  If an accusation is made about that the interviewer has no evidence for a legal defense at all and it is all down to who believes who in any ensuing criminal investigation.  I hope the individual leaders will recognise this and simply refuse to put themselves, their families and their careers at such risk.

But I’m not about to rain on this particular parade!  As we all get used to ministering this way the last areas of concern will I expect quickly be abandoned.  My stake has not just stepped up but taken a quantum leap towards gold standard, best practice child safeguarding. And the BIG lesson to learn is how EASY it is to do.  You just decide to do it.  All the resources and systems are there to pick up and use in the background checks and free, or more than affordable, professional safeguarding training systems out there in our communities.   Most stakes in the developed world at least are teaming with professionals who receive or even deliver state of the art safeguarding training.  We know that a proper safeguarding system looks like.  We have a lot of in-house expertise.  Our ward Relief Society president trains community carers and on one ‘5th Sunday’ delivered state of the art safeguarding training for all the adults in our ward in the Sunday School slot.  Simples.  Where there is a will there is a way.

Good ideas spread fast.  My Stake President is happy to share the new policy with other Stake Presidents if they request it – no point reinventing the wheel.  But it really isn’t that complicated to reinvent the wheel if you have to.   We can fulfill the mandate the Church has given us all to constantly improve our safeguarding, and learn from each others’ innovations and experiences.  And hopefully one day soon the international ethos and policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will be to ensure EVERY child in our Church has the best possible safeguarding protection available anywhere, in every ward and branch, rather than the minimum legally required by their local secular governments.  Then we will know that their priority really is the safety and well-being of every child of Heavenly Parents who love them equally, not their institutional legal defense when things inevitably go horribly, and avoidably,­­­­­­ wrong.

Four Strikes….You’re Out

Umpire

**If strong language offends you…read no farther**

Discouraged tonight.  So much effort, time and money over the past 2 years.  Yet, one-on-one interviews with sex questions are still the norm.  This practice is repulsive to every person I have spoken with outside the Church.  Yet most of my former Mormon friends and some of my extended family see no reason to change.  They believe that it’s necessary for children, their children, to be quizzed by a bishop about sexual activities.

Time to write an angry post.  Some of you will condemn me for expressing ire.  I will admit that I do not understand how a human being could not be angry at what follows.

Some have asked if I plan to seek readmission to the Mormon Church.  Well…that pompous corporation has 4 egregious strikes against it.

Strike #1

At 12 years old, one of my daughter’s was asked if she masturbated.  A probing question asked by her bishop all alone behind a closed door.  She didn’t know what it meant.  Her 12 year old friends didn’t either.  So, she did what any resourceful child does.  She googled it.  And what did she find?  In her words, “Dad, I found out what masturbation was, how to do it and I found pornography.”  Was she ever asked again?  “Yes, dad.  All the time.”  Did she ever lie?  “Of course, dad.  Just like all the other kids.”

Despicable treatment of my child!!!  Yeah, I’m angry.  Mormon Church…why the hell would I consider coming back when you still do this to children.

Strike #2

At 19, another daughter was big with child as she sat across from her bishop for a worthiness interview.  He asked, “Do you masturbate?”  You son-of-a-bitch.  Asking a pregnant woman if she masturbates.  And this is sanctioned by the Mormon Church.  Stupid.

Strike #3

At 18, another daughter, her first Sunday at BYU.  Her bishop calls her in for an interview.  All alone.  My adult daughter…well an 18 year old barely adult daughter.  The bishop probed with such explicit sexual questions that she was done with Mormonism.    She never wanted to see that man again and stopped going to church.  At BYU!  She finished the semester and then transferred to  Texas A & M.  Good for her. At the time, she didn’t tell me why she was no longer interested in the church.  That was discovered 10 years later.

Strike #4

Another daughter’s experience during her first year at BYU.  Up to this point, she had never dated.  Her professor bishop interrogated with several deviant sex questions.  Like, “Have you had anal sex?!!!?!?”  What the hell.  You disgusting pervert.  Were you propositioning my child, you bastard?  Oh yeah, your church sanctions this rancid and revolting behavior by its bishops.

Nelson…Oaks…Eyring, you permit, promote and facilitate filth.

I have dreamed of going to Washington D.C. and calling on every embassy.  I’d expose to them the evil practice that the Mormon Church is spreading in their homelands.  For those countries that don’t permit proselyting, I’d give them more ammunition for continuing to outlaw missionaries.  I’d love to speak with the Russians.  They got it right when they restricted Mormon proselyting.  And…they likely don’t even know about the despicable interview practices they are saving their children from.

I feel sorry for the missionaries.  They don’t comprehend that they’re spreading an irresponsible and degrading practice that will harm children all around the world.  They should.  After all, many of them are quizzed about masturbation every six weeks.

On the other hand, I have no sympathy for the mission presidents.  They are experienced adults.  What blinds them from seeing the idiocy and danger of one-one-one sexually charged interviews?  Ambition?  Arrogance?  Degeneracy?  Blind obedience?  Whatever it is, I cut them NO slack and hold no respect for them.  They are the field generals responsible for the propagation of Mormon-style child interrogations across the globe.

Four strikes.  Yeah, Mormon Church, you struck my family four times.  I will not forget what you have done and will spread the warning whenever I get the chance.

 

 

 

The Very First Ward to Openly Eliminate One-on-One Child Interviews

 

Father and son

Two days after the October 5th March to End Child Abuse, I had a conversation with the current bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward in Salt Lake City, UT.  In August of this year, his ward and stake were rocked by a very public scandal.  The prior bishop, Steven Murdock, was arrested for photographing a woman undressing in a clothing store’s changing room.  At the time of the arrest, the former bishop was serving on the stake high council.

As a result, the current bishop began to rethink  the application of church policy regarding interviews with children.  The normal practice is to have one-on-one meetings where the child is asked about their sexual practices.  This good bishop had concerns about this protocol.  He also wanted to follow the instructions from in Handbook 1 which contains directives from the apostles.

The Olympus 8th ward bishop studied the handbook, consulted with his stake president and called the Church’s bishop helpline.  With the new understanding he gained, the bishop has proceeded with a program to “normalize” the practice of always having a parent or other trusted adult in the room during meetings with children & youth.  The only exception will be if a child initiates the interview and desires to meet alone.  This will eliminate the vast majority of one-on-ones.  Questions relating to sex will be strictly limited to: ‘Do you live the law of chastity?’  Regardless of the answer, there will be no follow-up questions probing for further details.  The new interview policy was presented at a meeting with all parents.  It was well received.  If the new protocol is successful in the Olympus 8th ward, it will likely be rolled out to the entire stake.

Here are the bishop’s own words regarding our discussion:

I appreciate your desire to protect children and youth. I also appreciate the leaders of the church for their same desire. The information that I shared with our ward did not come from me, it came from the church handbooks. What I have learned in the past 5 weeks is that the bishops really need to study these handbooks. We need to use all the many resources that are available to us to lead in a way that will bless and protect the sisters and brothers in our wards and neighborhoods.

There are several things in the handbooks that have been updated that add further protection for youth, women and all the members of the church. The church no longer prints the handbooks. I assume this is due to the rapid inspiration, hearing and listening to concerns from the membership of the church and making the adjustments that are necessary for our day.

This past general conference is another indication of these changes.  If it appears that I am doing something different in my ward it is only because I have very recently, thoroughly studied the handbooks, consulted with my stake president and contacted the church bishop helpline and then shared what I have learned. There are many traditions and a general culture that are changing for the better as the Gospel of Christ stands unchanged. Normalizing the new information in the handbooks by teaching what is there will certainly protect the children and center much of the responsibility back to the parents and the home where it belongs. 

I firmly believe that we are led by living prophets and apostles and that they are listening and learning as hopefully we all are.  I am a follower and I believe in who I am following.  I am teaching and carefully following what has been taught with hopes for a better safer experience for us all!  I trust in and have faith in those who have dedicated their lives to this work.

I also respect all who have desires for goodness, kindness and love regardless of religion or nationality. We are all in this together.  Being well informed by keeping up on the handbooks will keep us on the right track.

Oh boy, do I ever love what this bishop is doing!  Eliminating one-on-ones & tightly limiting sex questions down to just one.  Then, to be rolled out to an entire stake?  Just WOW!

Over the past 2 years, at least 10 bishops have reached out to me, sharing that they completely support what Protect LDS Children has been calling for.  These bishops have quietly implemented safer interview protocols in their own wards.  However, none were willing to risk being open about it.

The bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward has done his due diligence and is willing to take action openly.  He is also very emphatic in stating that he is not the author of this new protocol.  It all came from church resources and leaders.  Good for him.

I have read the most recent Handbook instructions regarding interviewing children.  There are NO instructions that interviews should include 2 adults.  The good news is that there is NO instruction that the interviews should be private, just between the bishop and the child.  That is a change.

I wish to publicly commend the bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward, the stake president of the Olympus Stake and the church bishop help-line for coming together to end one-on-one interviews and explicit sexual interrogations of children.  At least in one ward.  The very first ward.

Take heart my child-protecting comrades.  We are winning the battle.  One bishop, one ward, and soon, one stake at a time.

 

 

 

Adam & the Bishop

Banner

For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call this boy ‘Adam.’

His story is #4 on ProtectEveryChild.com  and #1054 on ProtectLDSChildren.org.  During my correspondence with Adam, he gave me his permission to publish it here.

First, I want to thank the 1,067 victims who have shared their stories of abuse.  You made it safe for this man to write and share his story.

When I first read Adam’s narrative, my shock quickly turned to anger and sadness.  It’s a mixture of emotions that I have become very familiar with.  The anger drives me to fight my damnedest to eradicate all practices that facilitate this horror.  The sadness draws my empathy to the surface.

I asked myself this question, ‘How much grooming did it take before the bishop felt safe enough to do what he did to this child?”

Tears come as I write this. I am going to climb mountain after mountain after mountain, literally and figuratively, to stop more stories like Adam’s from being written in the heart of a child again.  Please, please join me.

**Strong Trigger Warning**

**Disturbingly graphic sexual story below.

**DO NOT READ if you could be re-victimized

**

**

**

**I read the story because I wanted to understand what our children can face all alone with a Mormon bishop.

When I was age 11-15, I had different experiences with different bishops. I have never had the courage to say anything, and I also have never had a place where I can feel safe to talk about it. These men are part of my family’s community still to this day, and the encounters were so long ago (I am now 24) that is just doesn’t seem like it will even help to approach them.

My first bishop was a very jovial and traditional Mormon bishop (he told pioneer tales and frequently called up youth to recognize them for their valiant examples of faith in sacrament meeting).

I had an instance where I had confided in my bishop about seeing a pornographic picture and how it was hard to get it out of my head. He kept asking me how the picture made me feel, even though I told him it made me feel yucky and scared. When he obsessed over this I assumed that he was trying to fish out of me some secret evil thought that I thought in order for him to help me repent.

Even though we had an opening prayer, he stopped the meeting and said that we needed to pray. He asked me to pray and to ask God to make me feel the same feelings I felt when I looked at the photo so that I could remember them and repent. When I opened my eyes mid prayer, I he apparently had scooted his office chair in front of me, and he had his legs spread with an obvious erection just a foot away from me. Most terrifying, his eyes were open while mine were closed, and he was smiling. After the meeting concluded we both stood up, and he shook my hand.  Now that he was standing his pants were loose enough for the erect penis to be literally pointed right at me. I kept repenting for even noticing it and it made me feel even more perverted, like it was a test

The second encounter has brought me immeasurable sorrow and still as I am typing this makes my stomach feel like its in ropes. I was 15. This time it was a different bishop. He later on became a member of my stake presidency and was known for his strong connection to the youth and his tenor voice as he sang in the choir. I was entering his office because I had “heavy petted” a girl in my high school consensually, but I felt grief stricken by it.

He told me that I could not fully repent unless I saw him and told him the details of the petting. Instead of asking how long and things he started asking me details that at the time I thought were part of the process (I thought I was supposed to feel humiliated, and conflated that with godly sorrow). His first humiliating question was “Did your hands smell differently?” I told him that I din’t know. He assured me “I know its embarrassing but I want you to know that as a judge in Israel the Lord knows your thoughts, and withholding details will disqualify you for the atonement.”

I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t smell my hands. He then asked me if “they smelled like tuna, and asked me if I sucked it off of my fingers, or asked her to suck it off of my fingers.” I told him neither. He seemed irritated but went on to ask me to describe the girl’s anus. I had never went near that area. He told me that I needed to tell him everything.

After about 20 awkward minutes of him projecting his fantasies, he asked me to read in the scriptures. We read about the people looking at the snake on the stick and how it healed them. I don’t remember what part of the bible it was. But he told me that I must never tell anybody but that the lord was going to give me a special opportunity because “He loved me and that I was favored among my peers, and destined for great trust.” He then gave me a blessing with the chair in the center of the room.

As he was giving it, and his hands were on my head, I remember feeling on of his hands leave my head, and then return. On the back of my head I could feel something warm poking me. I didn’t realize, but he had pulled his penis out, and it was touching my head. I remember my hairs all standing on end as in the blessing he said “The Lord now commands you, Brother _______ to look and be healed, as the faithful in ancient times,.” And that “this opportunity was sacred, and that others had not the faith as I did, and would not receive this opportunity.” When he said amen, I quickly got up and turned around to quickly shake his hand, but he swiveled around fast enough to slap me in the face with his erect penis. It didn’t hurt, but I remembered that I didn’t know how to react and said “oh woah I’m sorry!”

I wanted to weep or to just leave the bishops office, but he started bombarding me with compliments and “revelation that the lord gave him of my valiance.” He told me that if I look at “what the Lord has provided” that his priesthood keys would “discharge a blessing of forgiveness.” (Looking back I feel as though he must have planned to ejaculate, but it never happened.) After looking at his erect penis (I can still fully visualize it in my memory) I remember he told me that the Lord was lifting my burdens. He then situated a bag of starburst over his penis, and asked me if I would like one. He had pulled open a hole to insert his penis and was wanting me to reach inside. I declined and said that I am “not hungry” an he protested that I love starburst (He had given them to all of the youth before and I loved the pink ones.) I remembered he stood up, and let go of the bag of candy, and it spilled out on the floor but the bag was still on his erect penis. He then sat down, and we had a closing prayer. I DISTINCTLY remember him asking me to pray, and to include asking BOTH of us for forgiveness for the “many sins” that “the Lord showed unto us” that day.

I have gone to therapy and have declined giving them incriminating details. However, the process has helped me to feel like I am not guilty even though I still feel like its my fault to this day.

My friend Adam, it was never your fault.  Your story will help fuel the drive to protect children of the future.  For that, I am grateful.

Take Action

+Please sign the new PETITION.

+Share the PETITION with friends and family.

+Climb a mountain, hill or driveway.  Unfurl a banner, take a picture and share.

+Register for the Children’s March on Oct 5th in Salt Lake City.

Together, we are going to save future children from the horrors of child sex abuse.

Depravity with a Child Acceptable in the Mormon Church

Shame-ChildFirst the Good News

A new message from a friend.  The following happened in a Mormon chapel.

Recently, a family member’s daughter went in for a bishop’s interview.  She told the boy who was waiting to go in, that he could go first because she was waiting for her Mom to go in with her.  He said,  “Don’t worry, I’m waiting here for my Mom too.”  The culture is changing and you had a lot to do with that.  What a great mark to leave.

On the front lines there are good parents whose eyes are being opened.  They are not waiting for the Church.  Instead they are taking the safety of their children into their own hands and not allowing one-on-one interviews.

By the way, this is no longer MY mark.  This is a mark that WE are leaving.

***Trigger Warning***

***Graphic Sexual Question***

***Psychological Sex Abuse of a Child***

Depravity

Today I spoke with a delightful couple in their early 30’s.  Both had left the Church in the past year.  When the husband heard about Protect LDS Children he was immediately interested in our cause.  His childhood bishop interviews still haunt him.

In his first interview this bishop asked if he masturbated.  The boy didn’t know what it meant.  The bishop described it in lurid detail.  In subsequent meetings the questions about masturbation became increasingly explicit.

And then he shared the coup de gras.  At some point the bishop probed with the following query:

Have you ever tasted your own ejaculate?

WHAT THE HELL!!!!  Mormons, can’t you see how horrendous this is?  The question itself is shame inducing and way beyond the extreme boundary of propriety .  What do you suppose a child is thinking, all alone behind a closed door with an older man?  And then to be asked…HAVE YOU EVER TASTED YOUR EJACULATE???

Yes I’M SHOUTING.  THIS.IS.CHILD.ABUSE.  And yet, it’s totally acceptable in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You, my Mormon friends, should be ashamed that the so called apostles of Jesus Christ allow pornographic probing of children.  It does all kinds of damage.  At this point, I’m glad to have been excommunicated.  I am ashamed of what your Church permits to be done to its young ones.

This depraved question has been added to the 29 Questions permissible in the Mormon Church and yet are revolting to the rest of the world.

Protect Every Child

We’re moving forward, putting things in place for big actions this summer.

  1. We have pivoted to protecting all children regardless of religious affiliation.
  2. The NEW petition is up.  Please sign and share.  This is very important.
  3. The NEW website has just been published.  I’ll post an article soon discussing it in more detail.  Although several pages are still under construction, it contains valuable information.
  4. Flags are now available for purchase.  I hope you are planning to plant a banner on a mountain peak, a hill top or at the end of a driveway.  Of course, homemade flags are totally acceptable.
  5. Soon we’ll start reaching out to other youth serving organizations for support and endorsement.
  6. We will also be inviting therapists, psychologists, and other professionals to endorse and join our movement.

For a fuller discussion of Protect Every Child click HERE.

 

Anger!!!!!

Bishop arrested

Today as I drove to work, I felt this wonderful God-given emotion well-up.  It’s been awhile since ire has made its appearance.  When it comes, I now embrace it.  It motivates me to action and creativity.

Where did this anger come from this morning?

I continue to receive stories everyday.  Sometimes to share on the website.  Sometimes by PM or email which is not meant to be shared.  The anger boiled up as I contrasted the devastation done to countless children and the deadly silence from the Mormon Church.

They come out with asinine revelations like every time the nickname ‘Mormon’ is used it’s a victory for Satan.  THAT IS STUPID.  Trivial statements like this reveal the emperor’s nakedness.

Yet, their so-called communications with God leave policies in place that facilitate self-hatred among our children.  They offer no apology for the vast damage done.  No validation.  No recognition.  No discussion.  Instead–PRIDE. ARROGANCE. HUBRIS.  Showing supreme hypocrisy in their claim that they speak for Jesus Christ himself.

I was already angry this afternoon when I received notice that a sitting bishop in Utah had been arrested in a human trafficking sting.  Here’s a quote from the Police Department’s  news release about this bishop.

“Moss has recently served as a leader of a local religious congregation, which also allowed him contact with vulnerable individuals who could be exploited.”

Vulnerable individuals?  They are referring to the Mormon children who he was mandated to interview regularly.  Exploited?  Bishops can ask any sexual question, no matter how pornographic.  From “Do you masturbate?” to….well there is no limit.

The police understand the danger and noted it in their release.  When will ALL MORMON PARENTS get it?  When you allow your children to be interviewed all alone about sex, you are serving-up your vulnerable and precious ones on a silver platter for possible abuse, dreadful damage and years of recovery.

DO NOT ALLOW ANY ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEWS WITH YOUR CHILDREN.  DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO BE INTERROGATED WITH ANY SEX QUESTIONS.  EVER!!!*

*Unless it’s by a professionally trained counselor.

Climb a Mountain, Save a Child

FlagsPEC

I’m also angry that the church is so obstinate in their refusal to protect children that I feel forced to continue fighting for change.  So be it.  This year we will fight for change in every denomination.  Sex abuse scandals are coming to light everywhere.  I really appreciate the Houston Chronicle’s in-depth investigative article into the problems of the Southern Baptist Convention.

With anger at my back, I’m going to climb mountains to save children.  To raise awareness to the imperative need of putting safeguards in place in every church and every youth serving institution.

I haven’t yet posted the full details of plans for this year.  I will soon.  But there is news today:  The flags have arrived!!!  In their primary color glory.  We are working on the website and they’ll be available for purchase in a few days.  Of course, you can make your own.

Make plans now to climb a mountain, a hill or a driveway and plant a flag.

The date for the coming march has been set and approved by the Salt Lake City permitting office.  Saturday, October 5, 2019.  This is history in the making.

As the country continues to be rocked by child sex abuse scandals on a massive scale, we will not sit on our thumbs and just read about it.  On a massive scale, we will shout from the mountain tops for this horror to end.  It’s up to us.  Not the media.  Not the church hierarchy.  Not the government.  Us.  Us folks whose children are at risk.

Make plans now to be part of the 5,000 men, women and children who will unfurl flags from all around the globe in the streets of Salt Lake City.  This needs to be massive.  This will be massive.  Our children need for our voices to be loud, large & unmistakably clear.