Friday, August 31, 2012

Repenting after Sexual Assault

The title is a bit of a misnomer. I would like to address repentance after becoming a victim of any kind, not only of sexual assault. But sexual assault is perhaps the most deeply paradigm shifting of any brand of victimhood.

For any who have not followed my blog, I was in an abusive marriage. In that marriage, I experienced emotional, spiritual, and even mild physical and sexual abuse. Through a long process guided by my relationship with my God, my relationships with my family, and serendipitous divine intervention, I was able to heal.

So I plead with you to hear what I'm saying, and not only what you expect to hear. I have been a victim myself, so I know something about healing. If you are someone who is currently caught in the dark whirlpool of emotion that comes after assault of any kind, especially sexual assault, please know that I do not judge you in any way. I've been there. I know that you share no fault in the hand you have been dealt. But it is a hand you have been dealt, and it is up to you to shake off the last chains that your attacker has put on you. No one else can do it but you.

Those of you who do not believe in God may find my advice less helpful. But I can promise you that in my faith, I have found healing. Take a second look. Through Him, you can find the strength that you lack right now.

I read a comment recently criticizing a bishop's counsel to a young woman who had been raped to repent. It was dismissed as victim blaming. While the bishop may not have been giving that counsel in the right spirit, I have found healing only through repentance. But I think a better understanding of repentance is necessary to access its power when you have been hurt so deeply.

Repentance is commonly thought to be a ceasing of sin. As children, we are taught to 1) realize you've done wrong, 2) confess the sin, 3) make reparations, and 4) never do it again. This outline is right, in its way, but it explains an understanding of repentance fit for children. There is much, much more to repentance than only ceasing to do wrong.

Repentance is the process by which we bring our will into alignment with God's will. We don't repent only because we do something wrong. We repent because in our mortal lives we have become separated from God. As we repent, we draw closer to Him. Repentance includes purifying ourselves from sin, yes, but it also includes drawing closer to Him, relying on Him, getting to know Him personally.

There are few people who feel as separated from God as victims of a crime, particularly abuse or sexual assault. Who needs that closeness with their Heavenly Father more than those who have been betrayed by closeness?

So what are the steps for this part of repentance? In short, they are all the seminary answers: pray, read scriptures, attend Church meetings, etc. But if we look more closely at these things, rather than shooting them off flippantly, we will see how much power is in these things.

I have had nights where I have knelt to pray, and had no words come to me. All I could feel was pleading, reaching out for His love, desperate to feel like I was not alone. Some nights, I felt nothing. But other nights, I could sense His love and concern for me. I felt His angels around me, loving me, weeping with me, wrapping their arms around me and protecting me from evil. I have felt them walking with my daughters, leading them to make good choices, choices that will protect them from deception.

Scripture reading is hard for me, now. When I was younger, I pored over the scriptures in minute detail. I've read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the other scriptures from cover to cover. Yes, even the "begats." I hungrily devoured everything I could glean. But now, I often find myself reluctant to read regularly. There is just so much to take my attention. But when I do open the scriptures, I am often struck with a new insight to my life.

Scriptures are records of God's dealings with His people. As I read them, I come to know Him, know His wisdom. I have been given tools to better handle the times I feel alone, when I feel challenged by some commandment or other, when I have been thrust into situations through no fault of mine, but through the wickedness of others. I have learned when to speak and when to be silent. When to defend myself and what I love with everything I have, and when to submit.

When the Spirit speaks to me, it is often through phrases that come from scripture, even if I don't recall the exact reference. This teaches me not only the primary revelation, but also gives me faith that I am not the only one to face my particular types of trials.

The scriptures connect me to thousands of years, hundreds of generations of humankind. Their hopes, their pain, their faith and growth are all wrapped up in those pages for those with eyes to see. The people in scripture are real to me, and because they are real, I am able to move forward with confidence in the Lord's plan. I have been given a larger perspective than my own little box, and the pain I feel is shared throughout humankind.

Going to church is hard for me, never harder than right after I was a victim. But I am a stubborn soul, and I solemnly promised myself and God that I would not take the easy route, not avoid the company of those who knew me for the failure I was. So I went, single with young children, so tired and frustrated at times that I wanted to leave and never turn back.

But as I attended church, wrapped in a shell of my own disappointment and anger, I found that other people, women, began to reach out to me. I found opportunities to reach outside of my own little box and serve, to offer a hand of strength to them when they needed it. It is in attending church that I truly learned charity, the biggest secret of the Gospel.

Connecting ourselves to others of God's children is the best way to feel Him. As we act in His stead, we channel His power. And that power is the true power in repentance.

So I urge you, who have found yourselves with a life you didn't ask for, victims of someone else's mistakes, to repent. Turn to Him, and He will heal you.


  1. Excellent! I agree completely with your sentiment. We need a better word than repentance for approaching Christ and seeking the power of the atonement in situations like these.

  2. May I also respectfully point out that for women who are married to men with sexual addictions, there are Pornography Addiction Spousal Support Groups which use the same 12 step manual that the men do. (Although they do use some additional material.) These 12 steps are pretty much the process of repentance, spelled out in detail.

  3. I love this. When we realize that repenting means "to turn from sin" we can understand that it is completely inconsequential whether it is our sin or others'. It is to turn from hurt and separation toward God and be reunited with him.

    As W. also pointed out, when I went through Al Anon as a spouse I used the same program that AA does because it's all about healing from addiction.

    My own healing has included having a new heart, one in which God more consistently resides. It helps when I am either tempted to sin or tempted to be affected by the sins of others. Nice post.

  4. Silver Rain, I have to respectfully say that this post is misleading. I, too, was told to repent by church leaders after experiencing abuse, and it was and is a load of crap. Turning to God for assistance and maintaining ties to the Church is quite a bit different than repentance. When a leader tells an abuse survivor to "repent," he is assigning blame to the victim, and this is an horrific offense. He is perpetuating and adding to the abuse that has already been suffered. Shame on him.

  5. I can see your perspective, BiV, but that is precisely why I wrote this post. Repentance IS turning to God. Period. So many people misunderstand this vital aspect of the gospel. We are washed clean through the Atonement because we have turned to Him. This applies to the mistakes and sins of others as much as it does to our own.

    Inasmuch as a leader is misunderstanding victims, he or she also needs to repent, to turn to God for instruction. I am advocating a position of compassion towards him or her because it is from that position of compassion that the Spirit can most clearly work to teach and edify all, and because it is that exact compassion that we all yearn for when we are in the midst of our own mistakes.

    The Lord's covenant people should be much more concerned with inviting the Spirit to instruct than they are to point fingers and advocate shame, whether that shame is towards victims or towards whatever bystanders are ignorant of Truth.

    Again, I am saying this because I have been there in the not too distant past. I fully trust that I will be there again. I have felt the way you describe, and I have felt the way I am advocating, and I have seen what does the most good in my life and the lives of my leadership. So I think I'll stick with what I have learned.

  6. I'm thankful someone else has verbalized what I have experienced, now after a divorce of many areas of abuse, I no longer read the scriptures as much, attend the temple as much. I feel that I should. Those things have always been VERY regular for me- daily, weekly, but now.... I know I should do it, but... I teach SS - the 16 year olds and study some for that, but it's not the same as for myself. I'm not sure of what to do about it.

    As for Silverrain- the call to repentance from the Spirit is compassionate and should be from the bishop. The Godhead when able ALWAYS acts in love and compassion.

  7. Part 1


    I am the person whose story was shared in that comment. My comment was not simply "criticizing a bishop's counsel to a young woman who had been raped to repent," The idea that "victim blaming" is a small item that should simply be put aside, without examination, is troublilng to me. I don't know what your experiences with church leaders where when you were dealing with your trauma. I truly hope that you found people who were supportive and gave you some guidance during that time.

    Certainly all of us need to recognize each other's humanity and imperfections, as being part of the learning process on earth. No one is perfect, and all of us sometimes react badly to something, and then need to go back and reconsider our actions before making a course correction. This is true no matter what our position in the church or society is. The fact that we all make mistakes, and that we all need to do our best to repent of those mistakes, does not negate the damage that any of us can make with a very bad decision. I don't know how many times I have told people over the years that "the only way I was able to continue believing in the gospel was because I understand the difference between the man and the mantle.

    I certainly believe that the only real healing that I, as a survivor of childhood incest, teenage rape and a pretty emotionally challenging messages, will come through th e Atonement of Christ. I am not responsible for the actions or thoughts of other, but I do have free agency to make choices. I can look back and say, "oh, there is a place I definitely should have been able to see an alternative and that it was better than the one I was making." I could have possibly been able to predict that my first marriage would fail.

    I don't blame my ex-husband exclusively for the huge amount of disfunction in our marriage. I bear half of the blame. I married young, without having an understanding of how the prior abuse would imfluence my way of thinking about intimacy. I barely remembered being molested outside of nightmares and flashbacks, so I couldn't have predicted the trauma that our daughters turned two.

    Through every difficult part of my path, when lightening and driving winds buffetted me around, Christ is the only one who was there. He was the only constant in my life, and more than once, He literally saved it. Each of those circumstances brought challenges and a huge amount spiritual work work to find my way back to an understanding of my place as a daughter of God.

    My issue with the bishop I talked to, less than 24 hours after I was raped, was not with his words. Being unprepared to deal with a situation, and responding badly in the moment is completely forgivable. This is not a case where he simply responded with inconsiderate words, or "called me to repentence" to remind me to come close to Christ. I now know that his actions were not in line with church policy, but I didn't at the time.

    Here is who I was when I walked into his office:
    I was 15.
    I had 12 scars on sensitive parts of my lower body, and two on my chest. (Most of them are still there 20 years later.)
    I had bruises on my neck, face, arms, legs and torso.
    I had been raped less than 24 hours before meeting with my bishop.
    I handn't slept. Every noise made me jump.
    I was sure that I should have died. (I had not read Miracle of Forgiveness yet.)

  8. Post 2

    This is what I was asked by my bishop after I spent less than two minutes talking. All I had really been able to tell him was that I had been raped at a debate tournament the night before and that I had no idea what to do. Mostly I was crying.

    Do you know who this boy is? Had you met him before?

    How many speech tournaments has he been at that you have had contact with him? During those four times did you every have intimate contact with him? So you had kissed him once before and then again yesterday, right?

    How long between when you kissed him and when you gave him your virginity? What do you think it is if not giving? You aren't a virgin anymore, unless you know a way to get it back somehow? So you had arranged to have lunch with him that morning, and you walked with him to the park without him forcing you? He didn't have a gun? Did he puch or hit you before he started?

    In the end, I hadn't fought long or hard enough. My choice to kiss him earlier in the day was the "reason" that I deserved what heppened. I had invited trouble on myself and until I had repended of my sins, I would not be allowed to take the sacrament that afternoon, or any time in the future, until I was worthy again. I was not to say prayers in public, speak in any capacity at church, or speak to anyone about being raped or the church discipline. In addition, I would be released as Mia Maid President that afternoon, and they would call a new president when they had time.

    I DO agree with Becky Rose that "the call to repentance from the Spirit is compassionate and should be from the bishop." Anything a bishop says or does should come with compassion, and everyone should get the support and love they need when they are struggling. I also agree with BIV, the definition of repentance as coming closer to Christ is NOT what I was being told by my bishop, and I think that the OP does not come close to being a true representation of the interactions I had with my bishop.

    One key difference that I see in our perspective, Silver Rain, is that unless I have missed part of your story, you were not abused or raped while you were a minor. The dynamics for children and teenagers who are sexually assaulted is SIGNIFICANTLY different from an adult having their first experiences with abuse. In rape or sexual trauma there is always a power dynamic. When it involves children or teenagers, the power difference is even more insidious. When a young person find the courage to share what happened, with someone who is in a position of power and authority, their reaction often sets up how that child will view themselves and their role in the world.

    Years of counseling, other bad experience, and lots of good experiences with priesthood leaders who saw me as a complex daughter of God. As I learned to forgive myself, and spent a number of nights talking with my stake presdient as I tried to figure out how to "forgive," so that I could "repent." After a long interview and discussion, a few weeks before my father's excommunication, we were discussing my testimony at the disciplinary council, and whether I wanted to be part of the church.

    As I sobbed and told him that I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a member of a church that protected my father as he abused me, that had bishops that drove away rape victims, and bishops who shared confidential informationm so that personal details become the whispered rumors in the hallway at mutual. As I poured out the pain that came with each of them, he offered me a handkerchief and let me calm down.

    I had wrestled with angels as a teenager, deciding that I wasn't going to let a bishop, who had made decisions not in line with church guidelines, to decide what my relationship with Christ was going to be. My stake president let me get my breathing back to normal before he told me that he felt inspired to give me some council. It was not from him, but e was being asked to give it to me, so I would understand that I truly had a choice.

  9. Part 3

    He told me the Christ was awasre of me, he was aware of the ways that others had hurt me, and that the thoughtless words and careless acts of others would continue to bring me pain. He said that there will be those that I can not forgive by myself, in the life. The Atonement can help to heal my wounds, it can help me move forward in a healthy manner. It can make the horrendous and dirty things that happen to me into a strength. Christ did not choose for me to be abused, but He would never see me as less than I am, not matter what others may say. Just as we cannot learn all knowledge in this life, or become perfected, not all emotional scars will be healed on this side of the veil.

    I share my story with others because I KNOW that I am not the only child or teenager it has happened and continues to happen to. I believe that the Lord wants more people to be open abiout our experiences, our challenges, and what has helped us. I do not believe that he wants us to judge one another, dismiss the hurts of others. I also don't believe that he wants us to dismiss the sins and mistakes that others make. We must learn to love and forgive those who sin, and love and support those who are sinned against. Pretend that the sin, or the hurt to another, did not aooccur, does not help anyone!

    (I apologize. Usually I carefully edit, but this took too much out of me emotionally. I am sorry for any mistakes.)

  10. Becky, thank you. I know exactly that feeling. It sometimes is as if you go through the motions of reading, praying, attending Sunday services and the temple through a thick cotton blanket. The meaning feels leached from all those sacraments.

    What to do about it? I haven't yet found a complete answer. But I keep going through the motions, and as time goes on, I begin to feel glimmers of power again. Be patient with yourself. It gets better. And, as it gets better, you will find yourself stronger than you imagined.

  11. Thank you so very much for sharing this. I, too, have felt the power of the Atonement through repentance when I was the victim of my husband's infidelity. There was literally no one else I could turn to for comfort. The Savior removed the hurt and hatred from my heart and allowed me to heal and love again. Part of it was instantaneous and the rest has been a long journey. Repentance for so many connotes apologizing for doing something wrong or sinful. I believe your more inclusive point of view is what we need to incorporate in our lives. A victim of any kind of abuse might be guilty of listening to Satan's lies that "You are worthless, you are filthy, you did something wrong and deserved this" and therefore need to repent of that, turning to the Savior for affirmation of worth and lovableness. Thank you again for sharing your story, I hope many will find the Savior by the light you shine.

  12. It's so sad that the concept of repentance has become something that carries negative connotations for so many people. It's an incredibly liberating principle, and we all need it.

    If someone tells an abuse victim to repent and means by that for the victim to feel badly about causing the abuse, that is one thing; however, to tell someone that the heart of healing is changing one's outlook by obtaining a fresh view . . . that is the pure definition of repentance found in our own Bible Dictionary.

  13. Beautiful advice, SilverRain.

    Look to God and live.


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