Mormon Whisper Networks and #MeToo


In every singles ward I’ve ever attended, there have been predators.

Often they are charming, talented, witty men. Often they are proactive about quoting prophets and volunteering for service projects and asking women on dates. To their fellow Elders Quorumites, the predators are often indistinguishable from ordinary Priesthood holders.

But women suspect trouble. Stories of terrible dates, of over-aggressive advances, of nasty breakups and refusing to respect boundaries, quietly percolate among Relief Societies. When these women see a creepy or known threat approaching a friend, they quietly pull her aside and whisper a word of warning.

These whispers help protect women’s friends, but they leave gaps. Young, or brand new, or socially unconnected, or vulnerable women are approached by the flattering guys before they receive the whisper warnings.   Sometimes sisters with the most institutional ward knowledge move away or get married, leaving a gap in the furtive rumormongering. The same whisper networks which protect women also serve to protect the predatory man.   Meanwhile, men in single wards are often oblivious that the whispers, or the threats, exist.

As a First Amendment lawyer and Mormon socialite in the era of #MeToo, this dynamic has weighed heavily on my mind.  I have never publicly identified them, but most of my #MeToo stories involve Mormon men.

In London, one Mormon guy said hi to me – the new intern – walking out of the chapel on a Sunday afternoon. We started chatting and wandering around Hyde Park, surrounded by other ward members enjoying the beautiful day. Within ten minutes he started aggressively flirting with me. The other Mormons scattered, I suspect because either they were uncomfortable or assumed the PDA was consensual. For the next 4 hours, the guy put his arms around me, tried to kiss me, told me how beautiful I was, and at one point disturbingly babbled about how the Bishop had instructed him to stay away from women but that didn’t make sense since isn’t the purpose of Mormon singles wards to date and get married? I told him I had homework and needed to leave. I tried to lead him to a false address. I refused to give him a real number. I made sure we stayed on public paths. I thought about slapping him for repeatedly trying to kiss me, but I was scared he would retaliate. Eventually I escaped. And then ran to my room and cried, dreaming of burning the dress I had worn that day because I felt so contaminated.

In Spain, one Mormon guy invited me – the new study abroad student – to a soccer watch party for the dozen or so singles in our family ward. I had attended several similar events in my first weeks there and loved them. I navigated the city bus and showed up at his house … but no one else was there. No one else was coming. He had lied to me. He turned on the TV and started trying to cuddle with / flirt with me. Uncomfortable, I insisted on going home. The Spirit was screaming at me in Spanish to get away. He responded by trying to cajole me into spending the night instead. Eventually he drove me home, protesting about how I had inconvenienced him by not sleeping over. On Sunday, I quietly approached the other single girls for intelligence – and heard multiple accounts about this guy having a history of preying on study abroad students.

I don’t know how to describe the terror of being a woman and realizing you’re alone or stuck with a guy who just proved he’s untrustworthy and doesn’t respect boundaries. A man who has broken one norm will break more, and you have no idea which ones. You have to figure out a way to gently extricate yourself from the situation without escalating – because the all-to-possible result of you firmly rejecting him is violence.

Years ago in Washington, D.C., a Mormon guy asked me – the new intern – on a date. We had chatted a few times at church and I thought he was witty and flirtatious and well-read. Five minutes into the date, I asked him a small-talk question about his job. “Wow Carolyn,” he teased. “We haven’t even kissed yet and already you’re evaluating my long-term career potential?” I instinctively threw up a wall. “Neither are we going to: I don’t kiss on first dates.”

Apparently he took my boundary as a challenge. He started cuddling with me as soon as we sat down at our jazz show. I tried to pull away. I tried to push his arm away. I tried to get up and go to the bathroom to break contact. Every attempt made him pull me in tighter – I didn’t know how to communicate any clearer that I wanted him to stop, so I gave up. Until he tried to kiss me. At that point I pulled away and repeated, “I told you: I don’t kiss on first dates.”

“I know you said that earlier,” he slimily winked. “But I was just testing to see if you had the courage to stand up for your convictions.”

Once home, I complained to some roommates. They started telling me stories of him acting the same way when they or their friends had moved into the ward in prior years. “He’s super flirty.”

Two or so weeks after that icky date was Valentine’s Day.   My internship that day had been exhausting. As I sat down on the DC Metro, I leaned my head against a window and closed my eyes. I felt another passenger sit down next to me, heard the doors close, and dozed off as the train started moving. Suddenly I felt an eerie shift in the air. I cracked opened my eyes. The Mormon guy from the terrible date was hovering over my face, his lips pursed approximately one inch from mine. I startled, and he smoothly pulled back as if nothing had happened. Instead he pulled a rose from a bouquet in his hand and handed it to me. “Hi Carolyn, Happy Valentine’s Day, I just wanted to make sure that you and all the women in my life feel loved today.”

A few nights later, he was at a single’s ward party in my neighborhood. He swung by to ask what time he should pick me up the next morning – he had offered to drive me to the airport. I gave him a time, but then he attempted to barter for a kiss in exchange. I rebuffed him.

“Gosh, if you’re going to play hard-to-get, maybe I should just go flirt with your roommate instead,” he teased with a harsh edge.

I decided to deadpan match his tone: “I doubt that would work, considering she’s already rejected you.”

I’ll never forget his response. He recoiled like he’d been bitten by a tiger. He stood up and yelled at me that if I was going to be that ungrateful and disrespectful I could find my own ride. He may have sworn. Then he stormed out of my living room and slammed the door.

I remember feeling simultaneously guilty that I had accidentally offended him, and deeply relieved that his anger meant I had gotten rid of him. I shared the story with some friends and co-interns, placing a heavy dose of blame on myself. No one except my sister flagged that this guy’s behavior was textbook abusive. Instead my peers joked, “oh that’s just how he acts, don’t take him seriously” and “of course he tried to kiss you, that’s what guys do – he wouldn’t be a man if he hadn’t tried!”

It’s been more than a decade since then, but I have witnessed and heard creepy and scary and harassing story after story after story among Mormon women about the same guy. I once staged an intervention with a friend because his behavior was so concerning. Yet I am terrified to name him, or any of the perpetrators of my other listed and unlisted stories, by name.

Why? Why am I so afraid?

One, because it wasn’t — that— bad. A guy tried to kiss me a couple times over the course of a few weeks a decade ago, and failed. What do I have to complain about? Besides, my personal experiences are stale. I have more recent information that the specific DC guy’s harassing behavior may have continued or gotten worse, but it’s based on mere extrapolations and rumors. (The same is true for my other #MeToos; I know worse stories, but they are not mine to tell.)

Two, naming him could ruin my reputation. Venting about someone else is never an attractive look. Telling these stories could paint me in my DC Mormon community as a vindictive, lying, overreacting b****.

Three, I believe in the power of the Atonement. I believe people can mature and change. I unfriended him on Facebook years ago. Maybe he’s improved? Maybe he’s stopped treating women as objects? Maybe he’s moved away? I do not know. Even if, as I suspect, the creepy patterns continue, my paramount goal is to protect women, not cause collateral damage in his work or friendships unrelated to his (toxic) romantic relationships.

Four, I’ve unexpectedly had internet posts go viral a few times in my life. It’s overwhelming and the consequences can be unpredictable. I’m acutely aware that naming him could financially harm him – which in turn could prompt legal action for defamation against me. Now, I’m a First Amendment lawyer, and I’m telling the truth, and I have friends and contemporaneous journal entries and texts that would corroborate my stories. But I have litigated #MeToo cases, and they’re nasty no matter who is “right.”

Five, at some level he’s not prominent enough to matter. Ironically women have greater legal protection the more famous their harasser is. The everyday harasser in a workplace or singles ward? It’s easier for a woman to just run away, scattering a few whispers in her wake. Meanwhile women expect most supervisors or bishops will dismiss those whispers as flukes and brush them under the rug.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to tell others to do. I can’t find a good solution.

For years I felt guilty “gossiping” about these predatory men. I felt like if I were more Christlike I would move on, forgive the men, and shut up. But in the era of #MeToo, my perspective has shifted.  Whisper networks are how women protect each other. I’m filled with fear for the unwitting women who enter the predators’ orbits. Do I have a duty to name the men I know firsthand are bad news, in an attempt to protect their future victims? If we all compared notes and named them, would we be any safer?

I also don’t know what to do about my oblivious guyfriends in the Elders Quorums. I once stood in a singles ward party and overheard a guy I knew was trouble cracking crass jokes about how he was only staying with his girlfriend because she had big breasts. Another time I sat at a desk while a man joked about murdering his wife so he could swap her out for his hot secretary. Both times, the other men in the room looked a bit awkward but laughed off the sexist jokes. It sent the unmistakable signal to me that no matter how much bystander men proclaim they respect women, they don’t recognize and are not willing to confront the warning signs. They aren’t going to listen to the ladies when we try to explain that their good buddy’s “joke” was the tip of the abusive iceberg.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what society should do. I don’t know what the Church should do. Predation is a cancer, and I cannot find a cure. I’m scared to name names, and I’m simultaneously scared my silence harms innocent women. The best I’ve come up with is the whisper network – but I’m acutely aware it’s not enough.

*Photo Attribution, Mayr on Flickr.


  1. I know naming names comes with a whole host of backlash, but please if there is any part of you that can manage it, please please name names. Once someone is preyed upon they can never get their old life back. They can never get their trust back; not entirely.

  2. Olde Skool says:

    “I don’t know how to describe the terror of being a woman and realizing you’re alone or stuck with a guy who just proved he’s untrustworthy and doesn’t respect boundaries…You have to figure out a way to gently extricate yourself from the situation without escalating – because the all-to-possible result of you firmly rejecting him is violence.”

    This paragraph nails it.

  3. ErinAnn says:

    “Three, I believe in the power of the Atonement. I believe people can mature and change.”

    Ugh ugh ugh. Name names and let him prove it.

  4. anon single lady says:

    A guy in one of my singles wards was pursuing one of the sisters, and then he moved out of the ward shortly before I moved in. The whisper network reached me insofar as I found out that she had a creepy guy who was after her, but I never knew who it was. Of course, then one Sunday he showed up at church, and then when she left to travel to a family event an hour and a half away, he followed her on the freeway for an hour. After all that, I still never found out his name. The bishopric has turned over twice since then, and she’s moved away, so he could come back at any point and pick a new victim and start all over. I don’t necessarily want my church records to have things marked on them that follow me from ward to ward, but right now men who have shown themselves to be dangerous just get to move on to a new pool of young, single women who don’t know they’re in danger…

  5. Not a Cougar says:

    I’m a guy, and please name names if you can do so. When I was in a singles ward many years ago, we had a guy (already a bit of a social outsider) who hung around our singles FHE group on occasion. One night, we held FHE at a girl’s apartment (good friend of mine). The group came, had a good time, and left, all except the guy (we kind of all left en masse and didn’t realize he stuck around – I still feel guilty about that). Found out the next day he persisted for two hours trying to convince the girl to go out with him despite her explicit rejections of his affections and requests that he leave (luckily her roommate was there but I wish she had called the cops). She told me the next day, and I reported it to the bishop. The guy stopped coming to the FHE group, and we never held FHE in someone’s home ever again.

    That’s the first time I ever dealt with predatory behavior and it was extremely uncomfortable just receiving the report from my friend and then passing it on to the bishop. I can only imagine the feeling of being the actual target. God bless you Carolyn.

  6. anon single lady says:

    Once a new member in my ward followed me out of the building after church, and a sister in my ward was concerned enough that she told me (I hadn’t noticed, but apparently he did it in a creepy enough way that she was upset). He then randomly (?) turned up at my grocery store, and then cornered me in classroom the next Sunday trying to ask me out (I politely told him I didn’t date men from church), so I told the bishopric I was concerned. The bishop handled it fine, and said he wouldn’t allow him to be alone in the building and he would keep the guy from attending the class I was teaching. And then one of the counselors in the bishopric told me that perhaps I was responsible because I sat on a table during class and people could see up my skirt (???????). So then I was back to square one – there’s a guy who won’t leave me alone, and the bishopric isn’t fully on board with protecting me, and one of the bishopric members is…looking up my skirt during church? Again, only a couple people knew about this (me, a couple of friends, the bishopric), and of course the bishopric turned over a few months before I moved out of the ward, and there’s a never-ending crop of new students moving in. All I can do is hope that the same sisters who had my back will pass on their knowledge and look out for the newer sisters.

  7. Autumn Meadow says:

    I was single for a long time, so of course I encountered several of these men. One of them got a lot closer than I would have liked, and I counted my blessings that I “escaped” mostly unharmed from the relationship. But I really, really dislike gossip, so I didn’t participate in the whisper network regarding this guy. A very sweet friend of mine ended up in a relationship with him a while later, and I worry that he harmed her. I have felt guilt about that whole mess ever since. He was the predator, but I feel like it was kind of my fault. What should I have done differently? How can I be a member of Christ’s church and say unkind things about another member?

  8. Years ago I was a young bishop confronted with the strong possibility that one of my ward members was abusing a child in the family. This was unfamiliar and frightening territory for me, and I was depressed for many days not knowing what to do. I decided to educate myself and consulted a high councilor who was a therapist, mentioning a concern that confronting the member might result in legal action against me or the Church. I will never forget his response which I paraphrase here: “I’ve seen the horrible effects of abuse, and would not hesitate to investigate and intervene. I don’t care at all if I get sued or dragged into court–that’s how bad the fruits of abuse are.” He also advised me how to proceed in confronting the ward member–I am grateful to this day for his guidance. In the context of your post, I would say now that he was telling me to “name names.” I have since learned what you, as an attorney, already know: there are sound ways to do this. With all my heart I hope that your local church leaders and/or other mature advisors are strong allies who have earned your trust and confidence, who will surround and support you, and help protect you and others. Gather information on how to proceed, how to protect yourself in the process, what to expect and so forth. “Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” Once you are prepared, name names.

  9. I don’t think I have much to add to this, other than that I think it’s an extremely important post. And for those of us that don’t have first-hand knowledge of abusive guys like the ones described here, we need to make sure that we’re trustworthy to receive that knowledge from the people that know, not dismiss or belittle it, which only makes it harder to share.

  10. It’s awkward to refer to a work in progress that’s as much in my head as on paper, but working through Church discipline principles and standards (spoiler alert: there’s much to change), one reason I can’t dismiss the system completely is that predation needs more, not less. Not necessarily to punish or take away sacraments (that’s a different discussion but to reduce the ability of predators to use full fellowship status to gain access and opportunity. Putting boundaries on the community of trust and fellowship is one of the legitimate purposes of Church discipline.

  11. Whisper. To the women in leadership, to your peers who might also be vulnerable. Pray. God is listening and although it may sound naive, I personally think He provides us the best protection. I’m one of those socially disconnected Sisters, but fortunately I’m too old to be seen as a target any more. And I would speak out, but that’s me. I hope for the best outcome for you. Nobody should live in fear, especially not at church.

  12. ^^^
    Going off of Christian Kimball’s comment – anyone who joins a congregation has immediate access to an entire ward directory of contact information and personal information, but I’m the one who is responsible for making sure that I’m safe. If 100 women in a singles ward had bad experiences with some dude, and he moves into my ward, he has immediate access to where I live, my phone number, etc. So it’s then the responsibility of women to look out for themselves and weigh the benefits of having their contact information available against the downsides. I may be ok with, say, all of the women in my ward knowing where I live (how else will I receive their gifts of brownies and casseroles) but if I don’t want creepy brother so and so to be able to show up outside of my apartment, then I need to basically restrict all access. And if creepy brother so and so gets called into a leadership role…he’s likely going to be able to see it anyway.

  13. I cannot express how difficult, and yet how important, it is for me, as a man, to hear these stories. For much of the time that I was growing up in the Church, I would have said that these things don’t happen, that they get blown out of proportion, or that specific things that some women experience are, though bad, extreme outliers. Most men aren’t like that.

    As I have grown older and spoken with more women about important things, I have finally figured out that just about every woman I know has had experiences like this but will only share them with people who can be trusted. And that trust comes with the sacred responsibility to believe, to change the way that I behave, to do everything in my power to protect women from predators, to change the institutional culture that allows them to flourish. It also means that I have to understand when I am not automatically trusted with confidences and when somebody acts cautiously around me when my intentions are not clear.

    And it means tempering the initial defensive reaction–“I’m not like that” with the realization that, sometimes, in some ways, I am.

    Loving “everybody” is easy. Actually loving specific human beings is hard work.

  14. Anon this time says:

    I wonder if there’s any standardization at all to leadership changes and transfer of information. Speaking vaguely: I recently got released from a leadership position, and met briefly with my replacement. He said, “I don’t want to hear any gossip.” I said, “Hey, I don’t want to spread gossip, but there are a couple of situations that you need to know about because the bishop never gave me the full story, and I heard just enough to be concerned about these folks.” I don’t think actual violence or assault were issues here, but the whole situation was weird enough that I wonder if some leaders actively try to push a “clean slate” rather than sharing concerns with incoming new leaders.

  15. Kristine says:

    Michael, fwiw, it’s hard for women to believe, too. I definitely count myself as one who was more comfortable believing that some women were exaggerating, or that these experiences were rare…until it happened to me. And it’s *still* hard; there’s some part of our minds, I think, that really, really wants to block out frightening truths, especially in a place where we are as vulnerable as we are at church.

  16. jaxjensen says:

    “Do I have a duty to name the men I know firsthand are bad news, in an attempt to protect their future victims?” Ideally the whisper network could turn into a “spoken out loud” network. Seems like something that could appropriately happen during RS openings… along with missionary moments and such. I can’t think of anything more appropriate than helping other sisters remain safe from predatory behavior. I’m sure there would be a TON of pushback from some, but still.

  17. Carolyn says:

    @jaxjensen: Once, in a Midwest singles ward, a predator had gotten so bad the Bishop came in and told the entire relief society not to date him. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen or heard of that happening.

  18. Nathan Gibb says:

    I want to start a YouToo? movement. Really? Morgan Freeman? You Too? Here is a problem though. What if we start naming all the “You Too” men out there and they receive the well-deserved shame and financial consequences such a person has unquestionably earned and then as the legal cases play out, one (or more) are shown to be innocent? How would we the public go about assisting the individual to reclaim their ruined reputation?

  19. jaxjensen says:

    Carolyn… a good bishop there! There should be no reason that women don’t/can’t share these experiences with each other without a Bishop though. The “Priesthood and Church Government” by John Widstow says that the opening exercises for priesthood should be used to discuss temporal things like grain prices, water issues, etc. To use it to talk about real events that affect peoples lives. There is no reason I can think of (even though I can think of the contrary arguments) that women shouldn’t do the same thing when it involves predators.

    Maybe I’m a minority though. Does anyone else think a comment like this would be out of line: “I went out with John Doe last night and he (was really aggressive with me/kept putting his hands on me/tried multiple times to kiss me). It made me uncomfortable that he kept with it even after I told him to stop.” I’d encourage it with YW as well. Don’t leave one of your sisters unprepared for someone you know about if you can help it. That’s my opinion. My oldest turns 16 this year and I’d be pissed to learn that the other girls knew that one of the boys was a creep but they didn’t warn her and she got hurt.

  20. Kristine says:

    ^Let’s be sure to invent something to be mad at women for in this situation–not warning their sisters and/or unfairly ruining a guy’s reputation should be an adequate double bind!

  21. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine… not directed at women specifically, but at anyone who know but didn’t warn. That could be a bishop, other guys he bragged to, etc. My previous did mention only “girls” but should include anyone with adequate knowledge who does nothing. Much like the proverbial watchmen on the tower/wall, if you know someone is a threat and you don’t warn others … ??? Wouldn’t anger be justified if others knew yet didn’t warn?

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    This was very enlightening. I’ve been in family wards for decades (we do have a small singles branch that meets in our building, but my only interaction with them is when I occasionally sub for the woman who teaches their Institute class), so I have no lived experience in such singles wards. If Carolyn, who is a highly intelligent, confident and competent attorney, isn’t sure how to handle these situations, then to me by definition these are very challenging circumstances for the sisters to have to deal with. I wish I had helpful advice for how to negotiate these situations, but I really don’t. As imperfect as they may be, it sounds to me as though the informal whisper networks are an essential piece of the puzzle, but it somehow seems there ought to be more, perhaps something more formal and official and public, but I don’t know what that “more” looks like that doesn’t have the potential to put some of the sisters at even greater risk. This is a hard situation.

  23. As a man who has been happily married for over 30 years and who tried during the dating years to behave appropriately, this is disheartening. I know stuff like this is more common than many of us would like to think, but it’s important to talk about it. I’m glad the #MeToo movement has brought creepy, inappropriate male (and perhaps sometimes female) behavior into the open. Hopefully, we men (who generally are born without a clue gene) will get the message. Thanks for speaking up. And maybe naming names is the only way for some people to learn.

  24. Kristine says:

    jaxjensen–maybe. But you can’t simultaneously teach girls and women to be “nice,” discourage them from “gossip,” accuse them of violating due process, AND get mad at them for not warning other women. I’m just pointing out that this is another way women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

  25. Kristine says:

    Kevin, it’s not only a problem in singles wards.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Kristine.

  27. “I also don’t know what to do about my oblivious guyfriends in the Elders Quorums.” You pull them aside privately and tell them exactly what you said in the rest of the paragraph: they can nervously laugh off a sexist and abusive joke because they have the privilege of assuming they’ll never be the joke-teller’s target. The women, on the other hand, know the joke-teller is implicitly bragging about past offenses and threatening future ones.

    I know this is a big ask because the “Not All Guys” is the just-as-defensively-insensitive “All Lives Matter” counterpart to #MeToo, but the Whisper Network has to do the uncomfortable work of enlisting some male allies, like “Not a Cougar” above. I wish that when I’d been a YSA, that a woman or two or five had helped me learn to recognize which of my peers were predators, because I’m sure there were some, but I never noticed them. I didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t even know I should be looking. It never even crossed my mind that the guy sitting next to me during the EQ lesson about “respecting women” might not understand that respect includes something like “don’t touch her breasts unless she tells you you can”.

    I’ve grown up a bit since my YSA days, and though I’m still pretty oblivious, I’m glad that the Whisper Network has clued me in enough that I haven’t unwittingly perpetuated the systemic problems of sexual abuse within the Church. I’m glad women helped me to start noticing the problem before I’d had decades of thinking there wasn’t a problem because I’d just been overlooking it. I think I could have started learning this at 26, or 22 or even 15, if someone had just taken me aside and helped me see what I was missing.

  28. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine, I didn’t say anything about being nice. I’d rather they are all safe than that they are universally loved. As for gossip, if it is your own account of events it isn’t gossip, it is your testimony of what occurred. Passing on another’s story might be gossip, but not warning about your own experiences. Gossip is a problem, but sexual assault/predatory behavior is a bigger one IMO. So I’ll accept one if it will lead to the end/reduction of the other.

    Others might damn some woman for saying something publicly. I can imagine the arguments and complaints and they aren’t nice. But if at the end the women/girls are safer, then the men can swallow some humble pie (and hopefully learn to start treating women better).

  29. Here’s part of the problem: Our subculture (and the larger culture to an extent) has taught us not to say unkind things, and we conflate “unkind things” with telling the truth when it needs to be told. So we don’t do it often enough. If there’s a predator among us, it is not unkind to say so out loud. Jesus would say it out loud.

    The only thing that works to stop predators is external controls. No external controls will happen if a few people are only whispering among themselves. The whispering should be elevated to telling the truth out loud, and it shouldn’t be just among women. Men should be telling the truth out loud as well.

  30. Kristine says:


    I know you didn’t say anything about being nice. But others have. Two comments before yours was this one: “Here is a problem though. What if we start naming all the “You Too” men out there and they receive the well-deserved shame and financial consequences such a person has unquestionably earned and then as the legal cases play out, one (or more) are shown to be innocent? How would we the public go about assisting the individual to reclaim their ruined reputation?”

    The point is simply that women are in an impossible situation. You want them to name names and protect your daughter; others want them to be fair and not unjustly ruin someone’s reputation. We can’t do both.

  31. I was hit on in the celestial room of the temple – twice!! By different men. Just sitting there on the sofa minding my own business with my eyes closed silently praying. I opened my eyes to find a man staring back at me. Never saw him before in my life. He wanted my phone number. On a different day another guy put his arm around the back of the sofa and asked me to put my head on his shoulder and tell him my troubles. I mean seriously?!!?!! He was also a complete stranger.

    When I complained to the counsellor of the temple matron (the temple matron was away that day) she told me to take it as a complement and to buy a wedding ring and to wear it when I attended the temple.

    When I told my guy friends about it they asked me if I was sure these men had actually been hitting on me. I mean maybe I was exaggerating. Was I really sure??

    No possibility of naming names as I had never seen either of these men before. I told my bishop but what could he do? My married female friends implied that if the men had been more attractive I would have been thrilled and that someday it would be a great story.

    Don’t know what the solution is. I mean the culture encourages men to start families, right? And the temple is all about families. So what if women are a little harassed in the process.

  32. Brian F. says:

    Carolyn, et. al.: Thank you for opening my eyes to this. I wish that these things would never happen, and I’m sorry you and others suffered.
    I’m on the autism spectrum, specifically high functioning Asperger’s, and I was in the YSA ward until I aged out at 30. I got married a couple years after, but that’s not completely germane to this comment. I remember when I was in the YSA wards that there were a few guys who even I could tell that there was something wrong going on. I hope that the women in my ward steered clear of them.
    Looking back on my single years, I am sure I did things that were creepy, or wrong, and I feel bad about them, now that I understand why. I hate using excuses, but I really didn’t know better.

    I think that bad behavior thrives in darkness, and that shining a light on things, naming names if necessary, helps everyone. We can all learn how to be better. I want to help make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen.

  33. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine: I know. I know there will be pushback/anger/arguments against it. I don’t want anyone’s reputation “unjustly” ruined. But I do want them ruined when it is “just” and true. If a man is assaulting women it is not unjust to tell others about it. It’s the reputation he’ll have earned.

    Women need to learn how to treat men fairly in this as well. Men need to act uprightly, and women need to too. No embellishment, no vindictive lies because of a breakup, etc. If women want men’s support in stopping this then we all need to be treated fairly. We all need to treat each other well. I know that’s maybe too big of an ask though.

    (BTW, I don’t expect others to protect my daughter. That is partly my job, and I’ll do it, but I need to be able to see the threats (or hear about them) in order to do so. The rest of that job is hers. She can take care of herself. But the best way to avoid a fight is to avoid it at all costs, and knowing ahead of time to avoid certain men, situations, parts of a city at night, etc. goes a LONG way for each of us to keep ourselves safe. The State Dept puts out warnings to maybe avoid certain areas when traveling because of safety concerns… our RS/YW can put out warnings to avoid certain men when dating)

  34. Nathan Gibb says:

    Kristine- I think we should try and educate one another about behaviors that we find offensive in real- time. I worried that my comment would come off as trying to protect abusers- nope. Sometimes (unfortunately- and I’m willing to own it) I misread body cues or comments and proceed on faulty assumptions. If I offend a woman in that process I really would like to hear about it right then. I think we could discuss it and perhaps achieve a level of understanding that could benefit both of us. Who knows maybe the conversation could advance the relationship in some way. Traditionally men are placed in a role as initiators which is hard sometimes. It seems important now for us to be especially sensitive and to seek to restore some faith in our gender through our own personal conduct and encouraging other men to be aware and sensitive also.

  35. This post depresses me, because I see far too much of the person I was (and, unfortunately, probably in some ways still am) in the oblivious, arrogant, abusive behavior described. I hope Carolyn’s confidence in the Atonement is well-placed, because I, like so many others, really need it. And for whatever it’s worth, I think he should be outed–but whatever decision Carolyn makes will be, I’m sure, a considered and wise one.

  36. jaxjensen says:

    *** best way to WIN a fight is to avoid it

  37. First, we should do everything we can to believe and support women who have these experiences, from being uncomfortable to being in an abusive relationship to being assaulted. But I think we need solutions more than women using a whisper network to help each other or figuring out how leaders can make it stop; we need men to educate and call out each other when these incidents occour. People can be oblivious when they make others uncomfortable. (I know I did a number of creepy things in my youth, being particularly oblivious and well, stupid)

    I think these incidents should be sought out by YM/EQ presidencies and a discussion about it should happen in their quorums every week it is brought up. Lessons about whatever gospel principle should be sent to the back seat and the incidents discussed as many times as it takes for the incidents to stop. You don’t need to name names, just go over what happened and how it should have been handled better. Consent, personal space, expectations should all be freely discussed. Defensiveness, #notallmen, “but then we’d never get a relationship”, should be handled in the lesson; stop doing this, watch out for your doing this, intentionally or not. If the lesson is not being heard, then absolutely name names and get the predator out. But we have to take active part in this and use the YM/EQ for what they are meant to be; to make men better people.

  38. Kristine says:

    Nathan, jaxjensen–you are both right. It’s impossible terrain to navigate and we’re all going to make mistakes. I just get nervous when the discussion turns too quickly to what women should do. Mormon men are way too good at figuring out what Mormon women ought to do and be.

  39. When my wife suddenly joined the dating scene because her first husband died, her friends started trying to set her up for dates. She was a little uncomfortable with dating, since she had been married nearly 30 years and was strict about being alone with men not her husband during that time, so she established rules for men she would and would not date. A temple recommend was one of her requirements, because she thought that would keep her safe. She tells me that the only guy who really got aggressive with her was a temple worker. I wonder whether there was a pattern with him, but that she didn’t have that “whisper network” to help protect her.

  40. Michnellelurv says:

    Last year I had a guy randomly contact me on facebook because we had a lot of mutual friends. From the get go he was super aggressive. I went on a brunch date with him and afterwards he was asking for another date, I was up front with how busy I was and he thought that I was just brushing him off. The conversation continues and he asked about my sexual history and if the next time we see each other if he could kiss me. I told him that I would be not comfortable for the last person that I kissed cheated on his girlfriend he was the last person I kissed in over 5 years and he came after 9.5 years of not kissing anybody. The guy continued to send more and more explicit message and then he passed a major line. I promptly blocked him from my phone and social media. I went to a LDS group and asked if I should report him to his bishop, and the everybody said no! I relayed the following to a friend and she went “Ohh no, he is on the ‘Do not date list’ ” because of his actions like above. I wished I knew of that list before I started to going on dates in a new area, because everyone I did, ended up being on that list.

  41. As an almost lifelong singles ward member I have been both a whisperer and someone warned. I appreciate the way women have used this as a source of power against those who harm. Perhaps we need to let them know it is entirely appropriate to protect yourself and others by telling the truth. Perhaps we need to train our women to have respect for themselves.
    But I have also seen women use the whisper campaign and outright distortions of the truth to drive a man from our singles ward through one-sided reports. Fortunately, the whisper campaign worked against her as well, as the sisters told and retold what she had said and done, the whole story. But the man was gone and specifically not invited to our reunion by order of the bishop, who bought her story in total.
    I have also been a victim of the whisper campaign, not over sexual matters, but from those who tried to ruin my reputation by telling false stories about me to men in the ward so they would not ask me out. I did not find out about this for years. Fortunately, I had the facts to back me up and I think the people I spoke with believed me. Maybe not. Cannot really tell.

  42. Kristine says:

    CS Eric, I hope it goes without saying that a temple recommend is not an adequate indicator of decency or safety in dating…And non-Mormon men are often much more respectful than Mormon men–they are frequently more practiced in interacting with women as human beings.

  43. Anon for this says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Carolyn. I feel some of your same reluctance and hesitancy about knowing when to speak up about #MeToo issues in the Church, though for slightly different reasons / in a different context. (So I apologize if this slightly derails the discussion from the YSA Whisper Network issue.) Specifically, after the Bishop scandal broke, my mother summoned the courage to tell me and the rest of my family about sexual assault she experienced from a professor during their weekly meetings at Ricks College c. 1980 when she was the president of a club of which he was the adviser. Long hugs became inappropriate touching became a kiss, at which point she fully registered what was happening and put a stop to it and put safeguards in place for herself. She didn’t tell anyone about it because she didn’t want to be known as a troublemaker.

    That professor continued teaching there until his retirement ~15 years ago. What’s worse, when my mom was talking with another BYU-I professor many years later (after Ricks became BYU-I, but before the professor had retired), that professor told her that it was common knowledge among older faculty that there was a group of five or six older faculty who were infamous for abusing dozens of unsuspecting female students — and sure enough, one of them was the professor who had sexually assaulted her.

    I felt shell-shocked when my mom told us that story. I mean, I’m not surprised that it happened necessarily. But just… It’s my mother — my strong, brave, compassionate, faithful, beautiful mother. She doesn’t fit the “profile” that I once upon a time had in my mind about sexual assault victims (though thanks to #metoo I’ve realized how problematic that preconception was). One of the strangest things to me is that I think I vaguely remember her telling me when I was in high school that something like this had happened to her, as a cautionary tale for me… but I just forgot about it, either because I had repressed my knowledge of her experience or maybe because I didn’t realize how serious or deeply problematic it was.

    But now, I do. And in the midst of this #MormonMeToo moment, I’m feeling like this dark thing needs to be brought to light. I’ve encouraged my mom to send a confidential tip to Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Trib to at least get someone looking into this, to see how widespread the knowledge was about this kind of behavior and if Ricks College/BYU-I authorities knew or suspected but looked the other way. But for some complex reasons, she doesn’t feel like she is personally in a position to go to the press about it now, even though she wishes this all had been called out a long time ago. I understand that and of course respect her agency, but I felt so conflicted about it… and now I’ve just been sitting for a couple months with that knowledge, and I still don’t know what to do about it. So I guess I’m starting by sharing it here.

  44. Nathan Gibb says:

    Agreed Kristine- the only problem with suggesting that we Mormon men shouldn’t be suggesting things is that the suggestion itself (your last sentence) seems to insinuate that all Mormon men are victim blamers, blame shifters and gas-lighters (or MAYBE I’m over-reacting ;). My suggestion is that we accept one another’s clumsy efforts to address this difficult topic and bestow a participation trophy upon any person willing to offer a “suggestion”:)

  45. Carolyn says:

    @Anon for this: Exactly. Your mother’s story may not be about singles wards, but it’s about the same dynamics. It’s about innocent and naive victims and whisper networks and gaps in those whisper networks and scandalous predators that so much social pressure operates to protect.

  46. jaxjensen says:

    “my strong, brave, compassionate, faithful, beautiful mother. She doesn’t fit the “profile” ” There is no profile for victims. Unfortunately everyone is potentially a victim.

  47. FormerBishop says:

    As a bishop in a singles ward, I found that behavior like this occurred regularly, mainly with men acting inappropriately toward women, but also with men acting inappropriately toward other men. Predators all.
    As a bishopric, we became vigilant about protecting the vulnerable and working with the relief society and elders to stamp out bad behavior and boot out predators.
    Fortunately, we were part of a singles stake and were able to communicate freely with the other wards, naming names. It did help that we had experienced law enforcement in our leadership groups. I also found the church abuse hotline to be very supportive and equally anxious to address this issue head-on. Many predators, when confronted directly, either left the church or stopped attending.
    I can’t begin to count the number of tear-filled discussions that I had as the result of this type of behavior
    I pray that #Metoo will continue to bring light and change.

  48. Kristine says:

    Nathan–sorry, I did not mean to suggest all of that! I do think we have to work really hard in these conversations to resist recreating the typical Mormon gender dynamic where men are in charge and women are supposed to be nice. When you and jaxjensen made precisely contradictory “suggestions” in such close proximity to each other, I thought it might be useful to note the double bind–Mormon women face a lot of those. Obviously, I pointed it out too clumsily for it to be useful. But I carefully didn’t use the words “blame” or “gaslight” because that isn’t what I meant.

  49. Kristine at 10:27: I’m afraid in my aging cynicism that I have come to think of a temple recommend as a negative. Because all (but one) of the predators I’ve known about had a temple recommend. Because the non-Mormon men I know are on average better about male-female relationships. Because the temple recommend gives some people a false self-righteousness. Because the temple recommend operates — incorrectly and falsely — as a security card in Mormon culture. Because Mormon men of the predatory sort believe that if they are “in” enough to have temple recommend they will be protected by the system.

    I’d like to see change across the board. In the meantime, color me a cynic.

  50. jaxjensen says:

    ” Many predators, when confronted directly, either left the church or stopped attending.” Seems like a perfectly acceptable outcome!

  51. Rexicorn says:

    I brought up Ward Creeps in PEC when I was Relief Society President. Luckily I had a receptive bishop and Elders Quorum president who would listen to me and act accordingly. I usually made specific requests, like “Please don’t assign this man to home teach any [usual target] sisters” or “I know he’s new, but don’t involve any of my relief society sisters in fellowship efforts,” but even “Keep an eye on this guy, please,” helped.

    But that was a situation where 1) I already had a reputation for being outspoken without regard for consequences, which is a hard role to move into when you’re socialized to be compliant and polite; and 2) the men made it clear that they were allies in this and not willing to make excuses. When you’re in a situation where the men around you laugh along with jokes or tell you “That’s just how he is” or whatever? That’s really dis-empowering. I don’t think bystander men really grasp how much power they have in these situations, but their intervention usually has more impact than a woman’s does with these guys. The flip side of that being that their reassurance usually means more to Creeperman than any woman’s protest does, too. If all the guys laugh along and implicitly tell them they’re OK, then they’ll keep going no matter how many women tell them off.

    We’ve used the Atonement excuse to allow predators in our congregations for far too long. We need to shift the balance toward protecting victims and let the predator fend for himself a bit more.

  52. Rexicorn says:

    Commenting twice, but just to emphasize: women test the waters with people around them on this stuff. If I tell you a guy made me uncomfortable, and you say things like “It was probably a misunderstanding” or “I wish people would pursue me like that!” or anything else to excuse the behavior, then I know you’re not a person I can trust with more serious reports. You may think you have a bright line in your mind between a Creeper and a Predator, but it doesn’t read that way to people on the outside.

    Likewise, predators test boundaries too. And just like they’ll start small with victims to see what they can get away with, they do it with enablers too. Will you let them make jokes that are a little over the line? If they say sexist things, do you agree? Great, now they know they can get away with more.

    It’s important for all of us, but especially for Mormon men (who have more social currency with these guys, plus their institutional church power) to speak out early. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can flip a switch once an injustice escalates beyond a certain point. Physical safety is more important than your comfort zone.

  53. Nathan Gibb says:

    I like it, Kristine- you seem like you would be a really good friend:)

  54. My parents divorced when I was in my late 20s and I know that one of the first things that happened after the news started to spread around her ward was that other women started telling her who to avoid at church and at church gatherings. There were at least 4 single men in her ward, the ward I grew up in, the one she’d been in for over 20 years, that had been predatory and none of us had known. It’s not just singles wards. Its all wards

  55. Kristine says:

    Sarah, it’s also not just single men. A divorced Mormon woman is viewed (and treated) as damaged goods by all kinds of Mormon men.

  56. Carolyn says:

    @Kristine: I’ve heard an insane amount of “gossip” about men who specifically target divorced woman under the assumption that since she’s already had sex she’ll be “looser” with her boundaries. It’s sickening and disturbing.

  57. Kristine says:

    I think it’s not even conscious, mostly. It’s just that we value virgins and married mothers, and there aren’t any other categories of women who count–if you’re not taking a woman’s virginity or stealing another man’s property, what could you be doing wrong?

  58. Dog Spirit says:

    Mormon women being socialized to be “nice” is such an important piece of this perplexing puzzle. I had an experience where a male friend touched me repeatedly without invitation while we were on a trip with a bunch of other young single Mormons. I was too scared or nice or embarrassed–it’s so hard to say–to confront him directly, but I mentioned it to the other women in the group when we stopped somewhere for lunch. Three of them had previously had similar experiences with him–and none of us knew it wasn’t just us, even though we were close friends! Everyone was trying so hard to be “nice” that this man kept being given access to harass more and more of us. In fact, even after it became apparent that several of us had been subjected to this pattern of behavior, all we did about it was rearrange the car seating so for the rest of the trip so he was sitting next to another male. I still wish I had been brave enough to confront him directly, and that all of us had not prioritized niceness over safety. Not long after, just before he left on his mission, he called me and all of the other women he had inappropriately touched to apologize, probably at the insistence of his bishop. I hope it was sincere and that he changed, but I never saw him again after that, and I sometimes wonder if what happened to us kept happening to other women he was around.

  59. Nathan Gibb says:

    Just a random thought, but maybe we should relax a little about masturbation. Could take the “edge” off some of these Venus/Mars interactions:)

  60. Carolyn says:

    I’m all for relaxing about masturbation — but the relationship between predatory behavior and frequency of male orgasms is literally zero and utterly unrelated to this post.

  61. Nathan Gibb says:

    I’ll just be quiet now

  62. Nathan Gibb says:

    I just broke one of the cardinal rules of commenting- one must think before they speak, or, in this case, write. If I had a way to remove that snarky remark I would, but, sadly it now stands forever as a testament to my impulsivity- sigh. I think the larger point I want to make is that we Mormons have inherited a lot of Puritan and Victorian nonsense. We are freaked out about sex and our bodies etc. I think a healthy view about masturbation for both sexes could only help.

  63. Carolyn says:

    Apology accepted. I would delete your prior comment for you if you wanted, but this side conversation does have some value.

  64. Nathan Gibb says:

    the same value as my Nebraska beach property

  65. Shoulders . . . Clavicles . . . Ankles?
    I would add tattoos, second piercings (ears), prior marriage, and any indication of a sexual history. In the misogynist corners of Mormon culture the “fallen women target” is legion.

    I could go on about the unhealthy nature of Mormon culture regarding sex and pair-wise relationships. Kristine’s “virgins and married mothers” as the only women who count is just so true and so devestating.

    But I despair . . .

    1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 before Send

  66. Jared vdH says:

    When I was attending one of the YSA wards I attended four or so years ago there was a man who attended who was rather aggressive in his flirting both privately and sometimes in public at ward functions. Nothing quite as bad as mentioned here, but he still made several sisters feel uncomfortable. Occasional invasions of personal space, but not outright groping being the most severe that I saw or heard of. Being in the EQ presidency and later ward clerk I had the “opportunity” on more than one occasion to tell him to back off and correct his behavior. He improved at times, but often backslid. Once I actually had to physically restrain him in the middle of a group conversation to get him to understand that his advances were unwelcome. From some of my female friends in that ward I was told his behavior improved significantly after that.

    Men it’s on us to assist the women in stopping this behavior. We need to be trustworthy enough so that we can be included in the informal whisper networks and we need to help leadership understand that these things need to be taken seriously. We can’t stand idly by while these our fellow saints are made to feel uncomfortable at church.

  67. And this should never be thought of as a “YSA” problem. It may be more pronounced there, but this is a problem in any ward that has women or girls of any age, which is every ward

  68. When appropriate name and shame.

  69. Leftist years r tasty says:

    So it’s now ok for me to protect women again.. please just give us five minutes warning before you change it to sexist and demeaning ..

  70. Anonymous says:

    Not related to your post. Just a reminder that dating is difficult for most.

  71. BHodges says:

    Important post. Reminds me of another article (explicit language) I saw this week:

  72. MrShorty says:

    I like a lot of what is said here. I would like to second Frank Pellet’s suggestion (10:13 AM June 4) above that we make this part of quorum/class/”sex ed” discussions. I recall back then when one of the most common questions for a “chastity q&a” discussion was “how far is too far when you’re single/dating?” I have long thought that my first answer to that question now would be something about consent. “Wherever you put your own personal line in the sand, if you bump up against your date’s line in the sand first, then anything beyond that is too far.”
    It seems we have plenty of “how to date/court/find a spouse” discussions. It doesn’t seem too far off topic to include a “when a man/woman you are interested in says she’s not interested, you need to back off” bullet point.
    At home, I find some movies provide good opportunities for this discussion. Whenever one of my kids decides to pull out “The Book of Life” to watch, we can have a discussion about these kind of boundaries. In a movie, it is cute and romantic when someone sings “I love you too much; to leave without you loving me back.” In real life it’s dangerous and scary. If anyone ever says something like that to you, get out, get help, and tell someone (parents if still at home, other support group if not).

  73. Anon for this says:

    Also re: the issue of temples and abusers, I’ll just add that the Ricks College/BYUI professor in my mom’s story that I recounted above not only continued to teach at Ricks/BYUI until his retirement in the early-mid 2000s, but my parents have crossed paths with him as an ordinance worker in the temple. So yeah… temple attendance, or really even any calling, should never be taken as an indication that someone is ‘safe.’ But this also gets back to Carolyn’s OP… maybe the guy repented in the decades between the time my parents were at Ricks and the time they crossed paths with him in the temple (which was after his retirement), who knows? But then again, the whispers even at a late stage (just prior to his retirement) didn’t say anything about that; they said he had a reputation, was a repeat offender, a predator. But maybe that reputation had outlived his repentance?

    Also, now that I’ve read and reflected on all the other comments about ward-based whisper networks (and I could add to those stories), I have to say the case I described above is different. This man was a professor at a Church college; his victims were students. There was a serious power differential at play. And what’s worse, the ‘whisper network’ in this case was not a network of past and potential victims looking out for one another; it was a network of whispers among *faculty* with a unique responsibility to act in the interests of their students. The BYUI professor who ‘whispered’ this to my mom (before she had even named names) was indicating that it was common knowledge among faculty in the know (i.e. in the whisper network) that this man (who, again, at that point was still a professor at BYUI, though he retired soon thereafter)–and several other faculty members!–had a pattern of sexually harassing young female students. The more I think about it, the more this fills me with indignation and horror. Did the administration know and let this man (and the others, if there were indeed others) keep his job? And good Lord, even if the administration didn’t know, how can those faculty members who did know live with themselves for not doing more to bring those evil deeds to light and protect students?

    But maybe this is all in the past? The offending professor retired over a decade ago. Presumably the other offenders have also retired, since they were also, according to the whispers, ‘older faculty.’ Is there a need to dredge this up now, even though those men presumably are not in close proximity to students anymore? Is there value in calling an institution and a culture to task for actions taken or not taken in the past? I tend to think there is, but the lack of immediacy of it makes the cost-benefit calculus of pushing on this that much harder to compute. I worry (my mom worries) it would primarily be interpreted as an attack on the Church or BYUI as an institution, rather than an attempt to protect vulnerable students. So thus far, we’ve remained silent (except for my comments here). But I don’t feel settled about it; I feel sick and angry and anguished about it.

  74. kinda not anonymous (banned) says:

    I didn’t read every post…but just want to note that one can take one’s name, phone #, and address out of LDS tools if one wants to.

  75. Just want to add another instance of a bishop going to RS in a YSA ward to warn them about someone. Not my ward, but I know because my dad was the bishop who did it. But from hearing him talk about it, it seemed like previous bishops this guy had had weren’t necessarily concerned.

  76. Carolyn, thanks so much for writing this. I get so much strength from hearing the stories of other women. After the Bishop scandal, I wrote a very radical blog post calling for women of all Mormon backgrounds to join together in a huge #MormonMeToo movement to start naming names. I was planning on collecting them for several months and then maybe taking out a ginormous ad in the Trib where I’d publish them. A radical move, maybe, but I’m starting to wonder if anything will change unless we put some serious fear into the predators around us. Keep on fighting the good fight!

  77. *I neglected to add that I haven’t published it. Yet.

  78. 20ish years ago, I was asked by my Bishop to keep an eye on a fellow YSA guy and his interactions with female YSA. It seemed a bit strange and gossipy at the time. I did feedback information, but I tried to be a neutral and concise as possible. In light of recent #metoo events, I now feel that I should have been more forthcoming, the Bishop would have had to have confirmed things anyway. I just didn’t want to be a gossip. The problem was that in my home, Thumper’s mantra of not speaking bad things about anyone had seriously affected my ability to speak up.

    I was one of those shy guys and was resentful and annoyed towards those men who seemed to me to just be sweeping girls off their feet. Little did I know in many of these cases, predatory behavior was taking place. As well as being good looking, I just used to think that the guy was “cool” or something like that and that was the reason he was always with females.

    I feel bad now that I just wasn’t aware about everything that was going on. I still don’t full know the best way of saying “that guy is a perv” without it coming across as sour grapes or jealousy when it comes to a new move-in who I just don’t have that good of a relationship with.

    I came to the conclusion back then that the girl would always find out that the predatory guy wasn’t going to work for her. Which she always did. But surely it would be better if she didn’t have to learn by sad experience.

    Naming names is such a difficult thing to do. I have seen people speak up and be crushed by the wave of criticism from others and in the end would have preferred to wallow in their shame/pity rather than raise their voice again. Just look what happened when the lady involved in the Joseph Bishop case spoke up initially. And to be honest, if I hadn’t heard the recording and seen all the other evidence, her whole story sounds far-fetched to say the least. After so many years of pain, she is finally at the point where people are starting to believe her… at last. Something has to change… “Big Time” as Donald Trump would say.

  79. richellejolene says:

    Thank you for raising this important topic, Carolyn. I was immediately reminded of two (among many) stories, both of which highlight the importance of training bishops to respond appropriately to reports and changing the culture around the “boys’ club” of male leadership and EQ.

    In my freshman YSA ward at BYU, there was a woman on my floor who was relentlessly harassed and body-shamed by the Elders Quorum. On one occasion, they literally threw apple cores and other half-eaten food at her on a bus ride to Temple Square. Understandably, she didn’t want to come to church anymore. A group of women, including me, my roommate, and a few other women on our floor, had a meeting with the bishop where we told him about this behavior and demanded that he have a serious talking-to with the EQ. He brushed us off, acting like he had just met with us to humor us and told us that we needed to invite the sister back to church. I was furious. We did invite her back to church and she reluctantly joined, only to have to hear a Sacrament meeting talk from the bishop about “choosing not to be offended” (this was shortly after Elder Bednar had delivered this message in GC for the first time) that was clearly directed at her/us. Of the group of women who were involved with meeting with that bishop, I believe I’m the only one who hasn’t left the Church altogether in the intervening years. I say this not because I’m particularly interested in membership retention but to show that there are real casualties to the body of Christ when women are abused and not-listened-to over and over again, whether in the role of victim or witness.

    In the second example, I was the Relief Society president in a YSA ward during my master’s program. We received information from at least two women that a young man in the ward had taken them out several times and then physically abused them; one of the women had bruises that she publicly said were from volleyball but that several of us knew were from the abuser. Again, we told the bishopric and actually asked that this man be disfellowshipped or something that would keep him away from the survivors he had traumatized. We were promised that he was receiving private counsel about this, as though it were an addiction recovery and we all needed to stay out of it. We were even denied the simple request that he not attend the same Sunday school as we did. Not only was he invited to keep attending, but he made some really macho/inappropriate comments during a lesson on dating and courtship and was treated like a jokester or comedian. I tried to refute the comments publicly but was brushed off as an indignant feminist.

    Bishops and other male leaders have GOT to stop protecting these guys. Full stop.

  80. The culture in the Church, at least in the Mormon corridor where I grew up, did not provide many good models of acceptable courtship for young men. The running joke at one single’s ward was that the EQ lesson on alternating weeks was “Get married or you’ll go to hell” and “Don’t have sex before getting married or you’ll go to hell.” Not much there in the way of useful modeling or explication. This lack of appropriate models has at least one unfortunate consequence: It breeds cluelessness and incompetence about what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior. As a somewhat socially awkward male I found all interactions with women jarring and I’m sure I stepped over some lines unwittingly at times because I felt very off balance the whole time. Nothing prepared me for developing a romantic relationship. I would watch other men interact with women and perhaps to my naive eyes the predatory behavior sometimes looked “successful.” After all, would BB’s story have turned out differently if the men had been more attractive? I don’t know, but to a 25 year old me who felt extremely uncomfortable asking a woman out, it would have sounded plausible.
    I should have not been clueless and clumsy, but I don’t know how I couldn’t have been.

  81. Kristine says:

    The problem is not just “awkwardness” or “clumsiness.” There are clumsy, awkward non-Mormon guys who are respectful even in their awkwardness. The problem is that Mormon boys are socialized to believe that women are either ethereal spiritual beings to be worshiped because they will one day (presumably immaculately) become mothers, or they are potential conquests and sex objects. There is no context at church in which a Mormon boy sees men interacting with women as human beings with full and equal dignity and authority.

    Ultimately, creating a culture where women’s full humanity is valued, where their voices are authoritative, is the only way to make sure that men are not predatory except when there is a pathology involved, and women know how to protect themselves in those rare instances.

  82. The problem also is not “not . . . many good models of acceptable courtship for young men”. The -base- model is treating women as human beings, as Christ did. When men/boys aren’t even getting up to this standard, honestly asking, “how would I feel if someone bigger and stronger than I was came up and did this to me?”, we’ve a bigger problem than just “awkwardness”. (Though if that’s your thing, learn how to do it consensually, the internet is a wonder.)

    I’ve been awkward and clumsy. I still have a hard time figuring out how to relate to other people. It may be hard to consider someone else’s feelings, but that’s the goal of any relationship, -not- self-fulfillment.

  83. Kristine says:

    I think Yeah had it right, just that, as Frank points out, “not . . . many good models of acceptable courtship for young men” is symptomatic of a larger problem. The whole notion of “courtship” is pretty problematic, once you start thinking of women as full human beings.

  84. Carolyn says:

    @Kristine: It was such a huge mental shift to me, on my second round of singlehood, when I realized I didn’t need to play games to attempt to coyly manipulate Mormon men while I waited for them to choose me.

    If I liked a guy or wanted to get to know a guy better, as either a friend or romantic interest, I started walking up to him and literally saying “Hey, we should get lunch.” Any guy who couldn’t handle that or felt emasculated by that was not worth my time.

  85. I can’t say amen enough to Carolyn’s comment. Weird mind-games, infantile dating activities, etc, are no way to build a healthy relationship of any kind. I can’t speak for conditions church-wide, but when I was at BYU in the early 2000s, that kind of nonsense was rampant. It’s pretty messed up that there actually exist men who think it’s weird for a woman to just ask him to have lunch with her, romantically or otherwise.

  86. Thanks for sharing such an important post and conversation, Carolyn. One thing STH said way upthread struck me:

    “I wish that when I’d been a YSA, that a woman or two or five had helped me learn to recognize which of my peers were predators, because I’m sure there were some, but I never noticed them. I didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t even know I should be looking. It never even crossed my mind that the guy sitting next to me during the EQ lesson about “respecting women” might not understand that respect includes something like “don’t touch her breasts unless she tells you you can”.”

    She wasn’t even sure that she should be looking out. This is only a first step, but maybe bishops in singles’ wards (in all wards) should explicitly talk about predatory men just as a general idea, just to bring the topic up to remind everyone that being at church won’t necessarily make them safe. I know this would be no help for many of the stories shared in the post and on the thread–someone being actively harassed/threatened hardly needs to be told that such things are possible–but for someone in STH’s situation, not even knowing it’s a possibility, it might be helpful.

    Of course I realize it would be far better to actually teach men to respect women’s boundaries, but as Kristine points out immediately above (“Mormon boys are socialized to believe that women are either ethereal spiritual beings to be worshiped because they will one day (presumably immaculately) become mothers, or they are potential conquests and sex objects”), that would require a massive change in church culture, top to bottom.

    One other minor change that might be a bit helpful, on the issue LT raised about having your contact information be immediately available to the whole ward, is that the Church could program the ward directory on so you could have more fine-grained control over who can see your contact information. Maybe you could set it so only women can see it, or you could select people one-by-one and say yes/no. Kind of like a Facebook friends list that you can post to. Anyway, it seems like this would be quite straightforward for them to do, but I realize that the question of whether the powers that be would consider such a thing is entirely separate.

  87. The $64,000 Answer says:

    I drop by this site infrequently, and comment even less frequently. When I do, it’s almost always on topics like this, concerning which I have a fair amount of experiential and academic knowledge. On each occasion, I cannot help but be struck by the extent to which Mormon discourse on questions of sexual misconduct, sexual offending and sexual violence in religious environments proceeds almost as it were within a vacuum, as if nobody involved (i) were aware of the — by now, depressingly long — history of the engagement of other denominations, both Christian and non-Christian, with the same problem; (ii) could discern any patterns emerging from that history; or (iii) regarded those patterns as being relevant to the LDS Church.

    I do, however, recommend at least a superficial level of engagement with what has been going on over the past couple of decades with the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Australia, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Haredi (Orthodox Jewish) Community of Brooklyn, NY and, latterly, the Southern Baptist Convention, to mention only a few. Those like Carolyn, who possess legal qualifications, will also learn many things worth knowing from a study of the relevant case law.

    Change is indeed coming for Mormonism, in precisely the way as it has come — and will continue to come — for all those other confessions. Those who have been exposed to predators by their spiritual leaders do not have very much longer to wait.

  88. This is giving me such flashbacks to my singles ward. A recent convert from another ward started coming to our meetings and activities and made many people very uncomfortable. He stalked one woman to the point where she took out a restraining order against him. I remember quite clearly a dinner at which he described in excruciating detail sexual offenses and the accompanying penalties (at least, that’s what he was still doing when I walked out). I also remember quite clearly an incident when he grabbed me by the arm and wouldn’t let go. When we asked if he could be sent back to his own ward, the stake president said that as a baptized member of the church, this man could attend any ward he wanted. The missionaries were upset with us for not being more welcoming to a new convert. Ultimately, I’m happy to say, our bishop came into RS and told us that while he couldn’t override the stake president he had told this fellow not to attend any activities unless he had been specifically invited by one of the women in the ward, and that he wasn’t allowed to initiate a conversation with any of the women in the ward, and that if he ever bothered anybody again that person should feel free to do whatever was necessary – even standing up in sacrament meeting and yelling, “Get away from me!” – to make the action stop. About two thirds of the women in the room knew who he was talking about; you’d better believe we named that name, and provided a physical description for the benefit of the others.

    It was an ugly situation that could and should have been handled better.

  89. anon anon says:

    I’m struck by how insensitive the average man is, not just Mormon men, but men in general. They do see women as sexual objects and potential conquests and while that socialization is driven through society and definitely for Mormons, the Church (pedestal rather than pornography in our case but the two achieve the same unfortunate outcome), this so often starts in the family.

    Why do I say that? Because the foundation is generally built in the home for good or for ill. Fathers who are domineering and protective of their daughters without taking time to listen and build the confidence in these young women. Fathers who are abusive to daughters or sons.
    Parents who encourage a young woman that her greatest value is to just get married and have kids. That this is something that happens to her not something she should actively consider as one part of her extended person that she wants to become. Parents who tell a young woman that she should not be assertive about what she wants in her dating life. Parents whose only conversation about sex with their son amounts to explaining why pornography is wrong because it leads to men sleeping with their secretary – or something along those lines – I’m still confused about that conversation decades later. Parents who are more concerned that a son or daughter are home before curfew than helping teach them what healthy dating entails.

    Because my perspective on women came from the observations and conversations I had with my two older sisters. I watched how they interacted with boys and how they were treated. I had two very different examples with one a very flirtatious young woman who dated up a storm and the other thoughtful and independent who had many of guy friends. I learned from them coming home and declaring to me, “you will not do this” OR “you will do this” when you’re interacting with a girl. I learned from guys showing up at our doorstep and me having to break it to them that there wasn’t going to be a next time. I learned from helping protect one sister from a would be harasser and being the “chaperone” at times when it was clear my parents didn’t trust intentions of a young man who expressed significant interest. I cannot express how grateful I am for my sisters’ mentoring because otherwise I probably would have been completely lost as a young man when it came to women.

    This honed my own instincts and taught me to listen to women. I can’t say it made me perfect – the still forming adolescent mind encourages a young man to do many stupid things – but it did help me become that guy friend in whom many girls / women confided. It made me more cognizant of how I treated women and to watch out for the women around me as they interacted with other guys. That said, the allure of the charming bad boy meant even after warning some friends sometimes I had to be there to help pick up the pieces after she was hurting from the disaster.

    My point is, let’s start in the home. Absolutely there are responsibilities that the leadership in Church have as YM/YW leaders (we’ve tried several different approaches within our Stake and sometimes even the best intentions go awry), as Bishops and RS Presidents, as leaders in YSA Wards. We have to protect the vulnerable. But more importantly, we need to teach the children, the adolescents and give them a realistic outlook on what healthy dating looks like. Especially in an era where dating is disappearing. We are in the midst of one massive social experiment and very much the kids are making up the rules as they go along because they are at the forefront of the technology that is influencing it. We need to socialize them with the mentality that consent matters and ministering includes being mindful of the relationships around you in your circle of friends and acquaintances.

    We need to teach young women to realize that just because he has a temple recommend doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Just because he attends Church with you doesn’t mean he always has the best intentions. I recall a time at university when at the end of an evening of Mountain Dew and many hands of Hearts at my apartment with a group of guy friends and girl friends, one young woman had fallen asleep on our couch. She was clearly exhausted and as others were preparing to leave, my roommates and I suggested that we just leave her to sleep it off and she could drive home in the morning. Another friend, a real straight arrow who was in the ROTC, shook his head and said, “No, we need to make sure she gets home tonight and is safe.” At the time I was offended by the implications of his statement. We were all temple recommend holding, honor code abiding (except perhaps not so much if we were willing to allow a young woman sleep over on our couch), RMs. But later I realized that I should be grateful that he was looking out for her and stepped up to watch out for her in a vulnerable moment. It became a lesson to me.

    As parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, we need to teach young men and young women that speaking up and speaking out is a necessary part of being a good citizen and a good member. Should you name names? That depends on your personal circumstances in my mind and I try to let the Spirit guide my actions there. But as we encounter them, we should definitely confront the predators collectively and do everything in our power, especially as men, to be aware of them and to protect others from them.

  90. jaxjensen says:

    “There is no context at church in which a Mormon boy sees men interacting with women as human beings with full and equal dignity and authority.” This isn’t accurate. I, with no calling, routinely talk to women at church, activities, etc. Therefore at least the YM in my ward have that context where they see a man interacting with women with full dignity and equal authority. I’m sure I can’t be the only one in my ward, let alone in any ward, that would make this statement true. This is true in a context for ward leadership/Bishoprics, but not the general membership. There are lots of us who treat women as humans.

    “It was an ugly situation that could and should have been handled better.” Maybe it was ugly, but if nobody was assaulted by this guy after this event then I’m not sure you can say it was anything other than successful. Perhaps there was a “better” way of doing it, but you could with equal suppose that anything less frank might not have been enough and would have left women feeling unprepared (or unauthorized??) to openly reject his advances.

  91. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I found this post very interesting. I have described myself in other posts as a bit of a teenage obedience wierdo, and that extended into my YSA years, but a lot of maturing did occur. I want to share this post with my teenage daughter, but also fear that sharing it with her may increase her inclination already shown to want to look dating a non-member in the hope of conversion rather than find the best of LDS male peers for relationship potential. Her view is tempered by living in a small ward and being the only member in her grade of high school. I have talked to her about assault in general, particularly when the Stanford campus crime involving Brock Turner came out in the news. I think I can share this with her and balance it with the positive relationships that I have seen blossom out of institute and YSA wards.

    The information in this post is outside of my “inner-circle” experience. My YSA roommates were strong ethically and goal-oriented and dated not super-frequently and primarily waited until they met someone that they thought was someone that they would possibly marry. I did see a number of women that I knew from Institute that were drawn to men that had better skills at talking to women than I did, and I had questions about the judgment exercised as they were not men I would have considered to be kind to others. I saw women date men who were a bit mentally off, but they thought that it was important to marry rather than wait indefinitely, and I worried for them. I remember one instance of a woman/neighbor who dated someone who was also her home teacher and when she broke it off, he didn’t want to let go and a mutual male friend intervened in her behalf with the EQ president to get him reassigned and further send the message that she wasn’t interested. I can’t say that I was “in the know” of any of the type whisper networks described beyond that.

    I remember being tricked by a girl at a YSA dance who told, I found out later, her planned ride that he didn’t need him to give her a ride home and she was going to find a ride home from me and then came to me telling me that she didn’t have a ride home. I was not enthused because I had work obligations and did not want to be out late during the extra time, but I thought there was a genuine need for help, so I agreed to take her. She lived a long freeway ride away from the dance and it was about 45 minutes to get her there. When I pulled up, she said she wanted to give me a ‘little kiss’ for the act of giving her a ride home. I suddenly felt grossed out as I am not one that kissed on the first date, nor did I have any interest in kissing or being kissed by her. When I didn’t respond, she got out of my pickup and went in, and I drove home. This is the closest I can say I had to a situation where I had assumed one thing and felt like I had been tricked. It obviously does not compare in any degree to the egregious tricks described in the OP, but in a very tiny measure–without any personal fear of safety being the issue–I can relate to the reaction to the deceit, manipulation, and revulsion.

  92. Kristine says:

    jaxjensen–no adult woman has the same authority as a priesthood-holding man in our church. Ever. Fortunately, boys see men modeling respectful behavior, and even occasionally deferring to a woman who is in charge (as in Primary), but they also see who conducts the meetings, who performs the ordinances, who extends callings. They know who has actual authority. (In fact, I’d argue that what they see is *less* egalitarian than reality, because they don’t see councils in action, where women sometimes have a voice in the decision-making process. What they see is that men are in charge.)

  93. jaxjensen says:

    “but they also see who conducts the meetings, who performs the ordinances, who extends callings” yes… those are all men in leadership positions, but not all men do those. I’m not saying that ALL interactions are equal authoritatively, but there aren’t “none” either. The interactions for the those of us who don’t provide SOME contexts when men and women are equal (and even the unequal ones can be dignified). It isn’t the church events when it happens. It is the conversations about family vacations, the neighborhood BBQ when we play kickball together, Christmas party, and other such events that would happen even without the church in our lives. I’m not disagreeing that there isn’t a power imbalance, just that saying there is “NO context” completely discounts the interactions that many of us do have, even if they aren’t in an official capacity.

    I know there isn’t a format that really encourages those interactions, and perhaps is designed to discourage them actually. But I still I think there are far more unofficial ones than there are interactions when Priesthood is used/present/is relevant.

  94. Kristine says:

    Because Priesthood is gendered, it is *always* present in mixed-gender interactions at church, even when it isn’t used or relevant. At a deep, sub-conscious level, what Mormon boys and girls learn is that men are always in charge. That conditioning doesn’t go away when you realize that some men aren’t ever going to be the bishop, or that in limited situations, women are sometimes in charge (unless and until their decision is overruled by a man). We condition boys to believe that women are nice and helpful, but don’t have authority.

    Imagine working in a company where only women are vice-presidents or in the C-Suite. Do you really think you would be unaware of gender in an interaction with a woman who was nominally your peer?

  95. K. Brown says:

    When I was in a RS President in a singles ward I had the bishop flat out tell one of the men had issues with predatory behavior and none of the women, including me, was to go on a date with him. He told me if I heard anything about one of the girls dating him or hanging with him I was to tell him immediately. Luckily he was one of the bishops that took issues like this seriously. Later, when a different guy raised concerns, he also made sure that was investigated fully.
    Another time a man came to church that wasn’t LDS and said very disturbing things to me and my fiancé about wanting to date Mormon girls because they were virgins and kept themselves clean unlike other women. He then pursued one of the Sunday School teachers. We told the bishop immediately, I can’t remember what was said, but I remember thinking I wish it had been taken more seriously.

  96. Anonymous says:

    This isn’t just a Mormon problem. I heard recently on a news show 10% of men have predatory tendencies and that the best way to eliminate them is for other men to call them on it. We do need men and women to work together on this problem.

    I was only the target of someone I considered a predator once. He reacted violently to me turning him down in front of at least a dozen ward members during an activity. I couldn’t understand how people could want to be around him after that, but I guess I was labeled “rude”.

  97. jaxjensen says:

    “At a deep, sub-conscious level, what Mormon boys and girls learn is that men are always in charge. That conditioning doesn’t go away when you realize that some men aren’t ever going to be the bishop” This means that there is no way for any man to interact “with women as human beings with full and equal dignity and authority.” In your opinion, there is no way for any man to act so kindly, with enough respect, or with enough deference as to provide a context for a young man to say “that is how a woman should be treated? That’s is the only conclusion that could be drawn from this, isn’t it? You’re saying that there is no context for YM to see an appropriate interaction between men and women because there is no possible way for men to treat women as human-beings, to treat them with dignity, etc. because women know men have the priesthood.

    Further, you are not simply saying that it is impossible for men to act well enough, but that it doesn’t really matter HOW they act, no matter how respectful or dignified, because it is all caused by the conditioned perceptions of the girls. YM don’t have good contexts because YW are conditioned poorly, and the YM are actually witnessing women being subservient despite the man’s best actions/efforts/intents? Is that it?

    But non-members don’t have this problem apparently? Non-member men and women having a respectful conversation is a good thing for YM to see and emulate? But member men and women having one isn’t a good context? Is that your assertion?

    What if a non-member male neighbor and I are talking at the same time with a woman from our neighborhood at the ward Christmas party, we both treat her equally well, with equal respect, with equal lack of priesthood relevance, is his interaction a good example for YM while mine is not? Of course not. We’re both providing good context to anyone watching. You are just simply wrong here.

  98. Anonymous says:

    “Because Priesthood is gendered, it is *always* present in mixed-gender interactions at church, even when it isn’t used or relevant. At a deep, sub-conscious level, what Mormon boys and girls learn is that men are always in charge. That conditioning doesn’t go away when you realize that some men aren’t ever going to be the bishop, or that in limited situations, women are sometimes in charge (unless and until their decision is overruled by a man). We condition boys to believe that women are nice and helpful, but don’t have authority.”

    Six months ago we had a man come to our bi-ward Relief Society Activity. He then bossed the women around and told them he was going to take the extra food, discuss what he thought was good/bad about the activity with the bishop, etc.. I was the only member of the RS presidency there and tried to get him to stop and he wouldn’t. A woman from the other ward handled him better (more complimentary) than I did and so was more compliant with her. He told me flat out, “well, you don’t have keys so you aren’t important”. When I expressed my frustration with this guy to the RS President, she already knew he was this way and didn’t have any hope for him.

  99. Kristine says:

    “You are just simply wrong here.”

    Well, thanks for clearing it up for me.

  100. Rexicorn says:

    A big piece that exacerbates the problem in Mormonism (and other similar cultures) is that men and women tend to be *very* socially segregated from each other.

    It starts at babyhood, when little boys are discouraged from pretending to be girls (a developmentally-appropriate form of play that our culture in general is weird about) or doing/liking “girly” things. Little girls get some of this conditioning too, but it’s especially strong in boys. Then, as they get older, their church-sponsored activities are gender-segregated starting at about 8-10. That gets more pronounced as they get older and start going through puberty and get more training about gender roles. (The new youth manuals are better, but when I was in Young Women every single lesson was geared toward marriage/motherhood starting at 12.)

    Then, in YSA wards, everyone is encouraged to date. Some people even pull up talks from General Authorities about how they need to stop “hanging out” with members of the opposite sex and *only* go on dates, explicitly discouraging platonic relationships. In family wards, members are strongly discouraged from hanging out one-on-one with members of the opposite sex, especially if you’re both married to other people. If you’re a man, your wife should be the only woman you have a personal relationship with outside your family. The handbook reinforces this, discouraging men and women from serving together, giving each other rides to and from places, or otherwise spending time alone.

    So what you end up with is this massive empathy gap. And when you couple that with a broader culture that tends to downplay women’s perspectives, and a church culture that gives men institutional/presiding power, you get a situation where abusers can really thrive. Men have the power, but have no experience with the female perspective (and have in fact received a repeated message that women are only important in the context of sex). Women can form whisper networks among themselves, but don’t have the kind of trusting relationships that allow them to pass that information to the men who are better able to do something about it.

    (And that’s all leaving aside the extra damage all this does to people who aren’t heterosexual.)

  101. jaxjenson,
    Although Kristine is more than capable of clearly explaining herself (and, I believe, has actually done so here), I think you are engaging in eisegesis. Kristine never said it was impossible for men and women in the church to engage in, to use her terms, conversations wherein women are treated “as human beings with full and equal dignity and authority,” just that these conversations are never to rarely formally modelled in church, which you seem to acknowledge by placing your examples in informal conversations (discussions of family events, holidays, and so forth). But you seem to be failing to see that the relative importance of formal vs. informal interaction in the church still privileges the male perspective. And, often enough in church settings, it is the man who decides if a given conversation is going to be more or less formal, because they are looked to as an authority figure. When I was a young married, I was in the apartment when the ward Relief Society presidency came to visit my wife for the first time in that ward. At the end of their discussion, in which I hadn’t participated, they asked me to ask someone to offer the prayer. While it is possible that this was a particularly empowered Relief Society presidency who felt like bringing everyone in the household into conversations normally gendered female in that culture, it seemed much more likely that the formality of the parting prayer required someone with nominal authority to participate. I mean, sure, if I wasn’t there, they probably would have asked my wife to ask someone, but I was, so they had to acknowledge my priesthood authority by roping me in. And I was as informal there as could be (I think I was making myself a sandwich at the time).

    All this is just a way of saying, It’s complicated and Kristine ain’t wrong either.

  102. Rexicorn says:

    John C, I was taught that a priesthood holder should always call on people for prayers. There must have been some formal instruction on the matter, because I remember sometime in my early teens my mom stopped sitting at the head of the table and started always deferring to my father to call on people for family prayer. She said it was important to reinforce that he presided as the priesthood holder. None of that was in line with how my parents usually modeled their relationship (and my dad didn’t seem altogether comfortable with it), so I assumed church authority must have told her it was important.

    I wonder, also, how the way we treat statements and media from men vs women plays into this. In broader US culture, there’s a perception that everyone can relate to a male protagonist, while only women care about a female protagonist. That’s more pronounced in patriarchal churches like Mormonism, where women are usually seen as only speaking to other women while men can declare doctrine for both men and women.

  103. Rexicorn says:

    To expand, the male-dominant viewpoint can encourage men to see themselves as entitled to what they want or to at least see women’s desires as irrelevant (or even non-existent — there are a shocking number of men who genuinely believe that women don’t know what they want). That makes it harder for men to recognize abusive/creepy behavior when they see it.

  104. My first thought reading this post was that I didn’t recognize the behavior from my experience in YSA wards. Reading the comments little pieces started coming back to me – being warned not to get too friendly with the Summer Sales guys, and my YSA RS president firmly advising the EQ president about certain home teaching arrangements, and the time my roommate blocked a guy from trying to leave a party with me, and the guy I warned our bishop about was using the ward directory to target people including girls who rejected him and slashing their tires. In that last case we begged him to get this guy off of the ward directory and block his access – years later that finally happened and a restraining order was put on him by the church, but in that time there were numerous additional victims.

    And then – I have sat in maybe a dozen very awkward “how to date” and “what guys like” lessons (in church!) and do not once remember discussion of consent, safe behavior, or warning signs.

  105. Yes, actually. There is no way for any Mormon man and woman to ever interact from a position of actual equality. It really doesn’t matter how nice and respectful you are, because none of that changes the structural context. You can be nice and respectful to somebody who is systematically subordinate to you, absolutely. You SHOULD be nice and respectful to people who are structurally subordinate to you. But you’re deluding yourself if you think that’s the same as equality.

  106. Carolyn says:

    @Marian I cannot say “amen” enough to your comment.

  107. Also – I’d be very curious to hear more from the perspective of women of color on this issue. I agree with a lot of commenters that the weird power dynamic between men and women fuels this behavior. I think that dynamic is even more screwed up with regards to people of color given the history of (and persisting) racism in the church.

  108. Kristine says:

    “That’s more pronounced in patriarchal churches like Mormonism, where women are usually seen as only speaking to other women while men can declare doctrine for both men and women.”

    And a man can huffily proclaim to a woman that she is “just simply wrong” about her experience of gender in the Church. :)

    Also, what JY said.

  109. jaxjensen says:

    John C, I fully acknowledged in my posts that there is a gendered power imbalance and that interactions involving leadership personnel would be hard pressed not to have it affect the “context” of the interaction.

    But there are plenty of “contexts” where male members of the church treat females “as human beings with full and equal dignity and authority.” I know that not ALL interactions this way. But it is untrue that there are “no contexts” to provide YM with good examples.

    She said there are “no” such scenarios. And that priesthood is “always” an issue. She keeps emphasizing the absolutes… so it is true when you say she didn’t say it was “impossible,” since she didn’t use THAT word, but since she claims her statement is ALWAYS true, and there are NO exceptions, then is it wrong for me to characterize her statements as saying she things exceptions are IMPOSSIBLE?

    I have witnessed bad interactions. I have probably had a role in bad interactions. I’ve heard stories of bad interactions. But…I have witnessed good interactions. I’ve had good interactions. I’ve heard of good interactions. Saying there are NO contexts that are good for YM to learn from is false; patently untrue. And it might be my opinion, but I think those interactions are more numerous than those that are not.

  110. jaxjensen says:

    John C. Do you think there are NO contexts in which a YM might see a good interaction between men and women of the church?

  111. Kristine says:

    “Kristine never said it was impossible for men and women in the church to engage in, to use her terms, conversations wherein women are treated “as human beings with full and equal dignity and authority,””

    John, I actually did say something very like this, and I believe it. The authority structure of the Church makes such conversations impossible. Individual men may (and do, in my experience) treat women with respect and dignity. But they cannot view her as equal in authority, because she isn’t. The structure teaches, more deeply than any words, that women are subordinate. Individual chauvinism may or may not coexist with that structural inequity–jaxjenson is protesting that not all Mormon men are chauvinists, a point on which I agree with him. I think few Mormon men (fewer every year) harbor personal sexist animus. But my point is that they don’t have to individually be chauvinists to be conditioned toward sexist attitudes by a pre-conscious structure they inhabit all the time.

  112. Kristine says:

    jaxjenson–I didn’t say not a “good” interaction. I said an interaction in which a woman has equal authority. They see lots of “good” interactions, hopefully.

  113. jaxjensen says:

    “And a man can huffily proclaim to a woman that she is “just simply wrong” about her experience of gender in the Church.” You didn’t make a statement about YOUR experience. You made a universal statement. I’d have said absolutely nothing if you had said “I’ve never seen a context where a man treats a woman as a human being… ”

    I made no statement regarding your experience, but instead offered my own experiences as refutation of your blanket statement. Don’t mischaracterize what you’ve said, or what I have. It’s intellectually dishonest.

  114. Rexicorn says:

    jaxjensen, I think you’re moving the goalposts here. Kristine says that there’s no situation in the church in which men and women are equal in authority. You seem to take that to mean that men are never nice to women, which is an entirely different thing. The point that I and some other commenters are making is that that question of authority is key to understanding why predatory behavior is both common in the church and extra difficult for women to address.

    I’ve known plenty of Mormon men who are kind and respectful to women. I’m a mouthy broad myself, and have bossed plenty of Mormon men around throughout my life. But at the end of the day, I do not have the institutional authority that any Mormon man does. When I take that authority from a Mormon man (for example, by calling on people for prayers in my own home instead of letting a man do it), there’s a good argument to be made that I’m acting outside my religious framework. And that fact overshadows every interaction that happens in the church. It’s also grasped quite early by children raised in the church. I remember noticing it in Primary, as well as understanding that my efforts to contradict it were a form of rebellion.

  115. Kristine says:

    jaxjenson–see above. I’m not accusing you, or any other individual Mormon man, of treating women badly (although clearly some do, which is why we’re having this conversation). I am suggesting that a culture in which one group of people is always subordinate to another group is likely a contributing factor when members of the dominant group abuse the subordinate one. Is that abstract enough?

  116. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine… can I offer another example? What about interactions between newly converted men and women? When neither has been conditioned to the animus you see? A newly baptized woman talking to a newly baptized man, no matter the topic of conversation, would also be a context where they are interacting favorably, yes? I’m not sure you’ve adequately explained (to me at least) why this hypothetical new member interaction could be fine, but an identical one between long time members would not be. Or the scenario with the conversation between me, my non-member neighbor, and a member woman. When priesthood has no bearing on the interaction (Say they are discussing the NBA finals games) why would that mixed-gender interaction between platonic friends NOT qualify as a good context for a YM to see how a man should interact with a woman?

  117. Rexicorn says:

    To loop back to The $64,000 Question’s comment however far back, these issues aren’t unique to Mormonism. They’re common is every patriarchal (sub-)culture, and they get more pronounced the more explicit you are about male authority. I wish we could engage with some of the existing research and problem-solving out there instead of declaring Mormonism so peculiar that it needs its own unique framework and solutions. For example, jaxjensen, if you looked into some of the writing out there about systemic and structural sexism, you might have a better idea of what Kristine is getting at.

  118. Kristine says:

    I didn’t say there aren’t contexts where a YM can see good interactions modeled. Any and all of your hypothetical scenarios (and any of dozens every week at church) are opportunities for young men to see respectful conversations between a man and a woman.

    (btw, I specifically said that there is NOT personal animus in most interactions I observe between Mormon men and women. It’s possible that I use language more precisely than you’re used to–I’m nerdy that way, so read carefully.)

  119. jaxjensen says:

    Rexicorn… it wasn’t a statement only about authority. It was about dignity, and being treated as a human being. Those were the first descriptions she used. Authority was among the list. Personally I always treat women as if they have equal authority to me. Because they do. I have none. Zero. Zilch. And I treat them like they have the same. In fact at my daughter’s recent baptism I treated the Primary President as if she had more authority, because she did. I fully deferred to her, as did my wife and family. I readily acknowledge she seemed slightly surprised by it (because of the “conditioning” I suppose), but it was a context in which my sons witnessed an interaction between me as a man and her as a woman where she was treated as a human, with dignity, and at least equal authority.

  120. Kristine, I always enjoy your comments and contributions here. I feel challenged by your comments in this post, particularly as a relatively new bishop. And I guess my concern is that we not deem the church without hope because of its handbook-mandated structure. I know the structure can/does create the dynamic you describe. Though I am hopeful that, even within that structure, we can achieve positive gender dynamic results. A discussion of how to find that balance would be beneficial to me, one who is active in the structure but powerless, outside of advocacy (that I support), to change it.

    Progress within the structure involves men and women working together in councils and presidencies and families and classes and activities to minister and build each other up as equals. Recognizing the power and authority of all (see, e.g., Sister Nelson this last Sunday). I think it can be done. I have seen it done. But it takes effort and attention lest we regress back to old habits. And, at least for now, the effort is largely local.

  121. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine, My bad on the animus comment. It is there sometimes though (see Anonymous post at 12:07). Sometimes men have animus toward women. I can’t possibly deny that.

    Don’t my examples give contexts in which boys can view interactions where men treat women with dignity, as humans, and with equal authority (None – she can talk about the NBA as well as he can!)

  122. I missed a lot of the further back and forth before I posted . . .

  123. Kristine,
    That sounds about right. I bow to your superior insight. :)

    I’m really curious about why you are grasping at these straws. Kristine is basically saying that dudes raised in the church have a hard time treating women as equals, because they have a tendency to privilege their own opinions or experiences, hard to the point of possible impossibility (at least without a lot of therapy). All men in America have this same problem (as America is pretty dang patriarchal, even without patriarchal religions). None of this is particularly new or interesting. Why are you fighting so hard to say that you are some exception?

  124. Kristine says:

    sw, I don’t think it’s without hope at all. I just think we need to start by being honest about the situation we find ourselves in. Most discussion of these problems is cloaked in benevolent sexism or in Mormon men’s (understandable) defensiveness when the word “sexist” gets thrown around. I think that’s why it’s so important to be clear about what the structure teaches boys–naming it gets us well on the way to helping them not be taken in by it.

    I oughtta write something myself instead of hijacking Carolyn’s comment thread.

  125. No matter how many times a woman says she’s talking about the impossibility of equal *authority,* or the inescapable reality of structures of subordination that color every interaction between members of a patriarchal subculture, jaxjensen will continue to argue about how it’s possible for men to be *nice* to women. Because the patriarch teaches that “Men should be nice to women” is somehow equivalent to “women should have equal access to authority and should not be structurally subordinated,” and men who like that system just fine are very invested in not seeing the distinction.

    The admission that only newly covered men and women who haven’t been acculturated into the church could possibly interact as equals is particularly telling.

    And I’d like to echo everybody who pointed out that none of this is unique, or even particularly strange. Mormon feminists tend to reinvent the wheel over and over simply because Mormon culture is so insular. We aren’t the only patriarchal subculture with systematic sexism and abuse problems.

  126. Kristine says:

    ” but it was a context in which my sons witnessed an interaction between me as a man and her as a woman where she was treated as a human, with dignity, and at least equal authority.”

    Which authority she enjoyed ONLY because you (and the bishop) gave it to her. That is not the same as her actually having it. She doesn’t, and no amount of pretend deference will grant it to her. Women are always going to be the Assistant Manager. it’s good if you’re nice to Assistant Managers, and appreciate their work. But they (and you, your protests notwithstanding) still know they’re never going to make Manager.

    Still, I’m glad you handled it that way. May your tribe increase.

  127. jaxjensen says:

    John C. Again, she didn’t say they “have a hard time”… That would imply that they can if they try hard. Her comment made it a structural/organizational impossibility. I made my initial comment almost off-handedly to say that the absolute isn’t correct, but wholly acknowledge that there are absolutely cases where interactions are missing ‘humanity’ or ‘dignity’. I was trying to agree with her main idea (that some interactions are poor) but point out that I don’t think they ALL are. Why is that a problem?

    Curiously, why don’t you ask her why she is trying so hard to defend her statement of the absolute?

  128. Sure, it’s possible, with a lot of conscious effort, to model treating women with dignity and recognizing their authority (at least authority over other women or over children). The problem Kristine is describing is that the default is that women don’t have authority over men, and so unfortunately are often treated by default as having no authority that men are bound to respect. It’s not that it’s absolutely impossible for a man in the church to treat a woman in the church with equal dignity and authority; it’s that the default is structurally not to.

  129. Kristine, fair enough. And perhaps another thread would be worthwhile. As simplistic as it may seem, I would be interested in seeing/reading examples of things that work within the existing structure to engender healthy relationships between genders in the church. From cradle to grave. I know a lot of it is situational, but there have to be actions that can be taken within the current church structure to move the needle closer to “healthy.”

  130. jaxjensen says:

    She had the authority regardless of me “giving it to her.” My acknowledgment of it, or lack thereof, doesn’t diminish her authority. She has ACTUAL authority as the Primary Pres. She actually has it. There was no “pretend deference” but REAL deference to her REAL authority. Compared to the Bishop, maybe she is an Assistant Manager, but in relation the general employee (me) the Assistant Manager has more authority.

    Regardless, it is still an example of my son witnessing me treating her with equal authority.

  131. Kristine says:

    “Curiously, why don’t you ask her why she is trying so hard to defend her statement of the absolute?”

    Because John knows me better than you do :)

  132. jaxjensen says:

    “Because John knows me better than you do :)” Fair enough

  133. Rexicorn says:

    It’s crucial to acknowledge that patriarchal structure will always work against gender equality. If you can’t accept that, then you won’t work against it effectively.

    I would argue that gender equality is *impossible* under a patriarchal structure and therefore the structure has to be changed if you actually want equality. But if you don’t want to go that far, then you at least have to acknowledge that you’re essentially walking the wrong way on a slow-moving treadmill.

    Sorry if this is too far off the original topic.

  134. I should amend my last sentence:

    It’s not that it’s absolutely impossible for a man in the church to treat a woman in the church as though she has equal dignity and authority; it’s that even if men treat her as though she has equal dignity and authority, as a structural default she doesn’t.

    (Note: Of course women have equal inherent dignity to men and the church’s doctrine teaches this, I think. We’re not talking about inherent dignity and worth, we’re talking about ecclesiology.)

  135. Kristine,
    FWIW, I think you’re absolutely right that the way men interact with women in the Church from top to bottom is problematic and sends a poor message. My argument, however narrow, is that even if that overall interaction were better off, the process of pairing up romantically would still be riddled with not only predatory behavior, but blindness to that behavior as a direct result of the lack of appropriate narratives and models. Forget kissing on the first date, I was raised with stories of proposing on the first date (and it worked out!) and men having to “convince” a women they were meant to be together. (Not to mention the scriptural models-e.g., Ishmael and his daughters, the whole polygamy thing, and horrible modern stories. Can a population of men raised on “Johnny Lingo” and “EFY” not be bad at recognizing predatory behavior and calling it out?) Your experiences are saddening and maddening, and your predicament sensible, and while a whisper network sounds like a necessary defense mechanism, Mormon men don’t change based on whispers. The level of conditioning we’ve undergone often requires explicit slap-in-the-face direction to overcome. It’s wrong and it’s unfair, but if you want things to change you have to be willing to name names.

  136. jax,
    I defer to Kristine because I know that she has thought a lot about this, written about this, argued about this, and dealt directly with this in one form or another more than I have. Also she’s better at writing than me. She’s a smartie.

    And I’ve had my eyes sufficiently opened to believe that the church really does teach that women have less worth than men. I don’t think the gospel should do that and I think the church has the means to attempt genuine reform, which is why I think of myself as in rather than as out. But I agree with Kristine that we need to start from an understanding of where we actually are in order to make progress. And, honestly, that will only happen when we, the privileged, start listening to the underprivileged. Not that you aren’t doing this, but what you and I do, tremendous beings that we are, doesn’t really make much of a dent in the church as a whole. Think of this as being like bishopric roulette: maybe the leadership in your ward is exceptional, maybe it isn’t, but you have to treat them as an authority either way (or move out of the ward, I suppose). So maybe you and I can magically set aside the entire complex of gender and religious ideas that inform Mormon malehood long enough to have a conversation about something with a woman where we give her equal footing, but that doesn’t mean the complex doesn’t exist or that it won’t influence us in other conversations.

  137. jaxjensen says:

    “It’s not that it’s absolutely impossible for a man in the church to treat a woman in the church as though she has equal dignity and authority; it’s that even if men treat her as though she has equal dignity and authority, as a structural default she doesn’t.”

    JKC, The post is about how men TREAT women, and how women can/ought to respond. And specifically has morphed into the idea that the problem is that there is not context for YM to see how it ought to be done properly.

    I fully understand that when someone asks for a blessing, a man might have authority while a woman does not. But when talking about the school play our kids were in together, there is no authority to be had by anyone, they are equal. That when someone is asking about “Who is in charge?” it is going to be a man that is pointed out. But when asking, “Who is the best composer ever?” his authority is no greater than hers. There is a power imbalance. I get that. I’ve stated it. It is clearly understood. But there are interactions when priesthood is irrelevant – totally and completely worthless and disregarded – and those interactions happen far more often than the others I believe. And those interactions provide many, countless contexts in which the YM of the church can see their fathers/brothers/leaders interacting with women on equal footing, with equal authority, treating them respectfully, and being comfortable with NOT having any authority over them. Structurally she doesn’t have as much authority, but most or our interactions are outside of the “structure” where it matters, so lets stop treating them like it does!

    Honestly, we should be shouting out to the rooftops that rarely do men have any authority over women at all. That IMO is what would help alleviate the problem of abuse in the church. Stop repeating that men always have more authority than women. Do the opposite. Start helping girls hear more often that guys DON”T have more authority. Help boys see, hear, and understand, that they don’t get to claim the priesthood gives them the last say (it doesn’t and it shouldn’t! Sec 121). Boys opinions isn’t more important, they don’t get to make all the decisions, they have to take orders sometimes too. Help both of them see how truly equal they SHOULD be thinking of each other. I would to God that all girls would honestly say and believe, “the YM are no better than I am.” It’s true, so start telling them that… don’t tell them “the boys will always have authority over you.” and don’t tell the boys, “You’ll always ‘outrank’ the girls.” What a terrible message for the both boys and girls alike to hear! If we want to get rid of the “conditioning” that they are inferior to boys, stop telling them they are.

    **Tangent: I have the same problems with schools teaching subservience to kids. A specific example is I hate teaching kids they need to ask for permission to use the restroom. I’ve told each of my kids that you raise your hand and ask, but if they say, “NO”, and you really need to go, just go and I’ll deal with the school. Just because you are young doesn’t mean you should ask another human for permission to relieve yourself. You’re a human, with dignity and rights. Act like it, demand others treat you as such, and treat others the same way too.

  138. jaxjensen says:

    ” Mormon men don’t change based on whispers. ” Yes. Shout it out!

  139. Kristine says:

    Well said, Yeah. Thanks..

  140. Some things to consider. The church’s doctrine ( or default if not doctrine) is that the man is the head of the house. LDS culture has added that the women turn the head. This is not equality.

  141. Before the majority of men treat women as equals, equality and how to act needs to be taught as well as modeled.

  142. Women also need to be taught how to assert themselves and that they they have the right to say NO. Men also need to taught that women have the right to say NO. I think that dating culture needs to change. Ask your date if it is OK to hold their hand, put their arm over their shoulder or kiss them good night. Just trying to do these things sneakily should be a thing of the past.

  143. Back to the original theme of this post…I’ll “name” a name. (Rather, I’ll give enough detail that if another woman who was in the DC YSA scene in the late 90s/early 2000s reads this she’ll know exactly who I’m taking about but the man, if he reads this, will have plausible deniability if he was a) really that clueless or b) has changed his ways. I’m pretty sure others had similar experiences with him.)

    There was an older (think 50s?) man from South America who attended institute (but rarely Sunday meetings) and who was supposedly meeting with the missionaries off and on. He hung around for a couple of years and I think it wasn’t until the YSA wards kicked out the over 30s that he started to fade away.

    At any rate, I would chat with him from time to time as I had been conditioned to be welcoming to visitors and for a while I just considered him kind of strange and quirky and rather harmless. (And for the record at no point did I ever feel physically threatened in any way.) He had what I considered genuine gospel questions and some concerns that he hadn’t resolved and I tried to help him work through those things, always during discussions on the margins of activities at church.

    I don’t recall the timing exactly but he started trying to ask me out, I gently turned him down, (several times), then he would call and chat and express his interest, and I would try to be nice and turn him down, then he started writing me letters, and it got worse where he wouldn’t leave me alone or take a hint. Finally one night after an activity he followed my roommate and me out to the parking lot and probably tried to ask me out again. I was super annoyed and finally told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t interested, to stop asking me out, “don’t write me, don’t call me, just leave me alone. I’m not interested now or ever.” I think I made quite the scene in the parking lot. I felt kind of bad, especially when I didn’t see him much after that (maybe it coincided with the age restriction enforcement), but now, nearly two decades later with a lot more experience behind me and reading this post and comments, I have no guilt for finally telling the guy to take a friggin hike.

  144. Charactus says:

    “The structure teaches, more deeply than any words, that women are subordinate.”

    Ah the tryanny of hierarchal structures. It alters everything including the minds of those who buy into it’s world view. Similar to many ideological philosphies, the viewpoint you’ve adopted itself is tyrannical, and it is making all your other thoughts, and reasons, and experiences subordinate to it.

    I do not suggest there is no point to your comment. But it’s 5% of reality, which you have approximated for the whole – because your ideological structure has now made the church subordinate to it.

    Surely this will be seen as judgemental, dismissive, or maybe just sophistry. But it’s clear that in accepting your view of reality in the church, you’re asking me to make my view, and that of most traditional Latter-day Saints subordinate to your own structure!

    In a friendly conversation, I think teasing out these concepts for the sake of discussion is perfectly understandable. It helps to put on the various lenses the critical theorists give us, but only if we then spend even more time taking those lenses off and putting on the ones given by God through scripture, prophets, and the holy ghost. But we really with that statement in it’s own about subordinate relationships, we seem to be crossing over into advocacy, and “my way is the only Right Way” territory.

    Which ironically is just as fundemenalist and intolerant as the postmodernists claim to be against!

    When you deconstruct the church using the tools of postmodernists, you don’t have any legs to stand on, because you’re just substituting one potentially tyrannical authority structure for another tryanrical authority structure; that perversely claims it has lacks any authority hierarchy, while simultaneously seeking to subjugate everything under it’s own ideology.

  145. Kristine says:

    Charactus–you really, *really* don’t want to get me started on postmodern epistemologies. And you especially don’t want to do it by condescending to me and critiquing what you think my spirituality is like.

  146. Ok, now I want a Kristine post on postmodern epistemologies.

  147. Jack of Hearts says:

    ^Yes please!

  148. Kristine says:

    Haha :)

    This gets at some of the questions, albeit quite obliquely:

    (It might also be worth saying that one has to do some pretty intricate gymnastics to suppose that I am a fan of postmodern approaches, or deploy them unwittingly–I know my way around a lit. crit. seminar :))

  149. Pam Curtis says:

    When I was in the singles Stake at the U of U, Ted Bundy was in one of the wards and dating the women. I know several that went out with him! How would you feel after he got arrested? They were in shock! He didn’t hurt any of those girls, though! But who knows who may have been his next victim! He had many after that when he escaped from prison!

  150. Thanks for writing this. I remember getting frustrated over how wishy-washy girls were in some situations. It was very appreciated when a girl was frank and straightforward. I hope I never came off as someone who would respond violently, but I have no idea if the girl feared it to be a possibility. That could explain some of what I experienced in navigating the relationship waters. I’ll have to factor that in when thinking about my single years.

  151. Kristine is being absolute because church doctrine is unequivocal in declaring that only men are ordained to the priesthood. There are absolutely no exceptions to that teaching. It doesn’t get much more absolute than that.

    Charactus sounds overwhelmingly like a Jordan Peterson enthusiast, which is likely to mean that his comprehension of genuine postmodern epistemology has been received through a glass darkly, from someone who egregiously misinterprets Derrida, borrows from while denouncing Foucault, and shows a gravely limited understanding of Nietzsche. If I’m correct about the source of Charactus’s ideas, it also means that he has been exposed to ideas such as: ‘ “Healthy” women want men who “outclass” them in intelligence, dominance and status.’ If that’s the case, I am quite frankly less inclined to take his ideas on hierarchy between men and women seriously.

  152. 1. I want more from Kristine. (But I could just print that up and sticker every conversation. And I have an idea for a foil, different than discussed here, if you ever want to take it up, Kristine.)

    2. Thinking back to my dating days (that’s a looong way back) I spent some time with a young woman who was Jewish. Not just historically or generic culturally Jewish, but a well recognized member of the distinctive on-campus Jewish community. I put my arm behind her in the movie theater and she shrugged me off. She later explained that it wasn’t personal or inappropriate in terms of where our relationship stood, but she was aware that her male friends were watching and that they had different standards about what they would allow from a goyim than from a member of their group. The memory makes me wonder if we (Mormon men) do the same. Watch our “brothers” with a sense of allowance and trust, but watch outsiders with suspicion? There are obvious corollaries and consequences, if true.

  153. Kristine says:

    Thanks KLN. I have deliberately avoided reading enough of Jordan Peterson’s work to recognize the particular source, but egregiously misinterpreting Derrida, borrowing from while denouncing Foucault, and showing a gravely limited understanding of Nietzsche is a well-honored tradition in certain circles… (that was a great sentence, btw :))

  154. jaxjensen, did you actually read my comment? I said that this fellow’s behavior was such that one woman had to take out a restraining order against him. I said that my personal experience with him involved highly inappropriate conversation, and an incident where he grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. And the stake president said it was okay. And the missionaries said we should be more welcoming. Our sole recourse for a number of weeks was each other. And you say this was successful handling of the situation?

  155. MDearest says:

    I’ve been reading this OP and comments without commenting myself, because so many contributions are so on point, and for whatever reasons it seems that the worst troll-ish behavior has been left at the door, (lest one be categorized with those described in the OP/comments?) and thus could the conversation happen without going off the rails.

    In the middle of the night, I was goaded off my hands in response to Charactus because he lectured us about changing lenses, and seeing things through the lens of the gospel and etc. I wrote a sentence or two about my permanent, unchangeable, female lens and a word of thanks to Carolyn, Kristine, et al for helping me refine that lens. Then thank heaven, I fell asleep before tapping the final tap. And my sleepy impulse was fulfilled by Kristine and KLN, with a concise and perfectly informed deconstruction of that noise.

    And so the conversation is back on the rails, and someday when our Mother in Heaven is visible in heaven, and women are visible in their place of authority, we will have better tools to address the pathology of sexual predation in our mortal world. In the meantime, it will be messy, so please give your attention to Kristine, and Carolyn. There is a reason why the rest of us do.

  156. MDearest says:

    Also, for those of you who still feel defensive about gossiping women harming awkward young and not-so-young horndogs, Pam Curtis’ recent comment upthread mentioning Ted Bundy hits the bullseye. My experience and many others is that the ugliest behavior almost always stays hidden away, until there’s a hospital or a dead body involved. The frailty of the gossip network system is that no one gossips about their own life-shattering experience.

  157. pconnornc says:

    KLN – I believe church policy is unequivocal that only men are ordained to priesthood offices. I believe church doctrine is that all are able to exercise priesthood power. If we’re going to try to navigate through the cultural inequities that people are describing and close them, I think we will be benefitted by articulating things more correctly.

  158. pconnorc: Your statement differs from my own by exactly one word, and not a particularly meaningful one unless you can give an example of any woman being ordained without an office being specified. I used intentionally specific wording to avoid exactly this kind of rhetorical debate. My statement is entirely correct. Yours is an addition rather than a correction.

  159. I was pointed to this post from a Facebook group this morning on the subject of creepy guys in church. The general council was to tell the bishop. What?

    I do not understand this. Sure, go tell a bishop or anyone who will listen. But the first thing that should happen is YOU speaking up about things that bother YOU.

    If someone made me uncomfortable, the FIRST time I would politely say, “That makes me uncomfortable. Please do not (speak to me, touch me, sit next to me…) like that.” (This is because people ARE different and the person might not realize they are crossing a boundary.)

    The SECOND time I would be very firm and loud and say, “I have asked you to STOP doing that. Stop NOW.”

    The THIRD time I would scream bloody murder. If it was my child, there would be only the last two steps, with me watching like a vulture in between.

    I have done all those things without a second thought. I’m not “victim blaming”—I place blame on each person only for their own actions—but your responses are confusing to me, even though I sympathize with you.

    If you were uncomfortable about PDA being given to you, why were you with him for four more hours in a public space? Why didn’t you leave, or scream, or immediately tell the rest of your group you did not want to be alone with him or near him? If you were worried that firmly rejecting the guy would result in violence or something else really bad, why did you agree to let him drive you to the airport? When the jazz concert guy was cuddling against your will, why didn’t you stand up and say, “Stop touching me!” or just leave? Why did you go to the home of someone you didn’t know?

    Again, NO, I’m not blaming you for what the men did. I’m trying to figure out why an obviously intelligent adult would do things that, to me, seem dangerous or nonsensical. What was the thinking, mindset, understanding, etc., that would lead to those responses?

  160. Wondering says:

    We’re happy that you have such well-developed skills of self-preservation, but not all women do, Alison, and yes, that is victim blaming.

  161. Oh dear, ‘I’m not “victim blaming”’ (with scare quotes), but why did/didn’t you X? (essentially victim blaming).

    As an abuse survivor, I dearly hope you can learn that victim blaming is real and that many of us -could not-, because of how we simply are, do what you say you would have done, and also that in many cases we had done those things and had our objections dismissed as “it wasn’t really anything”.

    I personally don’t understand why someone would want to exemplify the problem described in the post, but I’m aware of how little I understand.

  162. I will add that I was in a situation in which I employed many of the strategies Alison describes and was assaulted anyway. It is wishful (and wholly incorrect) thinking to imagine that unambiguous statements of boundaries are a panacea for predatory behavior. I’d rather we talked about cutting down predatory behavior at the source, given that solutions designed to protect victims are often based in inaccurate understandings of the circumstances and psychology of sexual misconduct.

  163. Rexicorn says:

    It’s easy to underestimate how hard it is for women, especially younger women and girls, to strongly assert themselves. Especially if they’re saying no. One of the things I hate about “no means no” rhetoric is that there are no social situations that I can think of where a hard no is considered polite. I mean, think about it. Your neighbor invites you over to dinner and you don’t want to go? You don’t just say a flat “No” unless you really want to burn that bridge and deal with some collateral damage on top of it. Because “no” is rude. You make excuses, do something indirect, you give a “soft no.” But then for some reason when it comes to dating, one of the most fraught and vulnerable social situations we have, women are supposed to flip a switch and be direct? It doesn’t make sense.

    So yes, there is work to be done in teaching women to communicate directly and clearly. But to say that without looking at the way that’s typically received is just naive. Women are generally socialized to do a lot of emotional, face-saving work in every social situation. They’re expected to be aware of the feelings of everyone involved, and give consideration to all of them. In the Church this can be even more pronounced, the most obvious example being modesty rhetoric that makes women responsible for the way men respond to them. So most women are essentially trained to blame themselves first, to look at what they’re doing wrong to create the situation, and to get around to saying a clear “no” only as a last resort (and one they’ve likely never practiced).

    So yes, teach women and girls to say no and name names. But teach men and boys to accept that gracefully as well. Because there’s so much social conditioning telling girls to be compliant and “polite” in all circumstances, that it really only takes one case of backlash for most of them to decide that they’re better off dropping hints and hoping for the best.

  164. pconnornc says:

    KLN – if you are saying that the difference between “policy” and “doctrine” is “not particularly meaningful” then that may be at the root of some of your frustration. Many LDS thought the same and put themselves through embarrassing gyrations trying to understand/justify the priesthood ban as doctrine, and not policy. I believe there is significant difference between the two. This isn’t a new phenomenon as Peter and prophets of old wrestled w/ the same problem – people that conflated the two. I believe the difference is significant, which makes it much more than a rhetorical discussion.

  165. We’re all familiar with the Fight or Flight danger responses. It has been updated to Fight, Flight, Freeze or Appease. So the victim’s natural response might be to Appease instead of Flight. I’ve read some informative articles around it which would have titles along the lines of “Why did I make my rapist breakfast?”

  166. Rexicorn says:

    pconnornc, I’m not KLN but I would say in this case there’s little functional difference between a doctrine and a policy. Sure, a policy implies that it might change in the future, but in practice, at the current time, women have no access to leadership roles or authority over men in the church. Does that help?

    jader3rd, another helpful one is the “When Women Refuse” tumblr. In addition to social backlash for rejecting someone, there can be genuine physical risk. Sometimes appeasing is the safest option.

  167. You presume that I’m frustrated about the state of affairs regarding men’s ordination, and are incorrect. I am, however, irked at your suggestion that I should “articulate things more correctly” when my statement was correct. It is yours that is incorrect, if you see a distinction between doctrine and policy regarding male ordination. The official doctrine of the church is contained in the standard works, including the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and all proclamations and Official Declarations (see: The Doctrine and Covenants clearly states that priesthood passes from father to son, using only male pronouns and only referencing the sons (not the daughters) of Aaron ( The delineation of the priesthood as being male only in our standard works makes it a doctrinal principle by definition. You are incorrect to consider it a policy.

  168. Now, it may be relevant to say that I don’t believe in the doctrine of the church, and so feel fairly content to say that I think male ordination is a useless, patriarchal, and overwhelmingly negative idea that causes genuine harm. I simply happen to simultaneously think that one cannot argue that there is ambiguity in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding whether women can be ordained to the priesthood without practicing truly Olympic mental gymnastics.

  169. Carolyn says:


    Part of it is that I was young and not trained in assertiveness and conditioned to expect that men would push boundaries and literally never instructed on consent. I certainly had never been told how to or trained on when to make a scene.

    But more importantly, when you’re in a situation like this, your number one goal is to get away without escalating. Screaming or making a scene is escalation. Screaming or making a scene is what makes it MORE likely the man will escalate in turn and get violent.

    So for the four hours in the park in London? The guy started light — half-hugs, grabbing my hand, things that are just flirtatiously innocent enough that even if I pulled away it looked like tentative preliminary flirtatious banter to the bystanders — and they left. Then I was alone with a guy pulling me into garden corners and trying to escalate and kiss me. Ok, now what? I don’t want to make and am conditioned to not make a scene, even if in retrospect I wish I had. I tried various tactics of getting away — like trying to announce I was going in the opposite direction of him — but he followed me. He followed me into a store when I tried that. He followed me into a restaurant when I tried that. I didn’t want to lead him to my house, the one place I knew I could get away, because then he would know where I lived, and he was exuding stalker vibes.

    And with the DC guy, let’s lock down the timeline. We started off as casual friends. We ran into each other at church and in the neighborhood and on the metro. It’s a guy I’m regularly interacting with. He asks me on a date and it goes badly. He asks me on a second date and I gently rebuff him. I thought we were back in “friend” territory — so long as we didn’t go on another date and I was clear I didn’t want to be touched we’d be fine. Somewhere in the next couple of weeks of interactions he offers a ride to the airport. Then he tried to kiss me on the train. That happened so fast and I’m up against the window — what was I going to do? Scream at him on the train? No, my goal is just to get off as fast as possible. I actually did try to replace him with my roommate as a ride at that point, but she was unavailable. I was poor, this was pre-Uber, I’m in a new city, I’m going to a far away airport not accessible by public transportation, I needed to get back for an important event for one my best friends — I felt stuck and like I couldn’t call off his offer and besides how bad could one ride be? And if I called it off, I have to deal with him at church and in the neighborhood in perpetuity — is he going to retaliate to a firmer rejection? Then he screams at me and slams a door in person. Now I KNOW he’s volatile and violent, confirming my worst fears.

    I certainly hope I’ve learned better resolution skills in the years since. I was fairly direct then and I’m even more direct now. But I also have gained more life experience with even more violent and dangerous situations than those described in this post. When you are at a serious, credible risk of violent harm, a perfectly natural response (and my standard response) is to calmly and gently appease the person just enough to get away. Once you’re away and safe, THEN the way stronger walls of self-protection can go up. But if you’ve already tried a gentle and a firm “no” and been outright ignored? You know they don’t respect you. Escalating your rejection is only going to escalate their display of disrespect.

  170. Carolyn says:

    And let me add one tl;dr addendum.

    The all too possible reality is that the only reason I got out of all three of these situations “safely” is BECAUSE I calmly appeased the men, rather than staging a scene.

  171. Angela C says:

    KLN: “Covenants clearly states that priesthood passes from father to son, using only male pronouns and only referencing the sons (not the daughters) of Aaron” Ah, the sticky wicket women have to deal with when trying to decide which of all these male pronouns in scripture are excluding women by design or include them under the umbrella of humanity. Women don’t even merit an afterthought in most scripture (Nephi’s unnamed wife comes to mind), so just exactly how are women supposed to (or men for that matter) figure out which exclusion is intentional and which is not? “Men are that they might have joy” excludes women. Does that mean that our lives shouldn’t experience joy as part of the plan? Is our joy accidental?

    I’ve been ruminating on this post for several days now, thinking about the way pathologies present in our Mormon community, taking on the vernacular and cultural norms of Mormon people. There are creeps inside and outside of the church, but Mormon culture and dogma feeds the creep within well.

  172. pconnornc says:

    Rexicorn – let me temper my response by clarifying what I am NOT saying… I am not saying that women are organizational/functional co-equals to men in the current hierarchy. I am also not saying that women should feel that way. But…

    You are speaking in absolutes when you say “women have no access to leadership roles or authority over men”. With total sincerity I think we should recognize that the largest organization in a ward, with the most staffing, the most classes, the most areas to cover (Sunday, Youth Night, etc) is 100% led by women who have authority over men. I did not appreciate their breadth and leadership until a patient primary president helped me understand when I was supporting her as a bishopric member. I totally appreciate it now as a Primary teacher and happily follow their guidance.

    Again – calling that out is not to illustrate that “see, everything is equal!”, but rather to help us avoid absolutes. I don’t believe we can make progress unless we acknowledge both where things have value and where people feel things are lacking.

  173. A gentle reminder that there is no woman with enough authority in her ward to set and approve her own budget. Women may be given responsibility but it is not autonomy and it can be called authority only in a very narrow sense.

  174. Angela – I appreciate the thoughtful response. I understand the argument and will not pretend to be a scriptural scholar. In context, the question of scriptural priesthood ordination as it applies to women doesn’t pass Occam’s razor scrutiny for me. I respect the disagreement on this subject when made in good faith, as yours clearly is.

    pconnorc: only men can be ordained. Whether that is an eternal doctrine or a changeable policy, it is absolute in that there are no known exceptions in this millennium. The spade is a spade. It doesn’t stop being a spade because you own trowels too. It’s an absolute. Another absolute: the member with the highest authority at every level is required to hold the priesthood. Talking about the work required by the Primary president informs that, but it without question does not negate it.

  175. Kristine says:

    “ith total sincerity I think we should recognize that the largest organization in a ward, with the most staffing, the most classes, the most areas to cover (Sunday, Youth Night, etc) is 100% led by women who have authority over men. I did not appreciate their breadth and leadership until a patient primary president helped me understand when I was supporting her as a bishopric member.”

    Oh for freaking hell’s sake. The Primary president can’t even call a teacher or her own counselors without the approval and assistance of the bishopric. I could tell you sooooo many stories of Primary presidents frustrated to tears by the impossibility of getting bishoprics to respond or see the significance of Primary at all. DON’T YOU DARE pretend that the Primary president has authority that matters in this context. You undermine your own argument by describing the way that the Primary President’s ability to do her job depended on YOU having an epiphany. If you hadn’t seen the light, she did not have the authority to take matters into her own hands. Every single calling a woman holds in the church is contingent on male benevolence in this way. It’s a huge part of the reason Mormon women are too nice to Mormon men. Their effectiveness depends on winning approval from men.

  176. Kristine says:

    Sorry, I know it’s obnoxious to quote myself, but this is on point.

  177. Yeah –
    Women also feel clueless and clumsy. We all need life experience and just general dating experience to develop dating skills. FWIW I was well into my forties when the experiences in the temple occurred. And the creepy men who hit on me were middle aged. Not kids at all. And by the way if they had been good looking it would not have made any difference whatsoever. Putting the moves on someone in the celestial room of the temple is just completely inappropriate. It’s just not OK. Not ever. It’s creepy.

    For LDS the celestial room is the most sacred space on earth. It’s not some pick up bar or a singles dance. Plus I was praying with my eyes closed. Each of these men interrupted my personal communion with the divine because they wanted to put the moves on me. That is not attractive behaviour.

  178. Chiming in on the utter irony of saying Primary Presidents have authority, after having served and observed the dynamics in a lot of different wards.

    Sometimes the Primary President gets to choose her counselors. Sometimes she doesn’t. Totally depends on the Bishop. Sometimes she gets approval for Activity Days to be held every week, so it’s a bit closer in parity to Cubs. Sometimes she doesn’t. Totally depends on the Bishop. (Experienced both of these firsthand.) And EVERY ward I’ve ever been in it’s a source of frustration that this largest organization is the last to have all its callings filled, and the first to lose reliable people to other organizations. Except typically this kind of frustration only gets expressed in an all-female presidency meeting, out of earshot of male leaders.

  179. Your post is excellent.

    My ex-husband is abusive. Here’s how the whisper network, the atonement and the bishop’s discernment worked for me. My ex-husband had had sex with a woman before he met me. She thought she was pregnant. He told her to get an abortion. She told the bishop. The bishop disciplined my ex and released him from his calling in the ESP. In hindsight, I remember his being released, but I was a marginalized member and wasn’t privy to the gossip.

    My ex and I started dating a few months later. Apparently he’d done the repentance process and the bishop had pronounced him clean. The only thing anyone ever told me about my ex was what a good guy he was.

    The reverse side of this. Before I met my ex, Before I moved into that ward, I had worked at a place where one employee had killed another. I moved to get away from all that. However, the whole incident had strengthened my testimony and had confirmed for me the importance of living the gospel. On the anniversary of that event, I bore testimony relating that story and how I was grateful for the atonement and the gospel. After my ex and I started dating, a kind sister in the whisper network, called my ex and tried to warn him away from me, because of that story I related fearing I might be emotionally unstable.

    I’ve also warned a woman away from a man she was dating. She told her boyfriend. He got angry. Afterwards, things were awkward between my friend and me.

    Like I said, your post is excellent. You have knowledge and skills in recognizing troubling behavior and what to do. I didn’t have that knowledge or those skills. I do now. They were hard won. Want to help those sisters? Teach those skills. Rather than relating information that could wind up damaging to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Or trusting someone who hasn’t earned it because of the atonement and the bishop lets him have a calling, teach those skills. Let those women know for themselves how to know and what to do. Let them take them into wards where you won’t be when they move and extend this knowledge beyond your immediate network.

  180. pconnornc says:

    Kristine – since I never went to Primary as a child, my epiphany came through exposure. I know that primary presidency’s leadership was quite functional with or without my growing. If nobody in a ward has authority unless they can extend/approve their own calls and set their own budgets – I guess there is only one person who has authority in a ward.

    We can take the approach of “everything is terrible” and start from there, or we can take the approach of “these are things that are good, let’s build upon them.”

    I don’t mean disrespect to anyone’s frustration – and tried to make clear that I was not making the case that “all is well.”

  181. Pconnorc , I feel as though you conflate “let’s be honest about the state of things” with “everything is terrible”. The person with the highest authority in every single unit of this church is a man. You seem desperate to talk about anything but that flat and uncompromising reality. Sure, you’re not saying that “all is well”, but you are awfully uncomfortable acknowledging true statements, wishing to qualify them or divert to something more positive. My friend, that is not builsing on the good, that is demanding everyone to acknowledge the bad on YOUR terms.

  182. pconnornc,
    That there are good men (like yourself) does nothing to invalidate the observation that the system is sexist. There is no guarantee that the person with authority is going to be a good man (like yourself). And, frankly, by now I’d have thought we’d have realized that #notallmen is a paltry balm.

    “I guess there is only one person who has authority in a ward”
    True, but that is dependent on how seriously a given couple takes the word preside in their relationship, isn’t it?

  183. Kristine says:

    “We can take the approach of “everything is terrible” and start from there, or we can take the approach of “these are things that are good, let’s build upon them.””

    We can do both. We can be unflinchingly honest about the reality of the situation, and unfailingly hopeful about the building of Zion. My argument is that we cannot build well on a foundation of optimism based on denial.

  184. Kristine says:

    To put it another way, God does not promise to save us as individuals in our sins, he promises to save us from our sins. We are clear that individual salvation from sin depends on a full and honest acknowledgment of the sin. Why should we suppose it would be different for God’s church than for his children?

  185. Thanks, John C. (And Marian, and Rexicorn, and Kristine, I’ve appreciated a lot of the comments on this post).

    I would like to add that “build on the positive” is not a universally valuable problem-solving strategy. If a team were meeting to discuss the fact that a broken traffic light was causing accidents at a well-traveled intersection in their municipality, cries of “I don’t understand why we are not discussing how perfectly the lane lines are functioning there,” would not be considered constructive. Similarly, no reasonable person would have time for solutions such as the following: “I think if we just repaint the exceptional lane lines, the problem will go away or at least improve. I don’t understand why we’re focusing so much negative energy on the broken traffic light,”

    Demolition (and therefore explicit and direct discussion of what is bad and therefore needs to go) is sometimes the best solution for a problem. Consider the possibility that it would be an effective treatment in the discussion at hand.

  186. “build on the positive” ???

    I have come to the belief that the LDS Church is so hierarchical and Priesthood-calling-patriarchal the only way forward is for men to step back. As a single example, if the bishop says “let’s talk about how women can be more involved and empowered” we’re back in the soup again. But if the bishop says “I’ll get out of the way. You figure it out.” then maybe we’ll make progress.

    Understand that “I’ll get out of the way” is counter-cultural for men–me and my friends, including those who are usually considered the best of us. And contrary to the Handbook. I don’t believe it will happen. I’m working on myself.

  187. I know it’s a tangent, but I agree with what Christian Kimball wrote above about men stepping back. Unfortunately, correlation created a bishop who is the CEO of the ward and structurally involved in everything that goes on in it. 50 years later we have good men who have been educated in a culture of bishop micromanagement who see righteous magnification of their calling expressed by their involvement in every detail of a ward. I think the only way forward is to decentralize, to remove the bishop from some of the duties seen as part of their calling.

    For example, as a bishopric we spend a huge amount of time calling, setting apart and then changing the AP and YW class presidencies. But unlike adult callings in say Primary, they don’t have potential conflicts of interest with other callings in the ward that might need a bishop’s oversight. I would like to see YM and YW adult presidents take control over this. They know their kids, they are directly involved in the classes and quorums, they could easily decide when to change presidencies, call them and even set them apart, YW included. The bishop and his counselors don’t need to be spending time with things that can be done by others. It simplifies their lives and simplifies the lives of the adult leaders who wouldn’t have to slog through management layers to get simple things accomplished. And it would allow both men and women to use their own judgement and exercise their own stewardship without the approval of the man in charge.

  188. Kristine says:

    Christian, I think that might be a good first step, but as soon as it’s possible to imagine a Relief Society Presidency meeting focused on how to include and encourage men, men should *totally* step forward again ;)

  189. Rexicorn says:

    Mary, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a good example of why whisper networks are woefully inadequate, even if they’re the best available option for the situation.

    For whatever reason, both my school (starting at around age 11) and my ward Young Women focused a lot of lessons on recognizing relational abuse and red flags. I’ve always been so, so grateful for that training, and that they started it before they thought we’d need it. It helped me both personally and as a later Relief Society President, where I could notice red flags early and try to intervene *before* someone went from Ward Creeper to Ward Abuser. I fully recognize that I was lucky in getting that, which is a shame. Training about consent and abuse should be mandatory, for both men and women. It’s not something you can learn too many times.

  190. jaxjensen says:

    “who see righteous magnification of their calling expressed by their involvement” I’m not disagreeing, but ideally the auxiliary Presidents could also see it as a righteous magnification by not relying on the Bishop as much. EQ, RS, YM, YW, SS, Prim… they could all use a good healthy ability to tell the bishop, “I’ve been set apart for this and have a right to the revelation needed. I’ll handle it.”

  191. “I’ve been set apart for this and have a right to the revelation needed. I’ll handle it.”
    Which would be great except that sometimes local bishops interpret such statements as challenges to their authority and, by extension, to the church’s. Sure #notallbishops, but enough that almost everyone I know has a story about a bishop who interfered in the Primary President’s selection of teachers and counselors. The system has to change; we shouldn’t have to require all participants (but especially women) to be particularly fearless, self-confident, self-sufficient, and willing to subject themselves and their loved ones to pain for principle in order to prevent abuse of priesthood.

  192. Rachael says:

    Allison Moore Smith, your comment really irked me, because not only is it victim blaming, it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how human beings, in fact, establish boundaries. One study by Kitzinger and Frith found that ‘soft refusals’, refusals that are indirect, that don’t contain the word ‘no’, are the norm in communication for both men and women and are widely employed in both sexual and non-sexual contexts. Moreover, the study showed that men are perfectly capable of understanding a soft refusal. Men who ignore soft refusals may also be capable of violently escalating should they receive a hard refusal, leading the study authors to conclude that, “The problem of sexual coercion cannot be fixed by changing the way women talk.”

    To quote further, “Drawing on the conversation analytic literature, and on our own data, we claim that both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals, including refusals which do not include the word ‘no’, and we suggest that male claims not to have ‘understood’ refusals which conform to culturally normative patterns can only be heard as self-interested justifications for coercive behavior.”

  193. KLC, I disagree with turning over youth callings to YM and YW leaders. The youth program is one of the bishop’s biggest priorities, and I believe that’s how it should be. The bishop should know each of the teenagers well, and if he is doing his job properly, will know when quorum and class leadership needs to change. Input from the YM and YW presidencies is important to fill in gaps, but he needs to have a handle on how each youth is doing. Why, in the context of this thread, is this important? Because this is where Mormon culture is teaching those teenagers how to interact with each other. The adult creepers are coming out of our youth programs. An involved bishop (with youth leaders) should be seeing which boys are treating the girls with respect, and more importantly, correcting the young men who aren’t.

  194. As for John C’s comment, I certainly agree with the idea that a bishop should not “interfere” with a president’s selection of counselors and teachers. And yes there can be overreach by bishoprics in that regard. In my experience, though, it’s not interference in the name of authority. It’s dissemination of information in the name of organizing callings in up to nine or ten (with the stake being just one) different organizations that, in many instances, would each like to have the same person in a calling. Better to have one point of contact to funnel that information than for auxiliary leads to simply have to guess every time. My experience is that most bishops are sympathetic to the needs of the each organization lead, wish that there was an infinite pool of qualified resources, and would be more than happy to “step away”

    But that’s on staffing needs. As for the form and function of a program, and its day to day substance, bishops should absolutely get out of the way outside of apostasy or gentle nudging to better. Else a bishop will go crazy in minutiae (which some, I am sure, do).

    And I agree with Mark’s comment. The makeup of the youth leadership, in the current structure, demands input from bishops.

  195. Thank you, Rexicorn. I, too, want to respond to Allison. There are so many things that go into this. Basically, fight or flight is a response that resides deep within the most primitive part of the brain and isn’t easily changed. It can be changed, but it isn’t easy.

    I have been in situations where I was being taken advantage of in an intimate manner, very similar to what was described in the OP. So much of it is simply not knowing what to do. I know that when it happened to me, my mind was racing, formulating an escape plan, so don’t mistake lack of action for anything approaching voluntary submission. You’re right, not everyone is the same. Not everyone is aware how they come across to others, but I’ve found that people who make it a practice to systematically, consistently, then aggressively violate the boundaries of another know exactly what they are doing, feel absolutely entitled and have no discernible remorse. I have not necessarily escalated, but I have not cooperated immediately or enthusiastically. I have even tried a mild push back and both the non-violent non-cooperation and the soft push back did lead to the perpetrator escalating the situation.

    When you are dealing with someone who is aggressive with this level of audacity, I would say that getting free in an un-escalated manner as possible is the safest scenario.

  196. Rachel Yarrington says:

    I have never left a comment. This will be my first because the complexity of the problem is one that I am actively researching and trying to untangle. Specifically, in the context of college sexual violence. The OP describes the complexities of the issue extremely well. Research shows that the most harmful, unhelpful, and destructive things we say to survivors speaking up about sexual violence/misconduct include:
    1) “Are you going to report it?” (What this question essentially does is place the responsibility on the survivor to keep future victims safe from the predator. The survivor is shouldered with guilt and asked to do the impossible- foresee and prevent future actions of the predator. In the end, asking this question accomplishes nothing, except to gratify your own selfish curiosity.)
    2) “You should….” (When you tell the survivor what they “should” do, you disempower them further. It also implies judgement on your end. One of my favorite sayings is that giving advise is a polite way of judging others.)
    3) Asking investigative questions- What happened? Where were you? What were you wearing?…)
    (Questions often can imply blame, and can easily lead to a victim-blaming mindset. There are professionals who are educated, trained, and skilled in investigating sexual allegation cases- you’re not. We cause harm and distress to survivors when we carelessly take the role of investigator.)
    My comment was purposefully written to emphasize what NOT to do. These DON’Ts cause harm to survivors. Often, unintentional harm. I believe we need to stop hiding behind the excuse of “unintentional”. We need to have the courage, individually and collectively, to honestly reflect on our biases and judgments before we can constructively resolve sexual predation of women. I believe the two most important things that we can DO to make positive change in the issue is BELIEVE and LISTEN to survivors of sexual violence. I am encouraged by many of the comments on here and that the discussion is being had.

  197. Rachel, that was excellent.

    Thank you

  198. Mark, thanks for replying. I agree with almost everything you said but I don’t think any of it is directly related to my suggestion. Bishops would still have semi-annual and annual interviews with youth, they would still be directly involved in their church activity and activities. But choosing quorum and YW presidencies is an administrative task that can easily be done by adult YM and YW presidents without any harm to the kids and with much less effort and time from all adults involved. The bishop is also the judge in Israel over tithing but we don’t ask him to do the administrative tasks of entering tithing each week, we have financial and ward clerks that do that. My suggestion seems analogous but reasonable people can differ.

    I hesitated before replying because this is a tangent to the important message of the OP but I decided to because I really think that the bishop as CEO approach can be detrimental. I think if more power were given to other ward leaders, not just implied power but power that is clearly visible through organizational changes, we would be taking a step towards changing the male/female power imbalances that our current organizational structure has created.

  199. KLC, I think I understand what you are saying about redistributing responsibility, so the model is one where both male and female leaders have real power in their spheres of influence. I was thinking of a bishop being more hands-on pastorally, and missed your point about administrative duties. The bishop can be the guy that says “you must treat your sisters with respect”, and reinforce that by giving both YM and YW leaders space to make organizational decisions.

  200. It’s not just singles wards. One week when my husband was a work, a man in my ward sat by me in Sunday school and proceeded to put his arm around me. At first I tried to slowly move away from him, I’m not sure why I didn’t move quickly away. Maybe because I didn’t want to embarrass him if he didn’t mean anything by it? It’s terrible that the world we are in has taught me to worry about the man who is behaving badly. I finally just got up and left class and did not return. I did everything I could to avoid him after that. My husband thought I was over reacting- once again, it’s sad that the world we live in is one where we should give creepy guys the benefit of the doubt.

    Another time I was home alone with my toddler when a mad in the ward texted me. We had both been walking our kids outside during stake conference a few weeks earlier, and it had been very cold. He asked me something along the lines if I had warmed up. I ignored the text as I did not know who it was. Several minutes later he told me who he was and starting texting me, under the pretense of lending my husband a book he needed. When he texted me asking what I was wearing right then, I ended the conversation by saying I had to go. Once again, I felt like I had to protect him from being embarrassed. It’s absurd. My husband did think that was totally inappropriate and never did get the book he needed. I also did my best to avoid him at all costs after that.

    These stories were from two different awards in different states. It happens everywhere.

  201. Michael says:

    I come to this long discussion late (having read about half of the comments) with perhaps a different and hopefully useful perspective. One I gained from about 15 years of camping monthly and interacting weekly with teenage boys in the context of a large non-LDS scout troop. Mostly by listening to their stories, and without directly imposing my unwelcome Mormon values on them, trying to bend their rowdy behavior more in the direction of being respectful of girls and women..

    First, it is close to impossible to make a list and to divide the male population into two groups, predators and nice guys. In fact, I will go so far as to suggest that judging from campfire stories about 90% of junior high boys are at least part-time predators. They can’t help not hurting the feelings of the girls their age. Not saying it is normal or making excuses. Simply an observation.

    Not saying it is the same with Mormon boys either, I think they probably fly below the radar being usually on shorter leashes. I think this creepy behavior is not far below a thin veneer of respectability and reformation for most men if they are honest with the worst of their pasts.I think that much of this creepy behavior is a sort of arrested development or regression.

    Next, is participation in the “party scene” that seems to emerge around age 15 or 16 years old. It is nothing less than training for predatory behavior, grooming boys to be the instigators and girls to be the victims, although in some instances the roles are reversed.. Both sexes go with the expectation of drinking alcohol, lowering inhibitions (makes everyone more physically attractive) and some degree of sexual activity. Consent is extremely murky in this combination of inexperience and intoxication. Rape is not too strong of a word for the worst of it. The degree of foolishness is astonishing. I think that Mormon youth culture tries to avoid these experiences but our youth do go outside the boundaries of church standards at times and are not unfamiliar with it.

    It takes time, even years for people to grow up, if ever at all. But most boys do become respectable men. I believe that for most men, except the very worst of the worst, there is much hope that they can and do reform and become mature sensitive responsible adults.Eventually.


    One might query why these creepers keep doing this? I did not notice one example above of where it actually works. I believe the reason they do is that in some cases it does work. Carolyn spent 4 miserable hours with her creepy “London boy” who got almost nothing. But some other girl spend 4 hours and got face-raped//fondled or worse for her effort or lack thereof. Even if it only works once in ten tries it is worth it to them and they will keep doing it.

    I think that men do need to crack down on the boys and especially on these man-boys. Tell them directly to stop it. What is and is not appropriate. Re-enforce boundaries and proper behavior. I have tricked my scouts into listening to one of my favorite of Dolly Parton’s songs- Lover de Jour while sitting (even dancing) around the campfire. Especially I like repeating the line, “i am not for your amusement.”

    I have now grown children of both genders who along with some of these scouts attended a large high school with 30% of students bused in from government housing projects. Constant police presence, drug dogs, fights, a few gun incidents. Only one murder of a white suburban kid (who knows how many blacks, maybe a dozen or two if you count the drop outs) but none during school. What do we fathers and mothers need to teach our daughters? This is a more difficult question.

    Perhaps it was not the best way, but I was of the opinion that life is a jungle and girls need to learn how to fight. As the usually weaker opponent, they have few advantages. First is the element of surprise since many guys expect girls to be passive, second is to run and run fast. Third is to never be far away from your posse; the posse sticks together and is ever mindful of possible dangerous situations. The cell phone increases the influence of the posse. The posse has two crews; the inner circle of other girls who can be witnesses and even temporary distractions, the outer circle of other trustworthy boys (often brothers) who can also be witnesses and in some cases physical protectors.

    I was blessed with a son who is about the best protector I could imagine. He is big and now as strong as college football player. He has long blond curly hair and now a red beard. He is smart and sensitive and gentle and kind. He is fearless but will never start a fight. Usually one look from him with a tilt of his head and a raised eyebrow makes other guy realize it is so not worth it. Rarely a growling “stop it” is needed. He was pesky at times, often just out of the inner circle, but not far.

    Without your posse, moving into new places is truly dangerous until you can form another one. A girl from Idaho moved into our ward (and school). She was nearly raped within a few weeks but was rescued by my daughter and her posse, who had brought her into their sisterhood quickly. No adult could have prevented it else they would have.


    I don’t like whispering and gossip. Whispering is weakness. A woman is entitled to an opinion. She can clearly and rationally state it. That guys gives me the creeps. That guy spent 4 hours trying to kiss and fondle me with everything but encouragement from me. If that is what you want, go for it. That man would have been horse-whipped in pioneer times, the way he acts.

    Definitely not for everyone, but there are many things you can say to the mild creepers that will turn them off. Why treat someone with any respect who is threatening you?

    -Instead of: I don’t kiss on the first date, try I don’t kiss guys until they buy me expensive presents. Pause. Would you like to take me shopping at Walmart’s? Then to the jewelry department? Creepers are usually cheapers and no younger guy wants a “sugar baby” girlfriend.
    -Guys who prey on women (most not all) tend to avoid those who know “too much” about guns or seem a bit obsessed with them. One girl in our ward carries a nice llttle pink Glock in her purse when not in school. Suggest a first date at the shooting range.
    -Mention calmly that you don’t like deer eating your flowers and since you can’t shoot a gun in the city, you have killed deer with your crossbow. (Subliminal message, I will kill you, my dear.)
    -Pick up your phone and talk to a friend (pretend or real) for about 5 or 10 minutes with no end in sight, This is a great turn off and the conversation can be entirely contrived, although a real one is much safer..
    -Tell the creeper that you have a cute but sort of wayward friend who has a crush on him. Offer to introduce him. Let me call her. Pretend conversation. She says yes, come over right now, alone. (Keep repeating it until he believes you). Here is her address (give a police station address)
    -Mention that your herpes is acting up. (This is not implausible among non-LDS girls; 60% of US college girls have it.) And it is crazy enough among Mormons that you can plausibly deny it later and make him seem like the pervert. If he says he has herpes too, then claim you have this new variant from Thailand called type 4b and it is really really a lot more painful and drug resistant.
    -Claim you have a sudden attack of tuberculosis contracted on your mission to Kenya and start coughing like crazy and “accidently” spitting on him. Then mumble anything about Ebola virus.
    -Barf. They say ~10% of LDS girls have anorexia /bulimia.Turning off a creeper is a better reason to voluntarily vomit than that.

    (I hope nobody wants me horsewhipped for some of those suggestions.)

  202. sothisisbliss says:

    Your dilemma is so real and personal. Thank you for sharing and for doing so in a thoughtful way. You are right to weigh all the feelings and consequences so carefully, but in the end, only you can know what is right for you. I know I’m late to your post, but I hope that with The Spirit as your guide, you will be at peace with whatever you decide.

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