Today’s guest post is from Colleen Payne Dietz. Her interview with Elizabeth Smart is here, and her interview with Natasha Helfer Parker is here.
I am a BYU alumnus, one of a heartbreaking number who experienced rape while attending BYU. My full experience is below, and I invite you to read it at your discretion. I continue to fight through the triggering emotional battle of staying vulnerable, because I cannot bear to think of others experiencing what I did. I was raped. That is not the direct fault of BYU, and I do not hold anyone responsible for my rape but my rapist. What I do wish was different for me, and countless others, is the way BYU handles reports of sexual assault. Yes, when BYU launches an Honor Code investigation upon a report of sexual assault, against the victim, this creates a rape culture. An environment where victims do not feel safe to report. And when victims are not reporting, sexual assaults will continue to occur, unchecked.
Today, a small group of BYU rape survivors and I continue to hold BYU accountable to their commitment made to uphold all the recommendations put forth in the Advisory Report. This takes an indescribable emotional toll on us. It is so painful to continue to be rejected, silenced, and put down by BYU and others in the community as we advocate for change. We often are triggered, burn out, and need support to keep us going. We turn to you, community members, to offer us that support to keep us going in our goal to make BYU a safer place for those that follow us.
Thank you for offering us that support, for believing our experiences. Thank you for mourning with us when we mourn, comforting us when we stand in need of it, and lifting up our feeble knees when we feel beaten down in our fight. We cannot do this without you.
My experience specifically involved my BYU on-campus ward bishop, and the power an ecclesiastical endorsement has on continuing an education at BYU. In the Advisory Report that BYU’s investigative council presented in October 2016, BYU denies any stewardship over ecclesiastical leaders, while admitting that reported experiences with these leaders was varied, and that “ecclesiastical congregations are such an important part of campus climate.” An ecclesiastical leader (a bishop) can revoke his ecclesiastical endorsement of a student at any time with no explanation. This endorsement trumps any other action taken by the school, and is more powerful than any decision the school makes. Students can be immediately expelled from school and housing by a simple phone call from their bishop to the Honor Code office. This was the reality I found myself in, after I shared with my bishop the horrific details of my kidnapping and rape. My experience of rape did not include any Honor Code violations on my part. By denying any influence or authority over the power wielded by a bishop in controlling the educational future of students at BYU, they are not taking responsibility for the failures and heartache this system has caused. This situation prevents pastoral care at a time that it is most needed in a student’s life. This issue has to be confronted and addressed if true change is going to occur.
Please read my full experience, and find a way to support change at BYU. We cannot let these abuses continue to happen at BYU. The fight is only just beginning. We need your help to sustain the fight. Thank you!
Growing up, I felt like BYU was my destiny. My parents met there, were married in the Provo temple, and I was born just blocks away from campus. All my aunts and uncles were BYU alumni. It was just what we did in our family. When it came time to apply to colleges, I only applied to BYU. No fall back. While all my friends applied for the state university, I trusted that by going to BYU, my goals to avoid alcohol, drugs, general partying, and premarital sex would be supported by a community that was also striving to avoid those things. And for the most part, I was right. I was accepted to BYU, and began the summer semester following my high school graduation. I was nervous, excited…no, THRILLED to enter the world, independent and free! I lived in apartment-style dorms on campus with the most wonderful girls I could imagine. We had fun!
I soon discovered that a boy I knew from home was my neighbor. He had an uncle, Eric (name changed) who lived locally. His uncle was 27, nine years older than me, dressed impressively and had a professional career in Information Technology. Eric drove a flashy motorcycle, new and sporty. He walked me around campus one day and asked me questions about boys, how far I’d gone, and how I felt about my past physical interactions with boys. Being a boy-crazy teenage girl, this was a subject that eclipsed all others in my life. I readily obliged his questions, divulging experiences in my past that were “too far” for my comfort, and sharing my intimate desires to remain chaste and pure before marriage. I recognize now that he was grooming me.
During our conversations, Eric learned of my obsession with music. It was my life. I loved it all and I needed it to bring joy to every moment of my life. This was during the Napster crash, and obtaining the music that lights your soul on fire was difficult on a college budget. One Friday, after I came home from class, Eric was at my dorm and offered to burn me all the CD’s I wanted from his extensive music collection. This was the opportunity of a lifetime! I made sure to verify his roommates would be there, and he assured me that we had plenty of time to make it back before curfew. I hopped on the back of his bike, waved an excited goodbye to my roommates, and set of to Eric’s house.
When we arrived, I learned Eric’s roommates were all out of town for the weekend. He suggested watching TV, I was reluctant. I was there to burn CDs, and sitting on the couch watching TV with him felt intimate and was not something I wanted to. But I obliged, since he was, after all, allowing me to have all the music I wanted, for free! We finally went down to the basement where his large and impressive collection of computers was set up in a common area. Eric asked me to sit on his lap as I scrolled through MP3s, a request that bothered me. I wasn’t attracted to him. I confided to my journal later “he scares me because he is so old.” I also explained to my journal that I had “NO IDEA that he had feelings for me, or that anything could have happened [like kissing] with him.” I went over with one intention, and that was to burn as many CDs as I could.
From this moment on, my memories become snapshots, short moments filled with fear, vulnerability and panic. Somehow I found myself in Eric’s room, naked and trapped. At this point in my life, I had never been naked in front of a man. I quickly cycled through different scenarios in my mind to explain what was happening and how I was going to be ok. When I would verbally protest the situation I was in and what he was physically forcing me to do, Eric would lash out in loud scathing attacks that cut me down lower than I had ever felt. My whole body would sob, tears running down my face. I’d cry out in strange, hopeless desires to somehow still be accepted by him. He would dismiss me with disgust because of my tears and unwillingness to comply. The moment that destroyed me was when Eric pulled me off the bed, on top of his erect penis, with my elbows pinned behind my back. I fell onto him, as I cried out “No, please no. Please don’t do this to me. I don’t want this.” This was the end of my virginity, my purity, my virtue.
Eric would leave me for periods of time and I would jump up as soon as I heard him walk away, only to discover that the bedroom door was locked from the outside. While he had robbed me of my clothing, leaving me totally exposed, he wore his LDS garments whenever he entered the room to rape me again. I searched for my clothes and could never find them. I stood in his closet and looked at his shirts, but I couldn’t bring myself to put on a single piece of clothing that belonged to him. I looked up at small window in his basement room high near the ceiling, and thought about how I could reach it, if I could get through it, and what I would do once naked and outside.
I don’t remember ever sleeping during the two days and nights I was locked in Eric’s room. He never offered me any food or water. By Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted, starving, and my mouth was parched. He brought me in to his bathroom, where he drew me a warm bath. I was grateful to be clean and warm. But then he began to digitally penetrate me, sweeping his fingers deep inside of me. He washed my body clean, destroying any evidence of his trespasses, then finally returned my clothes. I dressed, we walked upstairs, and he fixed himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Once he finished eating, we got back on his motorcycle and headed back to Provo.
I arrived back at my dorm in a daze. I had no idea what had just happened to me, but it felt awful. I wrote in my journal “He did things I’ve NEVER done before and NEVER planned on doing until I was married,” my handwriting erratic as I shared how upset I felt. I didn’t tell a soul. In my effort to resolve what had happened to me, I called Eric a few days later. I asked him why he did those things to me. I was confused and in great distress. He told me he would not have this conversation over the phone, it needed to be in person. So Eric came to my dorm again and told me if I wanted to talk about it, it would have to be at his place. I was desperate for resolution, to go back in time to before the weekend at his apartment, for him to be the nice older guy who took an interest in my life. So I went back. And it all happened again, just like the weekend before, only I was much more broken and numb. It is embarrassing to this day to admit this part of the story. Why did I go back?
A few weeks went by filled with utter despair. I felt worthless, dirty, used. I told my journal “maybe I do like him, maybe that’s what that weekend means” in my desperate attempt to rationalize what had happened. I fought so hard to remain in control of the events at Eric’s house. I internalized the guilt. I told myself that I had been a willing participant. I cried for hours. I would run laps around the outside of the Marriott Center, listening to the Lifehouse “No Name Face” on repeat, crying to every lyric I felt in my heart. My roommates tell me I lost my spark, my carefree spirit. I stayed home while they went out. I hid in my room, alone. I was no longer worthy of a righteous man, that is what my church lessons as a young woman had taught me. Do you remember the object lesson with the stick of chewing gum? Once chewed, it was disgusting, worthless, trash, certainly not wanted by anyone, not even the person who had chewed it. Your virtue is worth more than your life, they said. In a desperate attempt to resolve my terrible emotions, I sought the counsel of my on-campus ward bishop. I told him the details of my weekend encounters. I am sure my worthless, shameful state was all he could see.
Without clarifying the strange details I shared with him, he began the repentance process with me, compounding the shame and guilt I had already convinced myself were valid. He told me to stop taking the sacrament and to begin reading the book “The Miracle of Forgiveness” by Spencer W. Kimball. The last thing my bishop made clear to me before I left his office: if I were to become pregnant as a result of this experience, I could no longer remain at BYU. This was a horrible blow! All my life I planned on a full BYU experience, including a degree, possibly a husband, and a career. I made no other plans. Suddenly, this all could be taken away from me because of something that was done TO me, something I didn’t want to happen. That didn’t feel right. And I was heartbroken. My body was a ticking time bomb, was I pregnant? Would I be forced to leave behind the only plan for my future I had ever considered? Was I carrying a child of a man who had been unimaginably cruel to me, trespassing my very body? This wasn’t what I had imagined life would be like. For weeks, I poured over the book my bishop had given me. I ached to find comfort in its pages. Instead, I found the following passages:
“President David O. McKay has pleaded: Your virtue is worth more than your life. Please, young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.” – Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Prophet, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 63
“It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.” – Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Prophet, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 196
I was still alive… After losing my “virtue” in a violent, humiliating manner, I saw myself differently. I carried feelings of worthlessness with me, for years. I devalued myself, since I was now “damaged, disgusting, no longer pure.” A year after my rape, I was dating a boy who would eventually become my ex-husband. I had shared with him my experiences of rape. One evening, in a moment of intimacy, I expressed to him my feelings of worthlessness, that it didn’t matter how far we went, I was already used, broken, soiled and worthless. There was nothing left for me to save. These feelings filled my core, defined who I was. Years later, he told me that he believed me that night, he took my feelings of worthlessness as fact, and treated me as one would treat someone with such little worth. Because I, the woman, swung the gate wide open to him, he took full advantage of me. To this day, he blames me for our sexual relations before our marriage, as I was the one who “allowed” things to happen.
My interaction with my bishop, his threat of expulsion, felt wrong. It did not feel like what was best for me, but instead what was best for the image of BYU and the LDS Church. Luckily, within a few weeks of visiting with my bishop, I turned to my parents. My father asked the right questions and immediately told me “you’ve been raped.” This was the first time that word had entered my thoughts. And it hurt. I didn’t want to be a victim of rape. My father called my bishop, clarified the details of my experience, and asked him why he was asking me to repent for being raped. My bishop stopped disciplining me, and thankfully I was never kicked out of school. Time has healed many scars resulting from my sexual assault. For years, I had to have my clothes looped around my leg or my arm at all times during sex.
What hasn’t healed is the broken trust in ecclesiastical leaders. Four years ago, I watched as another priesthood holder was called to serve in the Young Men’s organization mere weeks after both he and I personally explained to our bishop graphic instances of predatory sexual acts he had committed against young girls, including 16 year old Chinese exchange students. I couldn’t fathom how my bishop could make such a dangerous decision! Immediately, all those feelings surrounding my visit with my BYU bishop came flooding back: immense betrayal, mistrust, and an overwhelming realization that I was not safe in an organization where there are no protections against decisions made by those in leadership positions that put vulnerable individuals at risk.
Today, in light of the attention this issue is finally receiving in regards to handling sexual assault, I have several thoughts at how we as a culture can change this story from constantly repeating itself.
First, be a community that talks about sex in a healthy and supportive way. Educate our youth and adults about what healthy sexual relationships look like, what consent means and feels like, how to say no and what red flags to look for to identify potential sexual predators.
Second, we must stop shaming victims. Always place the blame solely upon the perpetrator, in ALL instances. Stop telling girls that they have any sort of control over the thoughts of young men. Teach young men that it is their responsibility to control their thoughts and actions, at all times. No more chewing gum analogies, no more “modest is hottest,” no more telling girls they are “too pretty” or “too busty.” This sends the message that there is something inherently sinful with us, our bodies and our appearance. There is nothing wrong with us! We are beautiful! We are pure and of divine worth!
Perhaps the most important message of all, STOP unnecessary harm by linking virtue with virginity. Whether intentional or not, the message it sends is that without your virginity intact, you are undesirable, worthless, soiled and used. Author of The Mormon Therapist Blog, Natasha Helfler Parker, explained it this way. There is an “underlying systemic failure of our Mormon culture’s insistence that your value as a woman had something to do with your ability to be a sexual gate-keeper and somehow adept at avoiding sexual assault. This is a failure indeed.”
And if you are ever privileged to be that safe person that a sexual assault victim trusts enough to tell, start by believing! It is you who will set the tone for the remainder of their experience. Remind them it’s not their fault. Express empathy, and ask them how you can help. This is your chance to be the change.
Colleen – I am sure you have heard it before, but let me just reiterate that you didn’t do anything wrong and were taken advantage of by a sick person. I am sure you are a good person. I hope that you can heal.
I also have to say I deeply admire you for continuing to fight the fight. To me it shows you are a remarkable person and someone that has lots of empathy for others. Why else would you keep re-hashing the pain other than you know it must be done to help others. I am sure it is hard with some of the ones you are helping just want you to be quiet.
Thank you for giving your thoughts on how to improve the situation.
I admire your determination.
This makes my blood boil. I am so sorry you had to go through this. Thank you for the courage to write this, and please BYU, STOP COVERING FOR RAPISTS. THIS IS THE MOST UNCHRISTIAN THING YOU CAN DO AND REFLECTS POORLY ON BYU.
Colleen, this is such an awful story. He had to have planned this whole thing, locking you in the room had to have been pre-planned. It sounds totally premeditated, and this guy is a serial rapist. He can’t have done this just one time, and washing away the evidence is just evidence that it was premeditated. What did the police say? Is he in jail?
Thank you for sharing your story
This is one of the most disturbing posts I have ever read. Part of my employment brings me into contact with victims of rape once in a while.
I completely agree with your 4 suggestions at the end. I commend your father for his wisdom, if this happened to my daughter I might have taken matters into my own hands. Which would not have helped any rape victims and sent me to jail and brought the grief of a premature funeral to another family. Above all else I hope you have gotten good professional help and do not take anything from strangers on a blog too serious.
You are to be commended because you survived. You live to help others not suffer the same pain and humiliation. That is not something small. There are many ways you can help others and this blog is one that could reach many people.
As an answer to whether this perpetrator is in jail, based only on what is written above, probably not. I am not blaming Colleen and I think I understand how this came happened to her. But going back to the apartment the second time makes it very difficult to prosecute. Even the kidnapping can be made to appear consensual and just a long wild weekend.
All rapists have two possible defense strategies in court. The first is: “it wasn’t me, you got the wrong guy.” DNA often takes that one off the table. This is why it is so important to not bathe first if a person is ever raped and get the proper samples taken as early as possible. This can feel like another rape. If not then it comes down to the reliability of witnesses and skillful attorneys can neutralize them. The second is “it was consensual, even if there are injuries, it was rough sex.” This one is hard to convince a jury didn’t happen beyond a reasonable doubt.. It requires a woman with the strength of Elizabeth Smart to go into a courtroom, face the perpetrator and his big gun attorneys and convince 12 strangers on a jury. The perpetrator has the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof is on the victim and prosecutors. Doing this alone is a daunting task after the humiliation has destroyed you and you will usually need witnesses. Other legal defenses tend to be variations on these themes.
As part of the first suggestion given by Colleen, we need to train our young women in these aspects of the law, when they are going past the boundaries where if rape does happen it is easy or difficult to prove. Kissing while watching TV and female roommates asleep in the next room? Witnesses likely to hear cries for help and see it and be convincing witnesses. Kissing in an apartment alone, very difficult and almost like giving legal consent to the guy. Even though no means no, think about how do you prove it? No witnesses and it will be a he said/she said case, and difficult to overcome the presumption of innocence. Many perpetrators feel no shame, they thrive in the scrutiny of court, as long as their attorneys have the sense to keep them off the witness stand where their arrogance proves detrimental. It is not fair but it is the way it is.
My children attended public schools with ~30% minorities bused in from government housing projects..They had armed police guards, drug dogs, a few shootings and three classmates murdered while in high school but off campus. In some ways it was a great preparation for the realities of our fallen world. When my daughter was 9 years old, one of the girls her age in the ward was murdered. Her father was the suspect for years because he was an immigrant from Africa and suffered untold atrocities as a soldier captured and held in prisons back there. Eventually a slightly older female teenager confessed to doing it over a 50 cent bag of peanuts. The police think there was more to it than that but never got to the bottom of it.
The other parents in our ward shielded their children and told them vague stories. I took my daughter to the funeral and let her look at her friend in the casket and say good-bye. With tears running down her cheeks she asked why her (deceased) friend was wearing a turtle neck dress? I answered, probably because she was strangled and her family can’t afford a more expensive mortician who would hide it. My daughter pushed the collar down a couple of inches and saw the red ligature marks. They were deep and shocking. I told her this was the world she would be living in and she needed to prepare to take care of herself and watch out for her friends.Some might think this is the way to traumatize a child. I think the truth coupled with love and faith and courage can build strength.
We had many other lessons as she grew up. Picking up drunken hikers in a snow storm on a dirt road when she was 12 years old was better than 100 lectures on not using alcohol. My daughter became the protector of her friends. She is a small person but made up for it with sass and street smarts. I know of two times when she anticipated and prevented near rapes of her friends. Some people in my ward think I am too far off the Mormon reservation, but when their near-perfect innocent and naive daughter is rescued from a dangerous situation their perspective changes. My daughter also waded into the middle of a fight between two large girls, both well over 250 lbs when one started slamming the other one’s head on the hard floor. She had the sense to know the injuries had moved from minor to life threatening. It almost started a race riot in the hall and the one girl was put in the ICU with a subdural and fractured skull for a few days before fully recovering and both were kicked out of school. My daughter had many friends from both races come to her defense and she got off with a 3 day suspension, instead of expulsion and legal action. They all agreed she was trying to save a life, not score some retribution.
I think they are not teaching lessons of life along these lines at BYU.
As a footnote, what in the heck was the bishop thinking telling a young woman who confesses to unprotected sex (in addition to mis-identifying rape) that if she gets pregnant she will be kicked out of school? But not if she repents and doesn’t conceive? Is that the party line? Why not just give her the address and phone number to the abortion clinic in Salt Lake? Utah county has a low abortion rate and Salt Lake county has a higher one but I bet if you could look at zip codes of the women undergoing abortions, this disparity might shrink, even be flipped.(More birth control pills). If we want to stop abortions we need to make it easier, not more difficult to adopt these unplanned children. A bishop giving that kind of terrible advice needs to have his TR yanked before the LDS doctors who perform legal and safe abortions. And I would also bet that the bishop gave no consideration to advising the repenting “sinner” (in his eyes) to seek medical evaluation and possible treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
“Broken trust” is putting it mildly. This bishop was a dangerous idiot.
Very brave of you.
Really hope this doesn’t happen anymore with how the bishop was handling things. Do you think it was a BYU training thing, or a church training issue?
Of course she’ll choose on her own, but What’s your opinion on whether it’s to have a daughter go to a place like BYU with some of these issues or go to state schools where the literal reported rape rate is orders of magnitude higher?
How horrible. I’m sorry you went through that!
In my view, one can only give their virginity away freely, and people cannot steal it because the mutual sharing of sexuality and intimacy is from the heart, mind, and soul, not just the physical body. Even though an assailant may commit sexual assault on someone, nobody can ever steal one’s purity, virtue, and value as a person. Rape victims who are pure, virtuous, and chaste remain pure, virtuous, and chaste still. Virginity is a social construct that a part of our culture uses to control and shame people, which would be worth eliminating.
Yes, this bishop’s advice was reckless and demeaning. Recipe for suicide and clinical depression. I hope he is an extreme outlier. I can’t say whether he is or not, though. The book Miracle of Forgiveness being recommended to a rape victim is reprehensible. The book should not be recommended to anyone without serious revision, but particularly not to a victim of sexual assault who will naturally be already prone to self-blame and self-harm.
Colleen, I am so sorry all this happened to you. Thank you for you courage in telling your story and fighting for other survivors.
This is horrifying. Colleen I am so sorry.
We absolutely have to give our youth better tools to navigate life.
Thank you so much for sharing. You are brave beyond what you can know. I have to admit I was sick to my stomach and had the same feeling as Mike, that I would have gone and found this Damn rapist and given him an early death. It also made me furious with you bishop and he would have been part 2 of my ire and it would have gone all the way to the top of BYU to get the Bull Shit blaming the victim stopped. Again thank you so much for sharing
Response to Bb:
Dang right she chose on her own and BYU was LAST on her list- but for other reasons.
The risk of rape is not the primary consideration for selecting a university. The type of education is what matters. Better not to be the worst student at Yale or the best student at Utah State Agriculture College (like me). It depends on the interests of the student and the programs at the university and if you get accepted and if it is too expensive. Maybe also if you like to skii or prefer beaches. Big city or small college town. And so forth.
What I think you are really asking is do you want to send your children to a school like BYU where they are largely protected from the temptations of the world and presumeably the risk of iniquity of all sorts is lower? Or do you want to send them to a place where the education is a great fit but the atmopshere is not conductive to living the gospel? Or somewhere in the middle?
I think that our Heavenly Father has made a similar decision when he sent us to this beautiful and horrible world.
Personally I would close BYU; I think it has outlived its usefulness. I would like to see the LDS church get in the business of providing excellent primary and secondary education across the nation as our nations public schools fail but that is another topic.
I could have sent my children to expensive private high schools, half the people in our neighborhood do, but even at that age they wanted to learn how to deal with the people in the public school system and live what felt like a more authentic life.
25 years ago my bishop at BYU reacted far better to an attempted date rape/sexual assault. The young woman was treated as an innocent victim and the young man as a morally bankrupt perpetrator.
The sisters got a discussion on how to protect themselves and their friends and the elders got a little bit of watching out for others and a long lecture about the moral and legal consequences of that type of behavior.
Kimball’s book “The [Inevitability] of [Damnation]” (you know the one I mean) is a horrible, horrifying book for anyone. It’s the last thing that should be given to someone involved in something like the OP describes; in fact, I’ve counseled my bishops not to recommend it to anyone. For the person already wracked by guilt, deserved or not, it’s a recipe for despair.
Thank you for sharing this.
You had told me part of this years ago after I shared part of my story.