Elizabeth Smart Speaks Out Against Abstinence Only Education, Mormon Upbringing

Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted at the age of 14 from her SLC home and held captive for 9 months told a John Hopkins panel on child sex trafficking, that her abstinence only upbringing resulted in her not trying to escape her captors due feeling like a "chewed piece of gum" and worthless.

“I remember in school in one time I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. And when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who’s going to want you after that?’

“That’s terrible, nobody should ever say that. But for me I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even made a difference, your life already has no value.”

Growing up in Mormonism myself, I know that the chewed gum analogy is common place teaching to young, LDS teenage girls.  A similar analogy also used is the licked cupcake analogy, suggesting that having sex before marriage is like being a licked cupcake, and who wants an already licked cupcake right?  Smart recalls the chewed gum analogy coming from a school teacher.  Most often though it is the LDS church's young women leaders who perpetuate these shameful analogies to this day.  These teachings have devastating affects to girls who are rapped of no fault of their own.

“I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn’t even human anymore. How could anybody want me or love me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it.”
“It’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feelings of ‘who would ever want me now?’ I’m worthless. That is what it was for me the first time I was raped."

“I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other and that’s what I’d been raised, that’s what I’d always been determined to follow, that when I got married then and only then would I engage in sex. And so, for that first rape, I felt crushed –’Who could want me now?’ I felt so dirty and so filthy I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run. Because of that alone. I mean, you can imagine the most special thing being taken away from you –not that that was your only value in life –but something that de-valued you? Can you imagine going back into a society where you’re no longer valued? Where you’re no longer as good as everybody else?" - Elizabeth Smart

Listen to Smart in her own words.

LDS teenage women are taught virtues from the scriptures and the first scripture listed in the lesson is Moroni chapter 9, verse 9 which relates the following: 

9. And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—

Right here they use the example of rape being capable of depriving women of chastity or virtue, aka purity, as though they're somehow culpable for something they had no choice in the matter.  It's time for the church to realize the harm they are doing to young women's self image and esteem, especially in matters involving abuse or rape.  An equally damning teaching comes from a past prophet of the church, the highest authority in Mormonism:

"There is no true latter-day saint who would not rather bury a son or a daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity – realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world." - Prophet Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, Compiled by G. Homer Durham, p.55

Let's keep the light shining on these Mormon teachings until they are abandoned and replaced.

Tags: abstinence, abuse, elizabeth-smart, lds-church, mormonism

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I have been following this discussion on some Mormon's page on Facebook. I remember being in Mutual and hearing the image of the nail in the board; you can pull it out, but you can't get rid of the hole (how suggestive is all that!!). We also were taught the despoiled rose (shades of Victorianism), where you can pull the rose apart but you can never put it back together again. In the Facebook discussion, people keep repeating that old saw, "It's not doctrinal; it's not the church; it's the people." However, some smart people have quoted "prophets" saying you should fight to the death rather than lose your virtue etc. etc. as if the victim had any control over the abuse. I think it's time people realize you can't have a church without people, and at some point, we have to acknowledge that the church teachings create people's beliefs. So-called mormon doctrine is anything but complete and it certainly isn't clean, especially if you say you believe everything "prophets" say over the years. I think this is especially true when you realize that people repeat their beliefs almost in all the same words, a sure sign of a cult.

As I always say, the church IS the people. Saying otherwise is just an excuse.

It was tragic and a terrible tragedy that Ms Smart lived through. She is an example of what a woman feels who was brought up in Mormon culture who has been raped. It is clear the bad effects of such a teaching to the self-image of a girl who was abducted and repeatedly raped.

I am sure many Mormon women have read her account and felt very bad for her..

disconnect...

Those Mormon women then go on about their lives, teaching young girls the same virtue messages about being a piece of chewed gum or a licked cupcake.

My rapist was my father.  I had no place to run.  When I told my bishop what my dad was doing to me in my first bishop's interview before entering young womens, he told me to tell my mom, effectively washing his hands of the problem and relaying the message to both my parents, using me as the messenger I might add, that this was a family matter to be dealt with inside the home,  My parents got the message loud and clear.  I told my mom, she confronted my dad, who, in turn confronted me with a gun and threatened to kill me and the rest of my family before ending his own life if I ever told another living soul.  Telling the god I had been taught would answer my prayers if only I were worthy and asked with a sincere heart proved as useless as telling my mother, further shaming me since I must not be worthy or sincere.  I felt equally abandoned and rejected by both.  My mother made, what she has later described as a "snap" decision to stay with my father in order to preserve her eternal family.  Talk about cognitive dissonance!  Between the church and my family, the universe was one contradictory fucked up place. The only place I had to run was in my mind, and now, 40 years later, I am in recovery for complex PTSD and other wounds from my childhood trauma, while my temple - going parents remain Mormons in good standing.  Try to imagine what it was like for me, a child already internalizing the shame of what my dad was doing to me, as children are want to do, hearing the messages about chewed gum and licked cupcakes in young women's, seminary and institute classes.  Those messages followed me through 40 years of church activity, and I am still trying to rid myself of that conditioning.  And Mormons wonder why those who leave are so angry!  My father may have been the perpetrator, but the church was every bit as much an enabler as my mother, and it perpetrated the system of male entitlement and female submissiveness that spawned the perversion in my family of origin. 

As part of my recovery, I am in a support group with other Mormon survivors of child sex abuse, so I know that I am not the only one. I suspect there are far more than it is comfortable for most people to contemplate.  No one will ever convince me that the church is a benign institution.  It's rigid patriarchal, hierarchical, and authoritative power structure lends itself to abuse on a  broad spectrum.  I hold it responsible for the role it played in mine. 

Jackie, your story is horrific and unconscionable.  I can't image the nightmare you must have grown up with and lived under your father and the Mormon church not lifting a finger in your defense or even against your father.  I'm glad you are now getting the help and support you need in recovering from your childhood traumas.  Thanks for sharing your story so others can feel less alone and also know of the history of abuse in Mormonism.

It's been 45 years since I was sexually molested in the church restroom.  Absolutely I internalized it.  When people share stories like this, it is very helpful to the others because it helps them remember that they were not the only one abused.  Forget about church leadership helping in cases like this, they just can't relate no matter how well meaning they are.  Maybe they are worried about litigation, but I never asked for a dime and I can validate myself for that.  We need to get rid of this ludicrous idea of "worthiness".  We were worthy enough to be born, and nothing trumps that.  It's a gift, not a test.  "Priesthood authority" only has authority to judge us because we grant it to them.  I say we take it back.

Damn right!!

Jackie, I'm so sorry to hear of the horrific things you had to endure in your childhood. You, too, Xenu. It is so disturbing to me that so many people have been victimized in this way as children. I'm sorry your carefree childhood was taken from you.

I read an article in the newspaper about a young woman here in Washington state who was being raped by her bishop and the church did nothing about it.  She ended up suing the church and won a 4 million dollar settlement.

Your story, unfortunately, is the second I've heard, almost exactly. It is so sad and indicative to a religion that is also too male dominant. I am so sorry for your pain.

Thank you to everyone who replied with such kindness.  It was incredibly difficult to put those words out there.  Your responses have been so very validating.  I am so sorry to those who have similar experiences.  Thank you for sharing them.  I feel a little less alone in the world today.

Jackie,

Thanks for your courage to share!

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