law, LDS, religion, true crime

Repost: Rape culture in churches

I am reposting this blog entry that originally appeared on October 16, 2016. I have no reason for reposting it, other than I think it’s an interesting piece. Bear in mind that it was written almost five years ago and I haven’t changed the content, so some comments may be outdated.

I just read a very disturbing article about a lawsuit that was just filed against a Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Weber County, Utah.  The lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims that she was repeatedly raped by a church instructor and JW officials later her made her listen to a recording of one of her assaults.  The woman seeks a jury trial and $300,000 to cover medical care, legal fees, and general damages. 

According to the article I read, the woman may or may not have gone to the police after she was allegedly raped by a church instructor.  The Salt Lake Tribune states that members of the JW faith are encouraged to bring problems to church elders rather than involving outsiders.  Having done my share of reading about Jehovah’s Witnesses and having had a relative who was once a member, I can affirm that this attitude is prevalent among people involved with the Witnesses.

In this case, the assaults against the woman allegedly took place after she went out with the instructor on a date.  He took her cell phone from her and said she had to kiss him on the cheek to get it back.  She refused, so he kicked her out of his car.  Later, he came back for her and the assaults apparently escalated from there.  When the assaults were brought to the attention of JW officials, they began an investigation…  but it was not an investigation against the perpetrator.  Instead, the young woman was investigated.  Below is a quote from the article linked above:

In April 2008, the Roy church formed a judicial committee to investigate whether the girl engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior — “a serious sin” in the religion. During the meeting that included her mother and stepfather, the lawsuit states, church leaders played a recording of one of the purported rapes, obtained from the instructor, for four to five hours “repeatedly stopping and starting the audio tape … suggesting that she consented to the sexual behavior.”

The woman alleges that she was raped several times.  Realizing the patriarchal culture within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s possible that she felt like she had to do what this man said.  She was likely taught to do whatever the church officials told her to do.  As the attacker was apparently her church instructor, she probably felt that she had no choice.  It really is a shame that people continue to get and stay involved in religious organizations that promote this kind of thinking and do nothing to empower everyone, not just the men. 

This situation among the JWs in Utah sounds an awful lot like the recent hullabaloo about Brigham Young University’s policy of bringing rape victims up on Honor Code violations.  Women who dared to report rape to the police or University officials were getting in trouble for putting themselves in situations where they might be assaulted.  For the record, I think these kinds of policies are disgusting and they keep our society in the Dark Ages.  

Of course people– male or female– who choose to sexually assault others should be held responsible for their actions.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s wrong for people to look out for themselves.  I wish these churches and universities like BYU would do more to promote personal safety outside of the religious sense.  I wish they wouldn’t simply tell women to protect their virginity and purity because that’s supposedly what God wants.  They should be empowering them to protect themselves because they don’t want to be victims of crimes. 

It’s interesting that this subject came on my radar this morning.  I just saw a Facebook post by 11th Principle: Consent about how rape culture develops.  Although I would absolutely never say that it’s okay to rape someone, I do think it pays to be careful.  One young woman made a comment about how she’d gotten very drunk at a party and was raped while she was unconscious.  She wrote that it was wrong that she was raped, but she shared some responsibility in the situation by drinking so much that she passed out.  She got a lot of indignant comments from people who said that no part of the rape was her fault at all; she bore absolutely no responsibility toward the crime perpetrated against her.

At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, I will go on record as saying that I agree that rape is never a victim’s fault.  However, I do think that everyone– males and females– should take some responsibility for their personal safety.  One of the comments I read on the 11 Principle: Consent Facebook page was this:

– if you went for a walk, but someone chose to stab you, should you have stayed in?

-if you decided to go for a drive, but someone drove into your car, is it your fault?

-if you went for a swim, but someone drowned you, was it your fault because you put yourself in a position where you could be drowned?

My response is that in the above examples, precautions could have been taken to lessen the chance of harm or mitigate the harm that did occur.  For instance, when you take a walk, you choose areas where there are people around.  You carry a cell phone that is charged and ready in case of emergency.  You tell someone where you’re going.  You might learn self defense.  These are things you can do to lessen the chance that you’ll be a victim.  You might still end up being victimized, but you will have taken steps to lessen the chance of it.

If you go for a drive, you wear a seatbelt (even though I hate them).  You make sure your car is safe to drive.  You don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before getting behind the wheel.  You make sure you are well rested.  You might still have an accident, but you’ve done your part to lessen the probability.

If you go for a swim, you make sure you can actually swim.  If you can’t, you learn how and stay out of the deep end until you have the appropriate skills.  You take someone with you when you swim.  You use floatation devices if you need them.  You might still drown, but the chances are not as high as they could be.

When it comes to assaults, sexual or otherwise, I think the same responsibilities apply.  Don’t get so fucked up that you black out.  Don’t go to parties alone, especially if you don’t know the people hosting them.  If you do get assaulted, it’s certainly not your fault.  But my guess is that you will learn from the assault and take steps to be sure it doesn’t happen again.  It sounded to me like the young woman who said she shared in the responsibility of her attack had simply learned from it.  She’d made a mistake by getting so intoxicated.  I have made the same mistakes myself on a number of occasions.  There, but by the grace of God, go I.  

Is it ever your fault if you get assaulted?  No.  The person who chooses to perpetrate a crime is always the guilty party.  But the point is, there are things you can do to lessen the chance that you will be a victim.  I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that.  I don’t think that line of thinking promotes “rape culture”.  I applaud the young woman who realizes that she was wrong to get so drunk that she passed out.  At the same time, I think it’s sad that there are shitty people out there who would take advantage of a woman so distressed.

I’m reading the article about the lawsuit against the JWs just as everyone’s talking about Donald Trump’s infamous “locker room” talk.  I have friends of every stripe opining on a potential U.S. president talking about grabbing women by their pussies.  I have a number of very religious relatives criticizing Hillary Clinton because– well, probably because she’s a female liberal.  These same supposedly God fearing people see no problem with voting for a man who brags about forcing himself on women and grabbing their crotches.  But if a woman gets assaulted, instead of being outraged, they look for ways to blame her.  I don’t think that’s right.  But I do think there are things people can and should do to protect themselves.

As for the woman suing the JWs, I don’t think it’s wrong that she’s filed a lawsuit.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a pervert ending up in power.  It’s not just the JWs, either.  Lots of churches empower creeps who then victimize their supposed underlings.  I’ve read about plenty of religious organizations who don’t do enough to keep bad people from powerful positions.  I think they should be held accountable when these things happen.  Again, from the article:

A leader from the congregation apparently warned the girl’s parents in November 2006 that the instructor — who previously attended church sessions in Ogden and Oregon — was a “bad kid” who had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation.” The plaintiff says that warning wasn’t enough.

How did the guy end up a “church instructor” if church leaders knew he was a “bad kid”?  One has to wonder.  At the same time, isn’t it crazy that someone like Donald Trump, who openly admits to being a pervy creep– even if it was privately– might end up leading the country?  No wonder we have issues with so-called “rape culture”.

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book reviews

Repost: DJ Williams’ Playing Dangerous Games…

I originally wrote this book review for Epinions.com on May 11, 2011. I thought the book was pretty bad, but it was an amusing read. So I’m reposting the review as/is for your amusement.

A few months ago, I admitted to being a trifle bit kinky.  Around that time, I happened to add a few books to my Amazon.com wish list.  One of the books I added was DJ Williams’ 2010 book Playing Dangerous Games: The Personal Story of a Social Scientist Entering the Complex World of Sadomasochism.  To be honest, I’m not sure why I added this book.  It wasn’t reviewed on Amazon and it was priced at a relatively expensive $19.95.  But I recently decided to purchase some actual books as opposed to Kindle downloads and Williams’ book somehow made the cut.

Once I started reading Playing Dangerous Games, I found out why it was both rather expensive and unreviewed on Amazon.  It was published by Booklocker.com, which is an outfit that sells ebooks, print on demand titles, and self-published works.  Now… I have nothing against self-published books.  Prior to reading Williams’ book, I read a couple of other offerings by Booklocker.  One book was really awful.  The other was very good.  One thing that I notice about self-published books is that they aren’t necessarily brilliantly edited, and I did find that to be the case with this book.  On the other hand, I think maybe Williams self-published because his book might be hard to pitch to mainstream publishers.  While I think a lot of people would be very interested in reading about kink, it’s potentially embarrassing to buy a book about kink at the local Barnes & Noble.  Therefore, a mainstream publisher might not consider a book like this one a good financial risk.  Thank God for the Internet.  It spares consumers the need to approach a cashier with books about taboo topics.

Who is DJ Williams? 

At the beginning of this book, DJ Williams is a post doctoral graduate student doing research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.  Williams had earned his doctorate from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the same school.  Prior to becoming a professor, Williams had been a social worker, having earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Utah.  He also earned a second Master’s degree in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Utah. 

Williams was in Edmonton, working on some research on gambling in prisons in Utah, when he innocently stumbled into the wonderful world of BDSM.  BDSM, for those who don’t know, stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism.  Williams read a paper about sadomasochism which included some discussion on SM practices such as whippings, electroshocks, canings, bondage, and anal sex.  Williams had apparently never before been exposed to these more exotic flavors on the sexual menu.

A chapter or two later, I found out why Professor DJ Williams was so sexually innocent and naive.  He was raised by devout Mormons and had served a mission in the United Kingdom for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Prior to his mission, Williams took his first trip through the temple, where he took out his endowments and presumably donned temple garments for the first time.  After his mission, Williams came home, got married to a fellow Mormon, and had a daughter.  The marriage didn’t work out and Williams eventually left the church.  And now as a college professor, he had free rein to study the subjects that interested him.  So, although Williams was supposed to be studying gambling in Utah prisons, he soon found himself drawn to BDSM.  Before long, he had scheduled his first appointment with a professional Dominatrix named Mistress Kitten, who gently introduced him to the pleasures of “sexual deviance”. 

One thing led to another and pretty soon Dr. DJ Williams developed an alter-ego he called “Doctor Deviant”.  He began to experiment in earnest, attending his very first “munch” (a gathering of people who are interested in BDSM) and moving on to to his next mistress, Mistress Midnight.  Apparently, Mistress Midnight was well-known for being one of the most twisted of the BDSM bunch in the Edmonton area.  Mistress Midnight taught Doctor Deviant how to throw a bullwhip and exposed him to other BDSM couples who showed him just how deep the lifestyle can run. 

To the uninitiated, BDSM practices can be shocking and disturbing.  Indeed, Williams was shocked and disturbed by some of the things he saw during his earliest experiences at BDSM parties.  I got the sense that Williams was trying to overcome his sheltered upbringing as well as the conventional wisdom he’d picked up as a social worker working with sex offenders and domestic violence victims.  At the same time, he was trying to be a responsible father to his teenage daughter, Brittney, whose mother, stepfather, and half siblings were all still faithful members of the LDS church.

My thoughts

This book could have been a lot better than it is.  DJ Williams is technically a good writer.  By that, I mean there aren’t any egregious typos or grammatical errors and his prose is basically easy to read.  However, despite Williams’ obvious personal affinity for BDSM and his interest in educating himself and others about the subject, he comes off as a bit of a dork.

For one thing, he swears a lot.  It’s as if in order to shed his Mormon upbringing, he has to drop the f-bomb gratuitously as he describes the sensations he feels when Mistress Kitten ties him to a St. Andrew’s Cross and hangs five pound weights from his testicles.  Before anyone tells me they would drop the f-bomb too in that situation, I will share that Williams uses the f-word very liberally.  I’m not at all offended by cussing, but when a word is used so repetitively that it becomes annoying, I’d say it’s time to hire an editor.  And as Williams is a college professor, I would expect him to have a broader vocabulary anyway.

Williams frequently comes off as dorky and contrived in his dialogue… kind of like he’s trying too hard to be cool.  It’s as if he’s trying to make up for a lost adolescence through rebellion, and that entails taking on an alternative appearance, using the f-word, going to munches and drinking screwdrivers (groan), and submitting to a Domme.  I can tell that the BDSM turns him on and is a bit of a mindblower.  Knowing what I know about Mormonism and the stereotype about how church members tend to feel about sex that isn’t strictly vanilla, I can understand where the dorkiness and awkwardness come from.  I sense that despite his efforts to be open-minded, Williams still seems to think there’s something kind of “wrong” with BDSM. 

Williams’ dialogue reads like a cheap novel in that it’s very amateur.  He writes a lot of internal dialogue that comes off as especially disingenuous.  He seems uncomfortable with what he’s doing, even after he wades into the BDSM underground and apparently really enjoys the experience.  Even the title conveys what, to me, seems likes Williams’ conflicted feelings about BDSM.  Done correctly, BDSM doesn’t have to be dangerous at all, and yet Williams titles his book Playing Dangerous Games.

Williams also seems to have a problem with overweight women.  In one chapter, he describes attending a BDSM party where many people are participating in “scenes”.  He notes a “heavyset” woman being tied to a table by male Dominant.  Then he writes that he can’t believe she’s comfortable enough with her body to engage in a public scene.  It seems to me that Williams was trying to be “nice” in using the euphemism “heavyset”, when he evidently meant to say the woman was fat and unattractive and should be ashamed of herself.  Later, Williams describes a private party he had with several other people, one of whom was an overweight woman.  He writes outright that he doesn’t find her attractive.  But then, once the scene starts, he realizes that the “heavyset” woman is a natural actress who makes the scene more real for him.  She becomes more attractive to him for that reason.  But if he hadn’t been tied to a bed, would he have given her a chance to show her most attractive qualities? 

I guess I can give him credit for at least realizing his bias… eventually, anyway.  I do think that he pays lip service to looking beyond the surface, though.  I checked out his Web site and saw evidence that he’s still pretty hung up on the external.  It’s been my experience that people who spend a whole lot of time on their physical appearances often do so to cover up some less flattering internal qualities.

Anyway…

Despite my criticisms, I did find this book interesting on many levels.  For one thing, I myself hold Master’s degrees in social work and public health, so I could relate to some of Williams’ comments about the social work profession.  For another thing, my husband is an ex-Mormon.  He was not raised in the faith, so it’s not a pervasive part of him, but he did spend enough time as a Mormon convert that he knows the culture very well.  I, in turn, have done plenty of research on the subject of Mormonism, though I have never been and will never be a member of the church myself.  And then there’s the fact that I’m also a little kinky, though not nearly as kinky as Williams is. 

I also admire Williams for writing about this subject.  I think it takes a lot of guts to research BDSM, especially given the fact that he’s a college professor and an ex-Mormon.  I do think that Williams seems to have radically rejected his roots.  He’s dyed his hair different colors, gotten tattoos, and been branded… and he engages in some pretty exotic and erotic sexual practices.  However, it did occur to me that Williams has traded membership in a very strict, controlling church community for membership in another controlling group.  After all, Williams went from being a member of a church that told him what kind of underwear to wear to being a member of another group that tells him what kind of underwear to wear.  I’m sure Williams’ Mistress has a say in whether he wears boxer briefs or a cock ring. 

By Williams’ account, Mormonism is spiritually and behaviorally confining, while BDSM is literally confining.  It might be said that members of both groups could be led to a kind of liberation… In both situations, one gives up personal power to become part of something bigger than themselves.  A devout Mormon submits for the promise of a wonderful afterlife with loved ones.  Someone who submits to a Dominant submits for the promise of a wonderful physical and mental experience.  Being “forced” to submit allows the submissive to experience heightened sexual arousal without any guilt.

Overall

I can’t say that reading Playing Dangerous Games was a waste of time.  While I wish it had been better edited, I have to admit that Williams’ book did give me some food for thought.  I would recommend it to readers who want to learn more about BDSM, especially from an academic standpoint.  I also think this book would be interesting reading for ex-Mormons, particularly kinky ones.  Devout Mormons, on the other hand, might not like this book. 

As an Amazon Associate, I get small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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mental health, nostalgia, obits

When the mourning is done already…

2020 has been one hell of a year for a lot of people. For me, personally, it was not my worst year, but I know that for many people, it has been the most challenging, difficult, and horrible year ever. Much of the worst of it has been punctuated by profound loss, causing large numbers of people to mourn. People have lost their jobs, their ability to travel, their homes, their social lives, and, in some cases their health or even their lives. All of this loss, which has occurred on a worldwide scale, has affected the collective mood of the planet.

Between us, Bill and I have lost three family members since October. None of the people who died lost their lives to COVID-19. Two had cancer, and one had pneumonia that turned into septicemia, complicated by osteoporosis. There was a thought that maybe Bill’s dad had also had COVID-19, but he was tested for that and it was negative.

I think being so far away from my friends and family has made mourning somewhat less challenging. Since 2014, I’ve lost my dad, four uncles, an aunt, a cousin, a cousin’s spouse, and my father-in-law. I lost my dad only weeks before we moved over here. I remember, when I went to Natural Bridge for his memorial a few months after his death, I thought to myself that I was probably seeing some of my family members for the last time. Sure enough, that is what came to pass.

Bill, on the other hand, is newer to grieving family members than I am. He lost his Aunt Betsy last year. Last month, he lost his dad. I remember him telling me in the early years of our marriage, that he dreaded losing his father. He actually teared up a bit as he talked about it. But now that it’s happened, he’s not totally depressed.

The trouble is, he says he feels a little bit of shame for not feeling “sadder” than he does. He said he’d cried more over losing our dogs. I don’t know how or why this happened, but I blurted out, “I think maybe it’s because you mourned your dad many years ago, when your parents got divorced.” Bill’s eyes widened in surprise. It was a new thought to him. It was a new thought to me, too. I think it was a sudden flash of insight that came to me as I realized that he hadn’t lived with his dad since the late 60s and was never able to forge a very close relationship with him, even though he loved him very much.

If I were to die tomorrow, Bill would probably be devastated. We live together, so my presence would be acutely missed. We’re also very close friends as well as partners, and we are a major source of support to each other. But I think that sometimes losing family members with whom you don’t share a close, physical connection can be somewhat less traumatic. A lot depends on how bonded you are to them. And again, living far away from your friends and family can dilute that grief somewhat. Because the pain of missing someone tends to be sharpest at the time of the breakup.

At about this time in 1993, I lost my pony, Rusty. He had been my very best friend. I told him all my teenaged secrets and cried in his mane when I was upset (which happened a lot in the 1980s). Since he was an old horse, I didn’t want to sell him when it was time to go to college. I was afraid he’d end up in the wrong hands and not enjoy his last years. So I found a local horsewoman to take him in. She lived on a beautiful farm in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

In December 1993, she told me that she thought it might be time to euthanize Rusty. He was going blind because of a progressive, painful disease colloquially known as “moonblindness”. The last time I had visited him, he hadn’t seemed like himself. His eyes had little yellowish looking “moons” in them. I was sad when I left him. He didn’t seem happy.

I remember dreading the day when it would come time to say goodbye to Rusty forever. But when that day actually came, I was actually okay. I didn’t cry much at all. My old riding teacher, Louise, told me that she knew I’d already “come to grips” with what was inevitable. In a sense, I’d already mourned. I do miss Rusty. I think of him all the time, even though he’s been gone for 27 years. He really was my best friend. But I knew it was his time to go and it was for the best that he had. He wasn’t in pain anymore.

Maybe some people might take issue with me sharing this story about my pony and comparing that loss to losing a human loved one. But I had a closer relationship with that pony than I did with most of my family members. For several of my formative years, I saw him most days. I spent time working with him and bonded with him. We went to countless horse shows and fox hunts. He was my rock, and I trusted him implicitly. It hurt to lose him, but when it came down to it, I knew it was his time, and I didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. That’s what it’s come down to with all of my beloved pets when it’s been time to let them go, most of whom I would prefer to spend time with over a lot of the humans I know.

I didn’t have an especially close relationship with either of the other two family members I lost this year. I knew them both and mostly had positive regard for them. I know there are people who were much closer to them and are probably dealing with very dark days right now. With everything else going on in 2020, it really is a strain to also lose someone you love, even if they didn’t die of the “plague” that is COVID-19.

But if, by chance, the strain isn’t too rough, I don’t think it’s helpful to feel badly about that. Don’t feel ashamed for not feeling bad. Even if it seems like you should be grieving or mourning more than you are, your ultimate goal would be to get over the pain, right? So if you’re not feeling the pain, there’s no need to force it. Forcing it wouldn’t be a legitimate form of mourning anyway. Chances are, if the grief ever did hit with a vengeance, you’d still need to do the work that comes from getting over a loss.

There may come a day when the gravity of loss will hit one of us very hard. But, for now, maybe it hasn’t sunk in… or maybe we’ve already done our grieving, years ago, when the loss wasn’t permanent, but still felt acute. I know I went through a rough time when I realized that some of my family members, whom I had looked up to and loved very much, were not as wonderful as I’d assumed they were. I went through a kind of grieving when I saw them with adult eyes instead of a child’s eyes. And then I moved away, and the pain faded. When some of them passed away, my feelings ran the gamut. In every case, I was sorry that they had suffered. And I was grateful that the suffering was over. In every case, I was sorry that I would not see them again. And I was grateful that their problems were solved and that there’s a chance I might see them again on the other side… if there is one. Even if there isn’t another side, when it’s my turn to go, I won’t be any the wiser.

Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. We all go through it. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you your feelings are inappropriate. They’re just feelings, and there’s no right or wrong to them. They’re just how you feel, and you have the right to feel things authentically. I know there are some people who are very concerned about appearances and would judge another person for how “appropriate” their grieving process is. But it wouldn’t help anyone else for Bill or me to be falling apart with grief. My husband’s stepmother would not feel better, for instance, if Bill was beside himself with tears to the point at which he couldn’t function. She might think that would be “appropriate” and deferential, but the reality is, it wouldn’t make any real difference to anyone… least of all, the deceased. She wouldn’t feel any better to see Bill devastated by loss. Maybe they could commiserate from afar– maybe there would be a feeling of “solidarity”. But when it comes right down to it, the real process of grieving is mostly a solitary one. Your feelings are yours, and yours alone.

There’s no need to add to your own burdens by trying to feel grief or sadness that isn’t there because that’s what’s considered “appropriate”. I think we need to change our thinking about that, and stop shaming people for not acting in the ways we think are “normal”. Who decides what is “normal”, anyway?

Well… that about does it for my Sunday message. I’m going to dive back into The Crown, take a shower, and maybe brush up on my guitar skills. Enjoy your day.

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