Many women seek help from spiritual leaders after discovery of betrayal and abuse.
June, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to share her devastating experience when she confided abuse and infidelity to clergy. June, like many other victims, was dismissed, blamed, and re-traumatized by her bishop. Read the full transcript and listen to the BTR podcast for more.
Clergy Can Not Deal Effectively With Abuse
When victims experience relational trauma, they may seek support and counsel from religious leaders. Unfortunately, clergy are usually completely untrained in issues of abuse, trauma, and betrayal.
When clergy take the role as a counselor or therapist to a woman in an abusive situation, they are overstepping their role.
This misuse of power is damaging and dangerous to victims.
Women Should Take Great Caution In Meeting With Church Clergy
In addition to therapists failing to protect women, Anne also sees countless situations of women who are re-abused by clergy when they go in for help from their abusive spouse. June shares her story of clergy abuse:
We went to our bishop after a repeated episodes of infidelity on my husband’s behalf. The bishop has no training. He did not pick up on the abuse. Instead, the bishop called me a feminist and said I was an angry woman. He told me to get a better wife and mother. He said that my husband was dissatisfied sexually and I needed to give him more sex. Then, my bishop started to ask me about my sex life. He asked me several inappropriate questions that were sexually explicit. My bishop said that he could fix me if I submitted myself to him. He said he has a special way with women and could help me if I let him.
June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Bishops Should Never Blame The Victim For Abuse Or Sexual Assault
Accounts of clergy abuse such as this are being more widely known and shared in the current social climate. June’s story is horrific, but unfortunately not uncommon. She says,
I expected to go to my bishop to feel safe and loved. But what happened was so different. I didn’t have the language to say, “This is sexual harassment, it is victim blaming, rationalization, projection, manipulation.” I could not conceptualize it at all. After this, there was no one to go to, no way to report this church leader for his inappropriate, unethical, and abusive behavior.
June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal And Abuse
BTR can help women who have been re-traumatized and abused by clergy.
Normal, for our relationship, was a lot of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological manipulation and even spiritual abuse. I was constantly in a state of confusion. BTR was a beacon of light to me in my situation. It helped give me language for what I was feeling and be able to label my situation as abusive.
June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers victims knowledge and empowerment as they process trauma, express hard feelings, and ask important questions.
Join today and find the loving, supportive, and validating community that you deserve.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
June is back this week to tell her story about what happened with the abusive situations that she encountered and then her current separation and going through a divorce. This story is really difficult so a trigger warning for those of you who are especially dealing with clergy right now who don’t understand the situation. We’ve got a severe situation going with June.
So, as she shares her story take deep breaths and remember that she is on her way to safety and will get there eventually but getting to safety is a journey. Also, before we start, I want to talk about how when women first start this journey, they don’t think their husbands are abusive. They think: Okay, we’ve got this problem, like he’s got an anger problem, or he has a pornography problem or whatever it is that they think, and so the trauma symptoms aren’t as bad. So, trauma symptoms are lower because a woman thinks that the situation is manageable or that things can get better.
Then as she learns more and realizes that it’s abuse and starts to try to confront the abuser and the abuse gets worse, then the trauma gets worse. Then when you set a boundary around the abuse and it doesn’t stop but is escalates due to the boundary, then the trauma becomes even worse. So, for listeners just know that when you embark on this journey it’s likely going to get a lot worse before it gets better but there is no way around it. You have to go through that pain in order to get to safety.
So, if you start down this path of setting boundaries and things get worse just know that that is expected and that you can do it. That you are brave, that you are strong, and I don’t want anyone to think when they embark on this: Oh, things are getting worse this is really bad and so it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the only way out, but things do get worse before they get better.
Bishops May Not Understand Abuse
So, June lets talk about how you met your husband and when you first suspected that he was using pornography.
June: I met my husband when I was in college and everything seemed great. He came across like he was the man of my dreams and I was very much sort of led to believe that I needed to get married. That was a thing that was very expected of me and I was young in my early 20’s. So, when he came along I thought that this was the path that I was supposed to walk, and I didn’t have too much of a problem with it because he came across so well.
My family liked him. He checked all the boxes that I was raised to believe that he was a safe and worthy person. We ended up getting married and I remember I was sitting on the bed in our first year of marriage using his computer for something and I happened to look in one of the files and I had seen a bunch of photos from a topless beach. I was shocked. It was very clear that these were homemade photos like it wasn’t like he downloaded these. This was like homemade photos taken of women on this topless beach.
I had known that he had spent some time in a place that has a topless beach and he was in some of the pictures with a friend of his. So, I confronted him about it and he gaslit that away and manipulated it and said: Oh, those were his friend’s photos he just never deleted them from the device. Looking back that was my first real D-day and now I’m like: Oh my gosh that was such a little thing compared to everything that has happened since but that was definitely a huge red flag and if I could go back and speak to the former June at that time I would teach her that that was a huge red flag and to pay a lot closer attention then she did.
Clergy May Not Be Training In Handling Abuse
Anne: Uh huh. Why do you think women in this situation dismiss those little experiences? They’re really big experiences but why do we say there little?
June: I think that we want to believe in the good of people and someone doing something like that, that’s a voyeuristic behavior I would say. It’s also stalking and obviously porn, but it goes beyond that. We don’t want to believe that anyone is capable of that. That’s foreign. It’s foreign to me because I have no propensity to really do that and so we want to believe the best of people. These are men that we love. We want to save our families. We want everyone to be healthy and happy.
It’s not hard for someone to come in and say: Hey, this wasn’t my pictures. Here’s what happened and give us an explanation and for us to just take them at their word and believe it.
Anne: Uh huh, totally. So, start talking about when you realized that he really needs help and your trying to help him. What happens then?
Abuse Must Be Treated By Professionals Not Clergy
June: Definitely, throughout our dating and throughout our marriage, there was abuse all along. I had reached out to people. I reached out to my parents, to friends, other family and told them what was going on. I would be called very, very horrific names. I remember one time, even when we were dating, we had gotten in a fight about something and I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and was sitting down on the floor with the lights off and he had come in there and was just yelling over me the B word over and over and over again and I was like huddled in this corner like: Oh my gosh, what is he doing?
We had probably only been dating a few months by the time that situation had happened and still he had said he was sorry afterwards and there was a point that he came into my apartment and decorated my whole room with rose petals. I look back, and this is a text-book abusive cycle. The love bombing, the apologies, then the explosion, then the honeymoon phase and then building up the tension and the explosion and the love bombing. It was just very much like that, but every time he would apologize I would stay because he said he would get better and then it would happen again and then he would apologize, and I would stay.
Every time that they apologize things do get better. You become invested in how the relationship is during that honeymoon phase. In the first year of marriage, it was a lot of verbal abuse. I would tell people and nobody else really picked up on it. They were like marriage is hard.
Anne: He must be stressed, right.
Bishops May Re-Abuse Without Intending To
June: And all this while that I found out later he was calling these friends and family members and gaining this rapport with them and saying that he’s concerned about June because she seems like she’s depressed and really gaslighting me to my family. Really for the next 12 years, he had done this as the abuse was on and off just like an abusive cycle would be, but all the while he was gaining this trust of my family and of my friends. When things escalated to the point that I had to leave that made it extremely difficult for me because I did not trust some of my family at that point.
Anne: So, talk about when you actually started realizing that the behaviors that you were seeing were abusive as opposed to just thinking that he had an anger problem or that he was a pornography addict. Talk about how you made that shift to realizing that these things were abusive.
June: There were things all along the way that I look back on that were all red flags and I missed them. He would chat online inappropriately with women and he would tell me about it. I don’t know why I didn’t have the capacity to understand what was going on but like I said he would always apologize, and I would always stay. It was not until I had a friend that reached out to me and confided in me about her situation with her husband who had some very, very problematic sexual behaviors, porn use, and infidelity, and things like that, voyeurism.
She said: I just have a feeling that I need to be there for you and ask you if you’ve ever thought that your husband is like that? And I don’t know what she picked up on in my husband because she didn’t know him real well and maybe it was things that she picked up on in me because there was definitely a change when I was going through some things privately that maybe she could pick up on. She just shared her story and that night I came home, and I just asked my husband: Is this an issue for you? Because I started tying some of those situations together.
Clergy May Blame The Abuse Victim
There was a time that he had come home, and I was 37 weeks pregnant, and he said: This woman attacked me in my office. I was like: Oh, my gosh that sounds so dangerous and she was trying to come on to him and we need to contact HR. Well, in reality, I found out that they had been sexting on the hospital’s messaging system. He had gone to her office, shut the door and locked it, and there was some kind of sexual encounter and I was 37 weeks pregnant when I found that out. He played it off like he had no idea what was going on and she just did this all on her own.
We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so we went to our ecclesiastical leader who is called the Bishop in our church, and he has really no training to be able to identify abuse or handle infidelity even or marital problems. He is a volunteer and we were going to him and now I look back and I’m like: This situation is just so prime for mishandling because here we are. We’re talking to someone about this huge situation, which was a huge situation, and yet nobody really picked up on the gravity of it.
We went to our Bishop and learned some more things about the situation that I felt like I needed to know. I think my Bishop was kind of in shock and he didn’t really know what to say, but my husband talked his way out of it. I was 37 weeks pregnant, this was my 4th child. I had 3 other children under the age of 5 at the time, one of whom had profound special needs, and I was in no position to process this and to handle it.
Bishops May Not Understand Trauma
I look back and I realize that I wasn’t in that position and that was okay because I couldn’t have been at that time, there’s was no way. I believed him when he said it was not his fault. We had our baby and things kind of went back to normal, and normal for us was a lot of emotional abuse and psychological manipulation and gaslighting and verbal abuse. I just remember a few months after my baby was born, it was the summer, and I had taken all my kids to go see a movie in the park and to play, and my husband was at work. It was very late, and he had been just nasty to me and hanging up on me all day and I’m just thinking: What did I do? What can I do? What did I do? What is going on? What is going on with him and how do I deal with this situation? The confusion was extremely difficult.
After that I started learning more about sexual addiction, sexual behaviors, pornography use and why it’s problematic. I found BTR, which was a beacon of light to me in this situation. (Laughing) I listened to all of the podcasts every single week. I would just wait for the next one to come out. I would research everything about betrayal trauma and it was like for the first I had a label of what I was feeling. I didn’t know what this was. When I learned about betrayal trauma I could understand these symptoms. This is trauma that happens to someone when they are in the situation of being betrayed by someone that they trust implicitly.
When I would listen to the BTR episodes I remember learning about Lundy Bancroft and I remember listening to your story and how horrific it was, but also at the same time I didn’t place myself in that category. I still didn’t, but the more that I listened and the more that you would talk about covert abuse the more that that connected with me. Up to that point I hadn’t experienced outright physical abuse, but the covert abuse that you would describe was very, very much the same of what I was experiencing and the manipulation and the lying and the psychological harm, even the spiritual abuse.
So, that is one thing that I started connecting with and learning about and that opened my eyes to seeing and really identifying that I was in a very bad abusive relationship.
Anne: So, you’re listening to me, I’m sharing my story and you’re thinking: Whoa, I’m really relating to this. When did his behaviors escalate to actual physical violence?
Clergy Must Be Trained In How To Handle Abuse
June: His behavior started escalating when I started finding out more and more about some of the extreme problems that he was having. I found out about several inappropriate relationships that he had had with people at his work. He was in a very powerful position. These were people who were under him, so it was an abuse of power and I knew that this could be a very bad situation for his employment and he’s actually licensed also by the state and I knew that that could be a very bad situation for him as far as that goes.
When I started finding out about this he would come to tell me and confess these things. It was almost as a way of him gaining my trust.
Anne: I want to talk about his for a minute because my Ex did the same thing where he would tell me part of it but the way he would say it was sort of like preempting it and manipulating it to a way were I would view it in a certain way to help him rather than me realizing that this was dangerous and what was happening should have been maybe reported to the police. It was a way of manipulation.
June: Exactly. So, he would come and tell me these things and say: There was an inappropriate encounter with someone at his work or this woman sent me these pictures unsolicited of her (in a) compromising position or wearing nothing. These things all culminated. My husband ended up moving out for 2 months or so. He was in therapy with a therapist who claimed to treat sexual addiction and problematic sexual behaviors and pornography and everything and I had started therapy on my own and we had gone to therapy together with each of our therapists, they were at the same facility. We had met with them maybe once or twice. My therapist easily identified that I was in an abusive situation and this was an abusive cycle. His therapist did not.
Abuse Thrives When Clergy Enables The Abuser
Anne: Yeah, we’ve noticed that so much with so-called sexual addiction experts. They do not identify the abuse and they’re not helping keep the wives of sex addicts safe at all. It’s really actually pretty scary and dangerous.
(Jean) At that point, we were really trying to work things out. I felt like we were on a good path. I felt like he was going to SAA meetings and he had shown a lot of humility and improvement. I remember thinking: If this is the man that could be with me all the time that is who I want. I think that he probably moved back in too soon, but he did move back in and I was very eager to put my family back together and we had a pretty good, I’d say 6-8 months of progress and then things started to slip again, and it was more of verbal abuse that started creeping in. It was more of psychological abuse. It was these things that would start to come back in and I would ask him: Is anything going on with people at work? Do you have any issues because these behaviors, these abusive behaviors, are a really, really big red flag for me? I had tied it all together at that point. I had tied the verbal abuse to the other problematic sexual behaviors and he just insisted: No, no it wasn’t.
I wasn’t one who monitored him. I didn’t schedule his appointments for him. I just didn’t have the capacity to do that, but he just came to me one day out of the blue and said: I have actually been lying to you and there are like 3 women who I’ve had inappropriate relationships with off and on and I am using porn again. It was like a D-day all over again because here I am, I’ve given him my trust in thinking he’s a safe person. I’d let him move back in. I had overcome part of that betrayal trauma to be able to be intimate with him again and to be able to really want to work on our marriage and really trust that we were both doing that, and we were both committed to doing that.
Bishops May Mean Well But Cause Harm
When I found that out it was a huge D-day because it was like: You have been lying to me this whole time and you are not a safe person. At that time, I asked him to move out again he wouldn’t. He became very mean, very irate, very scary. I received a message from somebody anonymously about his reputation at his workplace and that he made people feel uncomfortable and there was even one that described a certain situation where he sexually assaulted a female in this closet at work.
He was sleeping downstairs and I went downstairs, and I asked him about this and he demanded to see my phone and I said: No, you can’t see my phone. I went upstairs and he was running after me at that point. I was very, very scared. I had just found out that this person was very unsafe. I had also had confirmation of this from someone who worked with him, and here he was running after me trying to get my phone. I ran upstairs. He pushed me into a wall. He tackled me. He got my phone. I scratched him. I’m 5’5” and I weigh 140 pounds. He’s 6’6” and he weighs 220, so I did whatever I could. I was very, very scared for my life because I had no phone I ran outside to a neighbor’s house and called the police.
When the police came they looked at him and they looked at me and he had a scratch mark. It was a male police officer and I was incoherent, I was in trauma, I couldn’t really describe anything of what had happened. I was just trying to process it myself. I had no visible bruising yet, although that did show up a few days later, or marks or anything that was bleeding. He went inside, and my husband was just bawling, and the police officer said: Well, I have to take you away because he has these visible injuries. So, I was taken away that night, I was arrested. I sat in the holding area for just a few hours and then they let me go back home.
Victims Can Be Re-Traumatized By Bishops
I didn’t have anyone that I could call to pick me up. I have no family around. Nobody really knew what was going on in my situation, in my marriage. I felt very much a sense of shame and I couldn’t call anyone and say: I’ve been arrested, you know, come and pick me up. There was just nobody that would understand that. My husband did call one of his friends who is actually from our church. Looking back, I see that he had set this up. The more empowered I would become he would say the crazier I would get to this friend. So, I think he could see that I was becoming empowered and stronger and being able to identify abuse and at the same time he was telling people that I was becoming more depressed or more and more angry.
I retained a lawyer and I had injuries of my own, which I had someone take pictures of, and that case was dismissed but I knew I was in a very unsafe situation. I had gone to the library at that point and I did research on domestic violence and abuse and I learned that 40% of women who are in abusive relationships, they’re partner has them arrested for abuse for fighting back. Suddenly the shame of that situation I was able to understand that this was no fault of my own. I took responsibility for my actions, yes, but I also felt more empowered and safer to reach out to people and say: Look, my husband did this to me and he had me arrested. He accused me of abuse and I slowly started gaining the support of the few people, just in a very close-knit circle, that I could trust and could see what was going on.
Clergy May Have Good Intentions But Not Understand Abuse
It was just a few months after that that things really started escalating. My husband started using my arrest as leverage. Saying that if I ever left he would get custody of my children because I had this history and saying I would be out on the street, I wouldn’t have anywhere to live. It was very much held over me and the abuse just escalated from that point. It was like he was given a free pass. I did reach out to the Bishop when I found out about more sexual incidents and many other sexual indiscretions.
My husband and I went to meet with the Bishop at that point and it was after my arrest and after he had confessed a bunch of things to me. The Bishop was meeting with my husband privately. They were in the room for probably about 45 minutes before the door finally opened and I was permitted to go in. So, I went in and I said I’m really at my wit’s end. I’m thinking that this is not a safe situation and I need support and the Bishop looked at me and he said: You need to be a better wife and mom and your husband has told me everything that has happened. You are angry. He called me a feminist.
Anne: Which is not a bad word by the way. Great word. Thank you for the compliment, Sir.
June: It became clear that my husband had gone in there and just said all of these things: June wants to go back to school and I don’t feel like she needs to do that. So, the Bishop said: You don’t need to go back and get your Master’s degree. What are you even thinking? You need to just be a better wife and mom and your husband is dissatisfied sexually. You need to give him more sex basically. I very clearly saw what was happening. I started just speaking my mind and I said: This is not okay. You cannot be saying this. This is not okay. My Bishop started to ask me details of things that I had done sexually when I was a teenager. He said: Your husband said that you were not faithful.
Bishops May Not Know To Refer Victims To Community Resources First
I said: Things I did as a teenager have no bearing on any of this and first of all I’m a married mother of 4 and I’m 34 years old, you do not need to be asking me these questions. It was sexually explicit questioning. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to understand what he was doing, but I look back now and I see that he was definitely trying to shame me for something that I had done a long time ago or something that he was told I had done a long time ago. He was trying to shame me into stopping the complaints or pointing the finger about how abusive my husband was.
Anne: He was trying to silence you, right, and say look: You are the one that’s the problem. Stop causing all this hullabaloo and take your place as a wife and mother. What is your problem, right?
June: The sexually explicit questioning continued. My Bishop said that if I submitted myself to him that he could fix me and that he has a very special way with women. That he has insight into women and that he has a unique ability to fix them and fix their problems and help them. It was so far out of anything that I could identify as inappropriate. I went there thinking that I would feel safe and protected and loved. I knew something was going terribly, terribly wrong. I didn’t have the language to say: This is sexual harassment. It’s inappropriate questioning. It is verbal abuse. It is blaming, it’s rationalizing, it’s deflecting, it’s projecting.
Victims Are Sometimes Repeatedly Abused By Their Spouse And Then By Church Clergy Too
I can name exactly what was happening, but at that time I didn’t. It was so confusing to me why he was asking me these things and why he was taking the position that he did. Telling him and trying to teach him a little bit about trauma and betrayal trauma and pornography use and infidelity and abuse and how it all ties in together, he eventually just got very, very upset at me. He stood up, his face got very red, he yelled at me. He said: I’m exhausted, and I don’t know what else you want from me and I’m trying to take care of all these people and you’re making my job difficult and you need to listen to me.
I was just very, very scary and being a person who had come to him, disclosing that I was verbally abused, that was very triggering for me. It was very, very traumatizing. I got up out of his office and I actually ran out of the church. It was probably 11 o’clock at night at that point, nobody else was there. I had immediately called a friend and I called my mom and explained what happened. From that point on I had tried to take it up to the person above him, which is the state president, it’s like a hierarchy.
I explained what happened and say: This Bishop’s behavior and his questioning was inappropriate, and things are happening in my home that are terribly wrong, and I need some help and the state president said: I don’t believe the Bishop would do that. I wasn’t believed and what else do I do? I tried. I tried to report to whoever I could report it to but there really was nothing else I could do.
Anne: So, I know this story is getting really intense and I know you’re going to want to hear the end, so please stay tuned. We are going to do the rest of June’s story next week.
Abuse Can Happen In Churches Too
Also, I wanted to let everybody know that I personally have been doing meditations sessions with Coach Peggy and I have seen a huge change already. If you’re in BTR Group and you haven’t attended Coach Peggy’s BTR Group sessions, which is our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, we have multiple sessions in multiple time zones, and one of those is with Coach Peggy and she does a meditation group. I would highly recommend that you try it out.
At this point, as you know, I talk a ton so talking doesn’t help me as much as meditating and yoga and that type of stuff, so I would highly recommend it to those of you who feel like: I’m feeling pretty good. What could I do to increase my healing? She also does individual sessions.
To see the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Support Group, otherwise known as BTR Group’s schedule, go to BTR.org and to schedule an individual session with Coach Peggy also go to BTR.org
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Abuse Victims Should Seek Safety From Professionals
And the third thing I want to talk about tonight is sharing these stories so that other women can hear them. So, if you’re on Facebook, if you could go to our website and find this podcast episode, you can get the URL for it and copy it and post it all over Facebook, so people can hear these stories. They are so important. Same thing with Instagram. If you’re on Instagram if you could tag us. Say: Hey, I just found out about this amazing non-profit. You don’t have to give it away that you are the wife of a porn user. You can just say: I found this amazing non-profit, I know so many women have this problem, check it out at Betrayal Trauma Recovery on Instagram or check out this article.
With all of your help, we can make sure that every single woman who is going through this, hears about this information. You heard from June thus far in her story that listening to the BTR podcast really, really helped her and I know those of you who listen it has helped you too, so you can imagine that women who don’t know this and they’re going to a therapist who’s telling them that it’s their fault or they’re going to clergy and the clergy is saying: Just be a better person.
How much trauma that causes. We need to make sure that every woman has this information. So, thank you for those of you who donate. Thank you for those of you who share. Thank you for those of you who tell people about BTR. It’s making a difference to victims all over the world.
So, stay tuned for next week where June tells the rest of her story, and until next week stay safe out there.