Note: This article, originally appearing in 1981, is no longer available anywhere. Because it was such a landmark article for its time, SquareTwo is rescuing it from the slipstream of time. The most enduring legacy of this article is Murdock's discussion of whether a rape victim has lost her virtue, and also of some of the toxic approaches to rape that were prevalent in LDS culture at that time over 33 years ago. Maxine Murdock was a professor of psychology at BYU for many years. We thank B. Kent Harrison for the suggestion that SquareTwo save this article from oblivion.

Not long ago I was contacted by a police investigator from a nearby community who wanted to know if I could be of help to a young Latter-day Saint girl, a victim of rape. With the girl's cooperation, they were tyring to bring the matter to trial; however, they needed a better description of the attacker. But no matter how careful an approach they took, whenever the attack was mentioned the girl would begin to involuntarily tremeble. She couldn't help it: tears would flow, and she would begin to cry almost to the point of hysteria.

Alarmed and compassioante, the investigators felt that dredging up such traumatic memories might do her irreparable harm.

I asked the girls' mother to bring her to an office that resembles a comfortable apartment more than the usual businesslike setting. In these friendly surroundings we got acquainted. She was a wonderful young girl, and I liked her and her mother immediately. We began with relaxation techniques, and after lunch we continued with other measures that we hoped would, above all, free her of the pent-up emotions that had been so hard for her to cope with. Finally, we were able to set aside the emotional trauma--and in the process we were fortunate enough to get a very accurate description of her attacker and what had happened.

In the course of dealing with this young girl, it was very heartwarming to note the support and understanding she received from her parents and other members of her family, from close friends and acquaintances, from her bishop, and from the authorities. I know very well that if she had been denied the kind of love and support she did get from these people, who were so significant in her life, her reactions would have been much more severe.

Not all such victims are so fortunate, however, because many of those whom they count on for support are either bewildered by the circumstances or, through a lack of understanding, ae only able to respond in an unsympathetic way.

In my eleven years of work as a psychologist among both Latter-day Saints and nonmembers, in clinical settings and in everyday circumstances, I have found that personal assault is a subject that is difficult for many people to even bring themselves to discuss. It is one thing to deal frankly with robbery, vandalism, and other forms of violence. But sexual crimes violate more than our pcoketbooks and more than the orderliness of our society; they strike at a facet of the human soul that we think of as most intimate and personal and "most dear and precious above all things" (Moroni 9:9)--so much so that for some it may seem almost inappropriate to raise the issue in public.

Nevertheless, personal assault of this nature is not a problem that can be wished away. It happens. Furthermore, it happens to Latter-day Saints. And because of the deteriorating moral climate that is characteristic of our times, there is reason to think that conditions will worsen. Uncomfortable as it may be, we must face the problem and become aware of the facts so that we can, first of all, take steps to make ourselves less vulnerable; and secondly, understand how we can react in a constructive, supportive way when the crime either happnes to someone among us or is committed by one among us.

I have seen the term rape defined in various ways. In all cases, however, it is an explitation and humiliation of an unwilling victim by a very personal invasion. Usually it is a hostile attack by a stronger person against a weaker one.

As a counselor, I have talked with many women who have been molested earlier in their lives and who are still suffering the emotional trauma of the experience, as well as women who have been forced into incestual relationships at various ages in their lives. I have also counseled with men who have been accused or convicted of rape or molestation.

In every case I have felt deeply the tragedy of the situation. Besides physically harming the victim, this crimes degrades and humiliates her; and to the physical and severe psychological trauma is often added the person's own tragically confused feelings as well. Many times I have listened to girls and women tearfully express teh feelings resulting from these experiences--feelings of embarrassment, of having been shamed, and perhaps even of guilt for still being alive, for not losing their lives in a desperate, all-out counterattack. Sometimes the victims have horrible nightmares. One sister I counseled became terribly frightened whenever she realized she was alone--and this was still going on twenty years after the event had occurred.

Under these circumstances, the victim feels a desperate need for support--support from her family, from Church leaders, from friends, and from ward members. Sometimes, however, this support is denied because of others' misunderstandings, and some have been, in effect, "turned away" to endure a solitary kind of hell. There is no doubt that the fear of not receiving this kind of sympathetic understanding and support--or at least a fair hearing--is one of the reasons why so many instances of personal assault go unreported. Law enforcement agencies and experts in the field estimate that only about one-fifth (and perhaps as few as one-tenth) of all such crimes are actually reported to the police.

Myth: It Doesn't Happen to "Nice" Girls

There are several variations on this myth that seem to say the same thing: it only happens to persons with "bad reputations," or "only to women from lower social classes," or, worst of all, "to women who 'ask for it' and even subconsciously want it to happen--or at least have done something to deserve it." Furthemore, there is often a notion that it only happenes to the young, the beautiful, or the provocatively dressed.

The truth is that none of these stereotyped images is accurate.

Anyone who has had extensive experience counseling victims of this crime knows that the victims come from every imaginable background. They are of every age, shape, race, and social class. They may be single or married, attractive or plain, dressed conservatively or stylishly, and of a variety of vocations. Their character and their personal reighteousness varies dramatically. They are of all ages--young, middle-aged, or old.

There has been a popular myth that assumes that if a woman is raped, she probably invited it in some way. (Like most such myths, this one exists because of its convenience; it frees the non-victim from having to care or trouble himself about the tragedy.) In fact, one young sister reported that a member of her ward remarked that any girl who was personally assaulted deserved it. He evidently felt that a woman always has control over the circumstances that can lead to personal assault.

The truth is that no child of God, old or young, deserves this experience, no matter what the circumstances. Furthermore, in the great majority of instances, the victim's dress or behavior could not in any way be interpreted as an invitation. Unfortunate incidents do occur because of misread social cues (especially among teenagers in their anxious and sometimes careless attempts to assume adult roles); and for this reason it only makes sense that both men and women will want to be aware of the messages they might send by means of their clothing and behavior, and both men and women must be taught to regard each other in terms of mutual respect. But the idea that a woman actually "asks for" or invites and enjoys the kind of humiliating treatment that I deal with, that I read in the police reports and hear from the victims themselves--being threatened or coerced, even exposed to injury or death--is simply not true.

Fortunately, I hace learned that many church leaders who are in a counseling position are wonderful in their handling of members who have special need of love and support. But many of us, though our motives may be right, ahven't has the experience to give the right kind of support. We don't understand, and so sometimes our attitudes don't leave the victim a way out of the feelings they may be experiencing. It is my judgment that when we are able to get close enough to another person to establish a warm human relationship, we are then able to see that being a victim is vastly different from being a willing participant.

Myth: It only occurs in dark, deserted place and disreputable neighborhoods

This is an erroneous image chiefly derived from cinema. While many such crimes do occur in secluded places, on dark streets, or in apartments and homes where windows or doors are left unlocked, and although statistically the majority of such crimes take place after dark (between the hours of 8 pm and 2 am) and more frequently on weekends than at other times, they happen in almost every other setting as well. At least half of all such crimes are committed in the victim's home or apartment, the majority of them my men who know the victim--a neighbor, friend, date, relative, or other acquaintance. The tragic crime of incest almost always occurs right in the person's home.

Myth: Rapists are shabby, lustful, and deranged psychopaths

Just as there is no typical rape victim, there is also no typical rapist. They, too, vary in age, race, and social class. Some are married, others single. Some may appear shabby, others may appear to be "respectable." Some use verbal coercion and physical force, others use more subtle methods: "I'm a stranger in town. Can you show me the way to this address?" Sometimes strangers gain entry into a home or apartment by knowcking at the door and giving a seemingly legitimate reason to enter. Some rapists plan the crime well in advance of the attack, having "cased" the scene beforehand; others are simply opportunists who might see a woman at a stop light or alone going toward her car and on impulse force her into a car. Drugs or alcohol both are often involved.

In my counseling, I have talks to some psychopathic rapists who showed no emotion at all and who expressed neither concern nor hostility toward the victim. Some have expressed remorse for their actions. Some few are mentally retarded or have confused thinking due to psychotic brain processes or brain damage.

Most men who commit rape, however, are not deranged or seriously disturbed. They are men with faulty attitudes woard sex or women. Many are unable to establishe loving relationships and use force to obtain gratification. For others it may simply be a desire to exploit or humiliate. And many have for various reasons become hostile toward all women, and commit the crime out of anger or to feel power and control. For these reasons, in addition to being a crime of passion, rape is also considered a crime of violence.

To be sure, many rapists need to be confined in the interest of public safety. But, tragically, most of them will be back in society in a few years, likely to repeat their behavior unless they have had a desire to change and have received intensive and appropriate help.

Myth: It cannot happen to a woman against her will.

Many women do resist rape successfully; but to state flatly that any woman can prevent personal assault if she really wants to is to simply ignore many of the circumstances that often surround the crime.

First of all, the victim is usually smaller and considerably weaker than her male attacker--twenty to forty pounds lighter and three to six inches shorter, on the average. Most such crimes also involve weapons or coercion of some kind, and thus at least an implicit threat of injury or death (a small percentage of rapes do result in death, and at least a third result in injuries that require a physician's treatment). And finally, the victim is frequently taken by surprise and is paralyzed by fear--too terrified to make a sound, forgeting any pre-planned strategies she may have had for resisting. And in any case, fighting or screaming that may discourage one rapist may motivate another.

While some attempted assaults may be averted by various means, many occur in spite of anything a woman might do. One sister described to me how she was held with a knife at her throat. Others have been choked to submission or unconsciousness by a much stronger assailant. And I could give examples of women who, tragically alone and helpless against an attacker or attackers, found that personal assault was absolutely unavoidable. We must understand that even though a woman may have decided she would rather lost her life than be raped, she may very well not have this option.

Myth: The victim has lost her virtue.

Virtue is something that cannot be taken away from anyone; it can only be given up voluntarily. If, for example, a person is robbed, does that make him or her a thief? Or if someone takes your life, are you therefore guilty of murder? Certainly not. And of course the same is true of rape: the guilt lies with the perpetrator, not with the victim.

Sadly, however, some persons have tended to burden the victim with a residue of disgrace and sublte condemnation. More than one young sister has broken down and said to me, for example, "Because of this, I'm not a virgin anymore." In almost every case this becomes a terribly big issue as she tries to sort out her self-image following the crime. But a loss of virginity is not a loss of chastity where rape is involved. If a woman is robbed or mugged, she does not hesitate to report it to family and legal authorities and receives understanding, sympathy, and support from her friends, her family, ward members, and church leaders. But in the case of rape she may wonder, "Will my husband (or boyfriend) forever think of me as unclean?" Unfortunately, some Latter-day Saint wives or girlfriends have been rejected in this way. I know of some tragic instances where innocent victims have actually been told, "No righteous Latter-day Saint man will ever want to marry you now." Sadly, others as well as the rapist can be brutal.

* * * * *

Now--take a deep breath. Certainly not all of the foregoing has been pleasant reading. Its purpose, though, has not been to dismay or alarm. Instead, it is intended that this review of common myths about personal assault will have persuaded readers that any Latter-day Saint sister should be able to feel free to report personal assault without being subjected to more emotional injury. She should receive medical help in case of physical disease or damage. She should receive psychological care or other understanding, supportive help so that she can get over the agonizing psychic pain which is often far more devastating than the actual physical trauma. And she should be able to talk freely with family members, church leaders, friends, or others who can provide support in an atmosphere of compassion, kindness, understanding, and complete confidentiality, persons who will truly be non-condemning, who can listen sympathetically and give her the assurances she needs.

And we hope she can receive blessings and inspiration from the Lord through righteous priesthood leaders. Fortunately, many of the sisters I have talked to who were victims of rape or incest have received marvelous support from church leaders in this regards. Indeed, few of us realize how serious and devastating the trauma of personal assault can be. The impact on the soul is very great, and the victim's need for blessings from others is also very great. Here's where a priesthood leader or bishop can be of outstanding help--if she can just see him, or call him, and if he can be a supportive and helpful listener. And sometimes that's what the victim needs most--a listener, so that feelings can be brought out instead of suppressed.

With her family, she will probably go through an acute reaction phase where she needs to repeatedly talk about her experience and resolve the "why me" questions: "What have I done to deserve this?" She may punish herself for carelessness--not checking to see if the windows were locked, or some other human failing. Unfortunately, family, friends, or others may add innuendos of chastisement for these human errors--the kind of mistakes that probably all of us have made with no unfortunate consequences.

Guilt from the "if only" questions needs to be aired: "If only I had stayed home instead of going to the movie." "If only I had gone to visit my sister when I thought I should." "If only I had screamed instead of being so frightened that I couldn't make a sound."

The "why" questions also need to be resolved: "Why did I park my car at the edge of the lot?" "Why did I stand around windowshopping until the stores had closed?"

Feelings of being "used" or "unclean" (physically or morally) or "unworhty of the love of a good man" need to be worked through and eliminated. In particular, she needs to come to a resolution at an emotional level, and understand that these feelings are directed at one particular man and should not be generalized to include all men.

Sadly, we often have the impression that we can sit down and reason with the victim, and that that kind of approach will do the whole job. Often, too, the victim will look at the situation in a reasonable way and say, "Yes, I was only a victiml I'n not really any different than I was before; and not all men are rapists." But this is at the factual information level. At a deeper, emotional level it itakes much more time to smooth out and resolve feelings. Some victims reach an outward adjustment buty carry deep-seated feelings with them for years, sometimes accopanied by a lingering loss of hope and bitterness that affect all areas of their lives.

However, with proper support and help, victims can reach a resolution and live happy lives with normal relationships. But for this to occur, a woman needs first to accept herself as a worthy person. She will appropriately attribute blame where it belongs--to the rapist--and will not place the blame on herself. She will realize that she has not lost her virtue, that she has no sin that requires confession, that she is just as acceptable to an understanding boyfriend or husband, to church leaders, and to God, as before. Hoperfully, in reaching this resolution she has been able to talk to both women and men, family members and church leaders, who also truly feel this same way.

Some Precautionary Suggestions

Now, personal assault is not inevitable in the lives of all, or even a majority of women today; and certainly one cannot go through life constantly fearful of attack. Nevertheless, in an age of deteriorating moral climate, we need to take precautionary steps. The following account suggests a number of preventative measures that may be helpful and effective. It is provided by a sister who is a mother of four and a stake Relief Society counselor living in a large city in the western United States.

"Several months ago I was nearly assaulted in my home while I was busily making preparations for Christmas Day as the children took a nap. I was very fortunate in that the attacker was frightened away, and tragedy was avoided. But it was traumatic nonetheless, and my husband and I decided that we had to take precautions to better ensure that we, our children, our neighbors, and our ward members would be better prepared for this kind of emergency than I had been.

"We decided to talk about what had happened in a way that would not paralyze our children with fear. As it happened, our five-year-old's biggest concern was that the back door was broken! He is too young to understand the danger his mother was in, and that's as it should be for the time being.

"But our children no longer fling the door open when the bell rings; they make sure they know who it is first. And during family home evening, when we talk about emergency procedures, we have added some drills to 'What do you do if you need a doctor?' 'What do you do if you see a fire?' and so forth. Our children have now practiced 'What do you do if someone comes into the house who is not supposed to be there?' and 'What do you do if mommy or any other family member calls for help?' We have given the chldren these instructions in a very matter-of-fact way, and they are prepared without being frightened. They have practiced going quickly outside, running to the house of a neighbor, and explaining to the neighbor the need for help.

"We have also taught our children how to answer the telephone correctly. No longer do they pick up the receiver and say, 'Daddy's not here, and mommy's dressing.' Instead they say, 'Daddy can't come to the phone just now. May I take a message?' This is a polite response, and it doesn't tell the caller too much about who is home and who is not.

"I, too, have thought through very carefully what I will do if I am ever threatened again. I am appalled when I remember that our phone has on it an emergency phoe number sticker that included the police and fire department number; and yet at that moment of crisis I took valuable time to find the police number in the phone book! I will not forget that emergency sticker again. Also I have our next-door neighbor's number on every phone. And my husband and children know where to find those numbers in a hurry.

"My husband took quick action to make our home more secure. Windows and doors now have new, safer, deadbolt locks, and we have installed a security alarm system. The alarm bell is visible to anyone who come to the front door. We also have a peephole viewer in our door, so we can identify visitors before opening the door. We checked to be sure the lights at all our entrances worked, and we agreed never to leave keys hidden outside. The garage doors are closed and locked when we are away as well.

"I spoke to our next-door neighbors, and they have agreed that from now on they will check at once if their dogs sense that something is wrong. (They had noticed that the dogs were barking, but they did not look outside to see that they were barking at a strange man who had come into our backyard). All of our neighbors have agreed to keep an eye on one anothers' homes and to be alert for unknown people in the neighborhood.

"Next, under the bishop's direction, I organized two firesides for our ward. At one, a police officer spoke to us about the dangers some women put themselves in by being too friendly to strangers who ring the doorbell. 'Don't be afraid to offend someone by being careful,' he said, 'and don't be at all reluctant to call the police if you have the slightest reason to be suspicious, at any time, and wherever you are. The ambarrassment of a false alarm is better than an attack.' He also talked to us about traveling alone, warning us to have enough gas to get to where we are going and to keep our cars in good condition to avoid breakdowns. He advised us not to stop to aid disabled motorists when traveling alone, and he instructed us to park only in well-lighted areas and to always lock our cars.

"At a second fireside, we showed a film we obtained from Brigham Young University

that taught some of the precautions women can take to lessen their chances of being a victim. At first some ward members were a bit squeamish, but soon they thanked the bishop for educating them about these dangers. I believe we are a much wiser people now.

"In talking with family, neighbors, and ward members, our leaders took care not to foster a climate of fear and suspicion. Most people are good, an no one wants to spend a life mistrusting all strangers and teaching mistrust to one's family. But all people, even the most righteous, must contend with the realities of the world, and those realities are sometimes unpleasant. In doing so, we feel that we have become more responsible, more careful, and more understanding."


Full Citation for this Article: Murdock, Maxine (1981, reprinted 2013) "When It Happens to One Among Us . . . : A Discussion of the Most Common Misunderstandings about Personal Assault," SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleMurdockSexualAssault.html, <give access date>

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