ST. GEORGE — A petition to stop the practice of one-on-one interviews between Mormon leaders and children has garnered over 5,000 signatures.
The petition states closed-door meetings between adult men and children that include questions pertaining to sexual matters are inappropriate and may serve to shame children.
Sam Young, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and previously served as a bishop for the church, led a drive for the petition near the church-owned Temple Square in Salt Lake City Friday and Saturday.
In his five years as bishop from 1991 to 1996, Young told St. George News, he only ever asked child interviewees if they followed the church’s “Law of Chastity,” and his questions were never explicit. He said he was surprised when he later learned that many church members in their youth had been asked explicit questions about masturbation or sexual relationships.
But he said the biggest shock came when he asked his now adult daughter if she had ever been asked by a church bishop if she masturbates.
“She said, ‘Yeah,’” Young said. “She was 12 years old, she didn’t know what it was, she went to the internet – you can find all kinds of stuff on the internet that I didn’t want my 12-year-old exposed to.”
The interview questions inadvertently led his daughter to finding pornography after she looked up the meaning of masturbation, Young said, adding that similar interview questions persisted through her youth from age 12 to 17.
“I was incensed at that,” Young said, “I felt a betrayal of my parental responsibilities – they’d been abdicated and confiscated.”
Young maintains a blog on which he shares numerous anonymous testimonials of individuals who said they were asked about sexual matters in similar interviews during their youth.
The practice of asking such questions during the interviews doesn’t necessarily occur in every congregation, he said, but it is prevalent, based on the many responses he has received.
During the petition drive in Salt Lake City, Young said some people he talked to were unaware or even denied that such questions were asked during the interviews, while others shared their own experience confirming that they were asked in their youth about sex and masturbation by church leaders.
Church leaders typically have no formal training on conducting youth interviews, the petition states.
“We received lots of training sessions, but I don’t remember a single one on youth interviews,” Young said of his time as a bishop, noting that he was never told to ask questions about sexual matters.
Even if it isn’t a church policy to ask specific questions about sexuality, Young is calling for an end to the practice of closed-door interviews that a child’s parent may not even be aware of.
Talking to a child about sexual matters should be done by a trained professional, if at all, he said.
“I’ve had many parents say their kids are not going to have one-on-one interviews,” Young said, “they didn’t know it was an option not to.”
“There are kids who may not be impacted by this,” Young said. “Many kids are going to lie about it. But there are some who are devastated by this.”
Many of the people Young has spoken to who were questioned about sexual matters in their youth have said they have struggled with shame and feelings of inadequacy well into adulthood, he said, including some who were driven to thoughts or attempts of suicide.
“It might not be a lot who consider suicide,” Young said, “but why are we doing this if even one kid is going to commit suicide?”
During the petition drive in Salt Lake City, Young and several volunteers, including his 87-year-old mother, helped garner over 1,000 additional signatures, bringing the petition’s total backers to over 5,400 at the time of this report.
“I’m not an activist. I’ve never done this kind of thing before,” he said, explaining that he took up the issue in order to help future generations of children.
The church’s Public Affairs Department declined to comment on the petition when asked by St. George News Monday.
While he doesn’t know whether the church will acknowledge the petition, Young said it has already accomplished a major goal of bringing awareness to the subject and promoting healing to those who have shared their childhood experiences.
“Those things alone make whatever happens with the petition very meaningful.”
- “Protect the Children” Petition
- Sam Young’s blog
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website
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