Amid the now week-long fallout from allegations that former White House staffer Rob Porter abused two of his ex-wives lies an underlying suspect: elders in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints who advise Mormon women to stay with their abusers.
Like Porter’s ex-wives, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday, Mormon women are often encouraged to stay with their abusive husbands.
More than 20 former and current Mormon women spoke to BuzzFeed about their experiences asking for church leaders’ advice when their husbands abused them, and many reported the same negative reactions.
“In response to their requests for guidance, the women said, they were told by their bishops to stay in abusive relationships, that their eternal salvation could be jeopardized by leaving violent partners, and that they were to blame for their marital problems,” the report noted.
Jennifer Willoughby, one of Porter’s ex-wives who told the FBI about the erstwhile staffer’s abuse, told the Intercept that when she went to an LDS elder for counseling on her then-husband’s anger problems, she was advised to consider his political aspirations.
“‘Keep in mind, Rob has career ambitions,'” Willoughby recalled the Mormon leader telling her.
Willoughby’s story appears to be on the milder end of abuse-apologist advice from LDS elders.
Rebecca, a 48-year-old Utahan, told BuzzFeed she “can’t tell you how many doors were broken down in my house” while she tried to keep herself and her children safe from her husband. Nevertheless, when she sought help from a Mormon bishop in 2012, he dismissed it, saying “all relationships have their problems.”
Two years later, she got an even more troubling warning against leaving.
“I was told by my bishop, ‘You’re ruining your family for eternity,’” she said. “So it was traumatic to realize that I had been living in this marriage for decades that was terrible and demeaning and degrading, and then I was being told that if I left it I was ruining my children.”
“Mormons believe that marriages and parental relationships continue after death,” the report noted. “But the opportunity to be with family members after death hinges on a person’s righteousness, and requires them to be married in an LDS temple, a rite known as ‘sealing.'”
A Colorado woman told BuzzFeed that when she was physically assaulted by a man she’d been dating at a Mormon school, a bishop told her she’d “forced” the man to act in that manner.
“He said that it was a very serious situation, that I needed to repent, and told me I had to meet with him weekly to discuss what had happened,” she said. “At the time, his response was more damaging to me than what the guy had done.”
The woman later met and married another man who sexually assaulted her and enacted emotional abuse.
“He then snapped and pushed me down and raped me while I was saying no, asking him to stop, and crying,” she said.
When she told another church leader that she would not be moving with him as he accepted a job in a new state, she was warned that “her decision could jeopardize her husband’s career.”
“He repeated that I needed to ‘support and sustain the priesthood’ and that my husband’s career would be at risk if I didn’t move with him to support him,” she said.