Before I wasn’t in a healthy enough place to talk about any of this. It was the worst experience of my life. More so than my first marriage even. This singular experience has scarred me worse than any other trauma I have gone through in life. And it wasn’t even as bad as it could have been.
When I was 19 I went to work at a Bookstore. I love books and there was a cute little store on a popular street in Spokane. I was pretty much in Heaven. Any overtime I worked I got paid in books. I never wanted to leave.
One day an older man came up to me as I was shelving books and just started talking to me, he told me a little later that he was the owner of the store and he had been impressed with my work ethic. He offered me a higher paying job at his home where the majority of his book collection resided. I would be organizing and shelving the books there. It seemed too good to be true, I would be working with another girl my age and had more steady hours.
Despite an overpowering smell of cat urine the job was going great. The books were a mess at first, but thanks to my small stint of OCD I had a knack for organizing chaos. Every weekday I would show up, wait for him to answer the door, say hello to the other girl I worked with who helped the man with house work, then descend to the basement, turn on music, and organize the bookshelves, reading some of the back covers as I went and making a list of all the books I wanted to read. After a few hours I either went out to lunch or ate the lunch I had packed, and got back to it. Once the day was finished I would go upstairs, the man would pay me in cash and I would leave for the day.
That’s the way it went for a couple weeks. My boss seemed a nice man, a little odd, but nice. He would often talk to me before and after I worked and found out I was LDS, or Mormon, and talked about all the nice Mormon girls he had worked with. It turned out he owned more businesses than just the Bookshop, he owned a clothing store downtown, he dabbled in professional photography catalogs that sold pantie-hoes and lingerie and was trying to get licensed as a massage therapist. He would often talk to me about the good Mormon girls who posed for him, commenting that it was perfectly okay for them to do so despite the standards we had been taught. He asked me to pose for him, offering me a pay raise, I declined.
I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time. I didn’t realize he was grooming me, he was relaxing my defenses. Finding something I connect to and then easing me into complacency. Using those Mormon girls and saying if they thought it was okay, I should too. I didn’t realize he was making me feel guilty about my “strict standards” and making me eager to prove LDS girls weren’t like the world said they were: Superior. He was very subtle. A practiced hunter.
Soon he started buying me lunch and taking me with him on daily errands. I didn’t really think anything of that either. I was nineteen, he was in his late sixties. I had two loving grandfathers, and I had a history of taking care of older people. I trusted them. I trusted him.
Still we talked, and still he made me feel worse about my standards and the protected way I lived my life. Still he made it seem like posing for the catalog wasn’t a big deal, still he made it seem like just because girls stripped down to their underwear and let people take pictures of them they weren’t bad people, they just appreciated their own beauty. I found myself wanting to be that girl. Wanting to be so comfortable with myself and who I was I could be proud of my body. He also told me the reason why he had never asked the other girl I worked with to pose was because he knew her mother and he thought it would create an awkward situation. He made it seem like such an obvious thing that he wouldn’t ask her, he made it seem so easy to trust that he didn’t want to hurt me, that he wasn’t preparing me for something far worse than taking pictures for a lingerie catalog.
Soon he also started talking to me about another employee that he had had, who had claimed to the authorities that she had been sexually abused at his hands. He made it seem like she was so silly and ignorant to have reported him. He said that he had settled with her before she took him to court because he felt bad for her. He often complained about the type of girl she was to use him so just because his multiple businesses had made him successful in life. He made it seem like she had fabricated everything just to get money out of him. He made me feel sorry for him. He made me feel angry at the girl for using him like that…The practiced hunter…
Soon he started saying he needed to practice for his massage therapy classes he was taking so he could get certified. Before I could hardly think about what would happen he had me agreeing to let him practice on me. I was to come over the next day.
I had assumed that the practice was to take place at his school. Bear in mind I was only 19 at the time and still had no idea that I was being hunted. Or if not at his school then in the living room and at least the other girl I worked with would be there. So imagine my surprise when he mentioned the other girl was taking a day off today and started to lead me not to his car, but to his bedroom.
I’m not going to go into any more detail about it because honestly it’s still something I’m working through. But he…well, even with what he did, it could have been so much worse.
When I got home from work that day, I proceeded to curl up under a spray of scalding hot water in the shower and cried. I was so completely confused in my feelings, so terrified and alarmed. I couldn’t put together what had happened with my imagine of the kind elderly boss I thought I had been working with.
The next day I didn’t go in to work. In fact, I didn’t go in all that week. When he called me I let it go straight to voicemail, and then I listened to the message of him firing me and not giving me my last paycheck. I didn’t feel anything about it. I was numb.
A day or so after this happened my mom had brought me into her office and had showed me an article about a girl who claimed to be sexually abused at the hands of her employer. Her employers name was the same as mine: Hal Moose. The girl had tried to press charges but it had never gone to court. She claimed that Hal had convinced her to let him give her a massage which turned out to be in his bedroom. There’s no better hunter than the one who continues to use the technique that has a history of being successful.
I didn’t talk to anyone about what happened. I never told my parents, my best friend, anyone. Because of the terror I felt I had repressed it so much that I even repressed it from myself, until I was living with my sister three years later and she asked if I would go to the massage session she had scheduled because she wasn’t going to make it and didn’t want to pay the cancellation fee. I didn’t understand why, but I vehemently refused to go. She asked me why, and I didn’t understand myself, I didn’t understand why my pulse was suddenly racing, I didn’t understand why I suddenly became anxious and nervous, I didn’t understand why my skin suddenly became ultra-sensitive, I didn’t understand until after thinking about it, and wondering, I began seeing a deformed clawed hand reaching down to me and I remembered what had happened.
I had many repercussions as a consequence of what happened that day. I started wearing baggy clothes, I couldn’t show any cleavage, I became standoffish and distant to people I didn’t know, being uncomfortable giving hugs to people I had just met, most especially older men. And my self-worth…well that had vanished almost entirely. I am convinced that because of this experience and how it led me to feel about myself, it was the thing that did the most to lead me to my first marriage with a husband who was so negligent and manipulative. I was accepting the love I thought I deserved, and because of Hal, I unconsciously thought I deserved the abuse for what had happened to me.
This story isn’t as bad as the thousands that take place each year in our country. Girls my age, younger and older, who are sexually abused, or raped at the hands of men in their lives. Because of my fear and shame, I couldn’t come forward about this experience until now. And I have felt the guilt like a knife at the thought that because of my silence what happened to me could have happened to the next girl who was employed under Hal Moose.
Despite the lack of severity, this situation is still the most terrifying that has ever occurred. It’s still the one that gives me nightmares, it’s still the one that causes me the most fear, it’s still the one that I have the hardest time talking about, I still consider it to be the worst experience I have ever had.
We need to have more sympathy for those men and women who suffer abuse like I have and abuse worse than I have. We need to stop making victims feel like the victimized, but help them feel strong again.
Women, especially LDS women, are so sympathetic to the people around us. I hate that Hal made me question people’s motives now. I hate that instead of the trust I used to have in people there is now an ever present layer of skepticism. I hate that I get uncomfortable if I’m around a guy I don’t know, in a room by myself. I hate that I tense up when an older man at church wants to give me a hug. I hate that I look at someone I don’t know and think ‘what will I do if they try to hurt me?’ I hate that it’s taken me so long and I’ve fought so hard to believe in the goodness of people again instead of only seeing the crime rate and the corruption.
But I do. I do believe in the goodness of people. I do believe there is more good in this world than bad. I do believe that the good in this world will conquer the evil if we have the courage to take a stand and have faith in ourselves and our cause. I do believe in a merciful Heavenly Father who will someday hold Hal accountable for his actions. I do have the strength to forgive Hal if someday he were to change his heart. I do give thanks everyday for a loving elder brother, even Jesus Christ who suffered my pain and fear, who took upon himself my pain and fear, and who is healing the hole inside me. I am so grateful for the mercy of God, I am so grateful to him for sending his son, who knows perfectly everything I have been through in this life. I am so grateful for his perfect love, his perfect knowledge, his perfect companionship. I am so grateful for Heavenly Father for giving me the strength, and for allowing me to heal from this experience enough to share it with others who could be suffering like I was. I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Please raise awareness, please be vigilant of those people in your children’s lives, please strengthen the victims, don’t hold them down in their experiences, please understand that there is only one who can understand, and that is our all-loving, all-knowing Savior. Teach your girls to be strong, kind yes, but strong. And help them to know their worth is above what others say it is. Their worth is divine, and only the Father who created them should effect how they feel about themselves.