What if you learned that your young son or daughter had been grilled about sex or masturbation without your permission? As a parent, I would panic. And then I would start asking questions; Who is doing this, why are they doing it, and is my child okay after enduring such a bizarre and intrusive questioning?

Sam Young knows the answers all too well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints routinely asks such questions of children. (The ‘why’ is a bit more complicated.) And children, he says, are, without question, often harmed as a result.

Thanks to Young, who is a practicing Mormon, those of us outside the LDS Church have learned about these “masturbation interviews,” as he calls them, which can take place without parents’ knowledge or consent. For months now, Young has been raising awareness of these interviews and telling people how inappropriate they are, if not harmful.

An unnecessary and potentially abusive practice

The interviews are conducted by church leaders, usually bishops, in which children as young as 8 are pressed about sexual thoughts, masturbation, homosexual activity, and other so-called “sins” of the LDS Church. The interviewers often are older men with no training in counseling or sex education. Typically, they sit alone with the child behind a closed door, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the parents.

The LDS Church contends that such “personal interviews are an important part of ministering.” The church states, “There are times when a discussion of moral cleanliness is appropriate—particularly if a young man or young woman feels a need to repent,” adding, “when a young person is faced with serious sin or temptation, a bishop will likely encourage them to share (as appropriate) their struggles with their parents so they can pray for, teach and encourage the young man or young woman.”

But to those of us who have been studying such practices, it’s simply another example of a religious organization intruding into family decision-making and causing children to feel guilty about natural impulses and their sexual identities. Young says children who have undergone these interviews have suffered shame, guilt, and self-loathing; some have attempted suicide and been victims of sexual abuse.

Press Conference on Feb. 6

To force the church to end the practice, Young has appealed to the public, particularly Mormons. He started a blog and talked to church leaders. In October of 2017, he started a petition that, so far, has gained more than 14,000 signatures.

And on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 10:00 am, Young will hold a press conference in Houston. He asks anyone in the Houston area to join him at the Southwest Multi-Service Center. For those who can’t make it, the event will be live-streamed on Youtube.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project wholeheartedly supports Sam Young’s effort to rid the LDS Church of this unnecessary and potentially harmful practice. We believe that religious organizations should support families and that they should trust parents to make healthy decisions for their children and seek the help of religious leaders if they feel they can be helpful.

To learn more about the Protect LDS Children press conference in Houston, click here.

Want to learn more about religious child maltreatment? Sign up for our email list here or email us.

Janet Heimlich is the founder of the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national, nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity that raises awareness of religious child maltreatment. Ms. Heimlich is also an award-winning journalist and the author of "Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment" (Prometheus Books), the first book to take an in-depth look at child abuse and neglect that is enabled by religious belief. For eight years, Janet freelanced as a reporter for National Public Radio. She also writes non-fiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Texas Observer. Janet has won nine journalism awards, including the Dallas Press Club’s Katie, the Houston Press Club’s “Radio Journalist of the Year,” and the Texas Bar Association’s Gavel Award. Janet received a B.A. in Communications with a minor in English from Stanford University in 1984.

5 Comments

  1. Jean Clelland-Morin
    February 3, 2018
    Reply

    I am a graduate of BYU. I was raised in the LDS church. I don’t remember anything like this. I hope this atrocity is ended !

    • Adam
      February 5, 2018
      Reply

      In my stake in Kaysville, UT they ask all young men “When was the last time you masturbated?” and “When was the last time you looked at pornograghy?” As of one month ago when I discussed with a member of our bishopric.

    • Kelsey
      February 6, 2018
      Reply

      Many people, if they themselves were never asked these questions, simply deny that it’s even happening. So thank you for realizing that even if YOU we’re not asked these questions they are happening!

  2. Sally
    February 4, 2018
    Reply

    These “worthiness interviews” are a routine practice in the Mormon church. I left the faith a few years ago for other reasons. I can attest that often this is more of an interrogation. Fear, shame and guilt are the holy trinity of manipulation and fear, shame and guilt are OFTEN handed out to these children by an authority figure (always a man!) w a child alone behind closed doors.
    When I was still in all this was “normal.” Now that I’m out I see clearly how unholy and impure this horrifying practice is.

    • February 5, 2018
      Reply

      Thank you for sharing this. Now that this practice is being exposed, maybe LDS leaders will stop it, if only for public relations reasons. I’m sure many parents considering joining the church would think twice if they knew what their children would have to endure.

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