Monday, March 9, 2009

Unnamed rape victims, Missouri, 1838

I’ve been on a quest to find the women that serve as the context for some of our famous stories in church history. The story I’ve been drawn to in recent weeks is the “majesty in chains” story. During their imprisonment in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and other church leaders lay on the floor of their prison, being forced to listen to the boasts of their jailers about the theft, rape and murder they had committed against the Mormons. The men lay in silence for some time, and then Joseph could take no more. Joseph sharply chastened the guards in the name of God, and the guards, overcome by his power, begged his forgiveness.
I realized as I reread the account that aside from that brief mention of sexual assault, I didn’t know anything about the women or the assaults. It is an area of church history I have never heard discussed outside of that brief mention. I knew I wouldn’t find the names of these women, and I imagine that based on the time period they lived in, they wouldn’t want their names to be known. But I also wanted to respect them enough to acknowledge the terrible price they paid for their faith and honor their memory. So I did a little digging to find the accounts others gave of their experiences, and found their rapes discussed in affidavits by Hyrum Smith and Parley Pratt. It is a little gruesome, so this might be the place to stop reading if this is a sensitive area for you.
Hyrum recounted that the mobs not only raped many Mormon women, but the nature of these rapes were downright barbaric. He told the story of one woman who was bound to a bench in a Mormon meetinghouse, gang raped by sixteen men, and was left bound and exposed. Hyrum ended this segment by noting that “the lady who was the subject of this brutality did not recover her health to be able to help herself for more than three months afterwards.”
In Parley’s affidavit, he stated that the jailers named “one or two” women that “twenty or thirty” men had raped, and he stated that “One of these females was a daughter of a respectable family with whom I have been long acquainted, and with whom I have since conversed and learned that it was truly the case.”
We tend to pay a lot of attention to those that are willing to die for what they believe in. And don’t get me wrong, it is a brave and honorable thing to do. But I think we often neglect those that survive, but live the rest of their life physically or emotionally scarred because of a sacrifice they made for their faith. It is an entirely different level of bravery to wake up every day, continue to pay the price, and still keep believing. I think about the young woman Hyrum discussed, and I admire the courage it takes for her to walk into a meetinghouse and sit on a pew. I think about the sister missionaries that were gang raped a few years back in South Africa, and I admire the bravery it takes for them to put their name tag back on and walk down the street. And I admire the courage it takes to give yourself enough time to heal before trying to do these things. I honor these women's example of daily faith under terrible circumstances.
History of the Church, Volume 3, pages 422 & 428. Affidavits Of Hyrum Smith et al. On Affairs In Missouri, 1831-39; Officially Subscribed To Before The Municipal Court Of Nauvoo The First Day Of July, 1843.


In The Doghouse said...

The "Majesty In Chains" story is one of my favorite stories about the Prophet Joseph Smith, told so eloquently by Parley P. Pratt. I have always felt my heart brake for the women that they referred to in that story but have never taken the time to research the actual validity of it. Thank you for remembering these brave women and the trials they faced. It gives added meaning to the passion with which the Prophet rebuked those crazed men.
I believe there were many women who had to bear the scars of standing true to their beliefs. These are real heroes.

Du Xinyi said...

It's nice to know there are others who consider these types of things. The women who had to keep up their heads and their faith after experiencing those terrible trials were probably greatly blessed, either during their lives or the hereafter. I think part of the reason their plights aren't mentioned as much is because of the alienation that the church seems to put up around sexual assault. But their strength should serve as an inspiration, not as a shameful reccounting. Thank you for your thoughts!