Jennie Withers was raised in a close-knit two-parent household where her parents were very happily married. She and her brother have a host of family members who were committed to the Mormon faith.
“Basketball was incredibly important for my self-confidence”, Jennie remembers. As a freshman, she made the all-star team. Jennie was 5’11 when she attended a basketball camp near her Uncle’s house. Sore from basketball camp, she remembers aching and the need to recover from all of the extreme exercise.
Her Uncle who is the husband of her mother’s sister, said of her pains, “I’ll be right back down. I’ll give you a massage and we’ll work those muscles out.” Jennie passively said, “No thank you.” She remembers how important basketball had always been to her. She also remembers her Uncle grabbing her camp t-shirt to ejaculate in after the abuse.
This horrible child abuse took place in the living room, late at night; His family present in their respective bedrooms sleeping calmly. Jennie says that part of his excitement was that he was in the house full of people.
From Jennie’s memory, he never actually penetrated. He would stick his penis between her legs and pretend to. Penetration would be the ultimate sin according to their faith. In his mind, he believed he was not robbing her of her purity.
The last time her Uncle attempted to abuse her was at a family function at her Grandparents’ house. Jennie had come back from touring sixteen countries in one month during a study abroad program with Boise State University. She had the opportunity to spend an additional month exploring Europe with two friends with whom she confided her abuse. She was in the camp trailer by herself when he came and she said, “No More.” He said, “Your Ant’s pregnancy is hard on me.” Jennie boldly said, “No More.”
She attributes her strength to being sixteen, and independent. She was able to drive herself to and from the family functions now. She did not have to explain her pain, she could get away. Jennie a teacher of sixteen years, and basketball coach is compelled to help teenagers to overcome bullying and gain confidence.
Her Uncle impregnated two young secretaries in their town. He was a lawyer, very professional and his wealth made people silent about his character. Although these women were just over eighteen, Jennie was not. He chose fresh out of high school women who often worked for him.
When Jennie finally gained the courage to tell her Aunt, her Aunt believed her and offered her counseling immediately. She left him permanently. Jennie took so long to break her silence because he was the big fish in a little pond as she says. His wife, her Aunt did not want it reported to the police because of what it would do to his income. His income supported her and their three children.
Jennie was also concerned about her cousins growing up without a father and did not want to be responsible for any financial hardship that they would have to endure. In other words, not only was Jennie abused, but now she was taking on the responsibility of his consequences.
Jennie has a different perspective about child sexual abuse and sexual purity. She never thought that she needed to be healed from sexual abuse because in the Mormon religion she was always told that sexual purity was her responsibility. She thought that she was the sinner.
In the Mormon religion, females will go through a Temple when they get married, or go on a mission. This is when Mormon’s begin wearing their garments. You are sealed for a time in all eternity.
The Celestial Kingdom is the highest level of the three levels of Heaven. Females are only allowed into the celestial kingdom if they are called by their husbands only. The men get blessings, not the women. According to the Mormon religion, the only way for a female to enter Heaven is through her husband.
Women stay pure and have lots of children. Women were not allowed to work. The temple is a different place than the sanctuary. Jennie reminds us, “Abuse is never your fault. Healing may mean making some difficult choices and alienating people but it is worth it.”
She now resides in Meridian, Idaho a suburb of Boise, Idaho. Meridian Hill or Malcolm X Park as we have socially named it, in Washington DC is very sentimental to me. Boise reminds me of the Berenstein Bears and boysenberries, I did not know that this was a real berry until I ran into a yogurt about two years ago. And, I absolutely love potatoes. Of course, Idaho makes us think of potatoes.
Jennie’s story of spiritual and child sexual abuse by the hand of her Uncle does not make us feel warm and fuzzy like my associations in the last paragraph. In fact, her story makes us uncomfortable and a bit queezy. I felt this story pulling me to share because of the indoctrination, and because in all honesty her story reflects what we want to happen in the event that a tragedy like this strikes. We want to see the Aunt immediately respond with counseling, and we want to see Jennie overcome her spiritual abuse without being a faithless being.
Although Jennie is very shy of organized religion, she and her husband are open to and praying about an appropriate church home so that their children will gain benefits from a faith filled environment. Right now, Jennie and her husband (who also grew up in the Mormon religion), take their children to the mountains for spiritual peace. This is a solitude that I absolutely resonate with.
Jennie’s faith in God is clearly not absent, however she is clear that her daughters experiences should be focused on learning about faith, and not the hierarchical indoctrination about women’s segregation from leadership or susceptibility and acceptance to abuse.
The book of Mormon was written when Jesus visited the Americas, Jennie says.
“We (women) are intelligent, capable human beings that are loved by God every bit as much as man.” She continues that another thing about Mormonism is that social pressures seem to change the beliefs. First polygamy, (although some Mormons still practice, many do not), and most recently black men who were not allowed to have the priesthood, are able to do so.
Jennie lives a good life with her family, has written several books, and is seeking opportunities to speak out about bullying and the benefits of basketball. We share a love for basketball that can only be exclaimed with the smell of the leather stitching that keeps the ball intact. The smell of my hands after making contact with the ball during games; the worthwhile calluses that yield in soaking tubs, and the sound of the net when the ball meets the bottom of it.
Nothing and I do mean nothing is like basketball. I really believe that God created this game. Speaking of the game, there is a slogan that says, “Get in the Game.” You can not be the change that you want to see unless you change. I heard a preacher say, “Change ain’t change until you change.” So, when you find something so wrong that you can’t ignore it, do something other than talking; create an atmosphere for change.
The Bodyguard: Rescuing Bullies
Bullying is painful. I was an angry child so I was not personally bullied or a bully. I was the bodyguard to the children being bullied, but I’ll spare you the details. As an adult, a writer and advocate I find myself however in that same space, protecting those who are being bullied, by calling to action alongside Jennie Withers and Ginny Scales-Medeiros for more responsibility to be taken with both bullies and children who are bullied.
Ginny Scales-Medeiros mentioned that children who are loved do not become bullies. Bullies are hurting as much as children who are bullied. They often have the same or similar story at home but this bullying business will keep them from healing and supporting each other to overcome adversity.
Both Ginny and Jennie (pronounced the same way), have overcome the challenges associated with child sexual abuse. They both have their own individual stories of molestation and incest. One grew up strict Baptist, and the other Mormon. They have both found their spiritual paths, and have identified areas of their lives that they have mastered so that they can be impactful to others. One lives in a more glamorous life in California, while the other near the mountains in Idaho.
We are all adults who had to be children first. In this case, we three have all come through abuse to live meaningful lives that encourage others to be confident, relentless, intuitive, and grounded.
Jennie’s life has been dedicated to teaching children. She has been on the front line, partnering with parents in protecting their children, building their confidence and teaching them how to win at life.
- there is no quick fix,
- how to be assertive,
- how to stand up for themselves and
- to take the target off of their back.
She welcomes everyone to click here for the first chapter of her book for your review.
Ressurrection Graves is an author and child sexual abuse conference speaker. Ressurrection focuses on spiritual and child sexual abuse grooming. She has a petition to Make Child Sexual Abuse A Felony, and accepts speaking engagements on self-love, relationships, Christian living, and signature speaking topics available for your review here.