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March 7, 2013
The Real Issue
Protecting a Girl From Her Tormentor
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


We have a young man in our ward who seems to enjoy inflicting emotional pain on others.  He has tormented various members of our ward youth for years. Once he is done with one person, he moves on to another.

At a recent Laurel and Priest outing, he once again did a cruel act, but this time it was directed towards a young woman who has been struggling with depression and who is on shaky ground with her church membership. Of course, this caused her to decide she doesn’t want to go to church any more, even though she has a number of friends among the young women. 

This young man has been brought before the Young Men president and the bishop to no avail in the past. His father is frustrated by his behavior also, but seems to have no influence.

I am in the Young Women presidency. What can we do?


First, you should tell the bishop what is going on. Regardless of how he has handled these situations in the past, he needs to know the specifics of what is happening now. Don’t just say, “Frank is being mean to Jane.” Explain exactly what Frank did or said and how it has affected Jane. Then describe what your presidency is doing to protect this young woman and surround her with love.

Second, keep to yourself any negative opinions about the way the bishop, the Young Men president, and the boy’s parents have (or have not) handled this situation. It does no good to gripe about the way someone else is doing his calling, especially when you don’t have all the facts. And it would be beyond wrong of you to complain about the bishop in front of the young women.

Third, spend time with this young woman. Think of some excuse and take her to lunch or for a treat with the other girls. Drive her to activities. Don’t bring up the unpleasant topic of this boy. Instead, listen to her. Her problems clearly extend beyond this boy (and you indicate that his focus on her will pass in time), so build a relationship with her that will help you strengthen and support her in all of her struggles.

Fourth, plan activities and arrange meetings in a way that eliminates, as much as possible, this boy’s opportunities to torment this young woman. To minimize embarrassment to her, don’t make a big deal of it.

There is an argument that the bishop, Young Men president, Frank, and his parents should sit down together and discuss that he will only be allowed at activities or in youth Sunday School under constant supervision unless he can be kind to everyone. But there are down sides to that approach, and besides proposing it, you have no power to make it happen.

What you can do is keep an eye on both of them. Greet the young woman warmly when you see her, and talk with her. Greet the boy, too, but more formally. He needs to know that you have your eye on him. When you are in charge of a group that includes him, ask him to do small tasks, like distributing hymnbooks, that restrict his ability to interact with her. And when you witness a cruel act, speak up immediately: “Frank! That was unkind.” You might also consider alerting their Sunday School teacher to the situation, if they are in the same class.

Fifth, encourage the other young women to protect her. This is tricky—you need their help, because bullies usually taunt their prey out of earshot of adults. So the most significant protection this girl can get will come from the other young women. They can sit with her at meetings and activities. They can defend her from verbal abuse: “Don’t say that about Jane! She’s my friend.” They can stand by her at church, at seminary, during activities, at school, and anywhere else she needs protection.

But you also need to be sensitive to the fact that no one likes to be a project. No one wants to feel like her friends were all assigned by the Young Women leaders.

So I suggest you approach the Laurel class president privately. Talk with her about the situation. Make sure she understands her responsibility to protect this girl. Ask for her suggestions. Focus on protecting the young woman and not persecuting the boy in turn or creating more drama. Then discuss who else (if anyone) should be involved, and how she can address the issue with the other Laurels without making it seem like a class project.

Make sure you listen to the Laurel class president. She may have additional information about the situation that you are not aware of. You may discover that this young woman is more of a participant in the torment than you had thought, or that she is somehow encouraging this boy’s bad behavior (by texting him, for example). If that is the case, this young woman needs to modify her own behavior.

Sixth, keep the young woman’s parents in the loop. If you witness an ugly incident, tell them privately what happened. And if you discover additional information about the situation, let them know. It would not be right to keep information from them.

Finally, in your personal capacity, and not as a member of the Young Women presidency, you may choose to talk to the boy’s parents about what you have seen him do to this young woman. Even if they don’t appear to have much influence over or interest in his behavior, they need to know what he is doing. You will have to use your best judgment about how to approach them, especially if you don’t have a warm relationship with them. The goal of your conversation should be to pass along information, not give advice. The tone should be sympathetic and sincere: “Marilyn, I need to tell you about what happened at the Priest Laurel outing last week.”

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