'Abducted in Plain Sight' is a Story of Abuse in the Mormon Church
Like everyone on planet earth, I couldn’t wrap my head around the family in Abducted in Plain Sight and how they could allow such a blatant predator into their home and literally into their daughter’s bed for his own “therapy.” A spoiler-addict, I had read the premise of the entire documentary before I watched any of it—but the entire picture clicked into place when it was mentioned in the first 5 minutes that the family, and the abuser, were Latter Day Saints (or Mormon/LDS) something the synopsis I read didn’t mention.
I was born and raised LDS—although I’m not active in the church now, and haven’t been for more than 20 years. I’m not sure what it was like for anyone else, but going to church as a child was one of my most hated routines. Our church services lasted for 3 hours, every Sunday, of straight classroom-style meetings where you’re taught the tenets of the religion and how to be the best Mormon, and thus member of the community, you can be.
I never felt like I belonged when I was at church. When I was about 8, a teacher once told a hushed, reverent group of girls that “One Mormon boy has more power in their pinky than all other non-Mormon men in the world combined.” Of course I immediately asked what power Mormon girls had. The answer? “Mormon girls can have babies.” Anecdotes like this were not uncommon, and I can tell you that the messaging worked for a lot of the girls I grew up with. Many got married before they were 22, and have multiple children now.
Here’s the thing about growing up Mormon—you are given an instant community to help raise your kids and get support, as long as you abide by the rules and conform to the norms of behavior—and there are a lot of rules. So many that it can blissfully take away your responsibility to make your own choices or develop opinions outside of the church, as long as you give yourself completely to the church—this may sound like a nightmare to you (it did to me) but for many people, it’s a beautiful way to be a part of a community that takes care of its own. In the church, everyone is called either “Brother” or “Sister” by adults and kids alike, the message being that we’re a family—and what happens in the family stays in the family. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom was struggling with how to cope with my older brother. He would later be diagnosed as schizophrenic and is now in full-time care, but at the time, she was told to pray harder and commit further to the LDS faith and that somehow God would provide. The onus was on my mom to pray harder and be a better Mormon than actually go and deal with the problem at hand and get outside help. Sound familiar?
Faith is what the predators in the church hide behind. I know, because they were there, too. Without going into too much detail because only a very small part of this story is mine to tell, a friend of the family, who we met in the church, tried to groom me when I was about 11. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had me sit on his lap and call him “Poppa Two-a” because my own dad wasn’t around a lot. He promised me he would be my dad and help me along the path. He did this at a sleepover, because his daughter was a good friend of mine, and I was over frequently. It would later turn out he was prolific in his sexual abuse within the church, but at the time he was seen as a “Brother” and as a man, you did what he said—he has that “power,” after all. On the surface, he was offering faith and companionship to me. Isn’t that what Mormons are supposed to do for each other?
This man grossly overplayed his hand with me, even at 10 years old. I remember thinking to myself “I like that my dad isn’t around that much. He’s a drag. Why would I want anyone to replace him in my life!?” and went along with the charade for the evening, and then basically stopped coming over to their house after that. Didn’t want to risk having him begin telling me what to do and running my life.
I know in my heart if I had been a better Mormon girl, I would have gone along with his plans and who knows what would have happened to me? I’m extremely thankful I never fully wanted to be a part of my church’s community because that’s ultimately what saved me from his abuse. I wasn’t smarter, I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, and I wasn’t lucky. I was just obstinate and hated being told what to do. By the time he tried to groom me, I was completely over the church and couldn’t wait to get out of it.
I wasn’t built for the church, but many people are—like the family in Abducted in Plain Sight. Mormons support other Mormons. Our dentist, who was in the church, had a waiting list more than 6-months long to get an appointment with him, because every family in the ward went to him, too. We shopped at Mormon-owned stores and went to the restaurants owned by members of our church. Not fitting into the community, and not giving yourself fully to the church has social and monetary implications for families. Remember, Jan Broberg’s father owned a flower shop and I have no doubt that he relied on Mormon business to keep his business afloat.
There is a tenet in the Mormon faith that is hammered into us at an early age: CTR, or “Choose the Right.” The idea behind it is a reminder to you, and others, to make choices to help you live righteously. For the vast majority of Mormons, it’s the equivalent to “What Would Jesus Do?” a benign saying that helps you figure out what the good choice in a situation is. In a predator’s hand, it’s a quick and easy way to get someone to do exactly what they want you to do.
The Broberg’s story didn’t start with an abduction. It started with meeting a family at their LDS ward and welcoming them into their community and home. It’s what you’re supposed to do in the church—we’re all brothers and sisters who are there to help each other on the path to righteousness. CTR, in its best form, it’s a reminder to do good works, but for a predator like Robert Berchtold, it’s a cudgel to beat someone down with until they do exactly what you want—because you’ve convinced them your abuse is part of the path to CTR, and you don’t want to run the risk of being ostracized from your community. It’s grooming with an extra twist— the gradual but real whittling away of your sense of normalcy and boundaries with the added threat of loss of community and livelihood.
On the outside looking in, the Broberg’s story is truly hard to believe, but as someone who not only grew up in their faith but got a taste of how specifically Mormon abusers operate, it is sadly all too real to understand. I would love to tell you that the man who tried to groom me was thrown in jail, and shunned from his community—but when his abuse came to light, the statute of limitations was past, and after a few years of being excommunicated, the ward let him back in after he repented. As far as I know, he’s still active in the church community to this day.
Header Image Source: Netflix