Sage Williams: Sexual Abuse—Prevention, Healing, and Hope
Harvard recently held a symposium entitled “Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse.” Latter-day Saint Sage Williams was one of the organizers of the symposium. On today's episode, she shares how her faith has influenced her to advocate for the prevention of sexual abuse. She also explains why she believes this work is a sacred one.
God loves His children. Any work caring for them and meeting their needs and nurturing and ministering to them is His work.
Symposium that Sage organized with Dr. Jennifer Wortham: "Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse"
All Harvard Symposium Presentations continue to be available (in English, Spanish and Arabic) on the April 8 World Day for Sexual Abuse Prevention, Healing and Justice Youtube Channel
See the full document for "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"
Sage's favorite teaching from a leader in the Church on the topic: "Healing from Sexual Abuse" by Chieko N. Okazaki
Darien Laird (Director of Communications for the World Day for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Healing and Justice and also a Latter-day Saint) conducted this interview with Dr. Janet Rosenzweig about how parents can be the primary educators in their homes
3:34- A Witness to Suffering
5:45- Restoration Through Our Advocate
8:54- Repairing the Breach
13:10- Opening the Conversation at Church
17:38- What to Say and What Not to Say
21:40- Reporting—An Act of Mercy
27:27- Healing and Generational Impact
33:54- A Sacred Work
41:35- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
Today's episode may not be suitable for all audiences as we will be discussing the topic of preventing sexual abuse. Please use your own discretion in determining whether or not this is an episode for you.
Did you know that over one in three women and nearly one in four men have experienced sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to the CDC? About one in four girls and one in thirteen boys experience sexual abuse at some point in childhood, and 91% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child, or the child's family, knows.
In the past year I have had multiple friends ask me if I know of resources for victims of sexual abuse. This episode is an effort to contribute something to those people that I love, and to anyone whose life has been affected by sexual abuse.
Sage Williams first felt a desire to advocate for victims of sexual abuse during her time as a full time missionary. After her mission, she attended nursing school at BYU and worked as a research assistant studying sexual assault and the criminal justice system. She was trained as a victim's advocate and joined the Utah County rape crisis team. Immediately after graduation she was trained as a sexual assault nurse examiner. She received a master's degree in Health Policy at the London School of Economics, focusing her research and thesis on the role of religious leaders in health policy formulation and implementation.
Together with Dr. Jennifer Wortham, the executive director of the initiative on health, religion and spirituality at Harvard, Sage recently organized “Faith and Flourishing, Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse,” a symposium that was held at Harvard.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so honored to have Sage Williams on the line with me today, Sage, welcome.
Sage Williams 2:09
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really delighted to be here.
Morgan Jones 2:13
Well, I should give listeners a little bit of a background, Sage was one of the organizers of a symposium that was held at Harvard, and we were made aware of the symposium because a couple of general conference talks were shared on the symposium website and we did a quick link for LDS Living, and then received an email from Sage explaining that she's a member of the Church and that she was involved in this symposium. And as a result, she and I ended up having a conversation about this topic, preventing childhood sexual abuse, and what we can do to better start the conversation and encourage conversation within our realm as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And so first of all, Sage, I want to hear a little bit about how you became so passionate about the subject, because–I should tell those listening, that I was so, so impressed when we talked, not only because this is something that you're very articulate in speaking about, but also because of the passion that you have for this and the time and effort that you've put into being an advocate–and so first of all, how did you become so passionate about this topic?
Sage Williams 3:38
That's a great question. I think that I really kind of grew into being passionate about the topic through a few ways. First of all, just through meeting survivors of child sexual abuse and of sexual abuse in adulthood. As I've met with survivors and listened to their stories and listened to their experiences, there's just something special about being a witness to suffering and really hearing and seeing people, and that changes you. And as you listen to people and you come to know them more, you start to love them, and you want to really advocate for helping them heal and helping them live flourishing lives, and you also want to prevent that from happening to anybody else.
And the other thing that really has increased my passion as I've really grown into more is my background is as a nurse, and I've learned more and more about how holistic health is, and physical health and mental health and spiritual health all affect each other. We know that mental health affects our physical bodies, and our physical health can affect our spiritual health and they're all combined. And as I've seen what a holistic impact that child sexual abuse and sexual abuse more broadly has on people and how it affects individuals and families and communities–I just see a big need, and I see a lot of potential for healing and for progress and for growth in our, in our world and in our community.
So I think those two things, really listening to people, understanding more about impact, and of course, they are always leaders along the way, who inspire you. So many people have mentored me and taken me under their wings and helped me see vision and encouraged me when I felt discouraged and really kind of nurtured this belief or passion that we can all make a difference, and that my voice or my advocacy in elevating others voices can have impact and help people heal.
Morgan Jones 5:41
So, Sage, when we spoke before, you talked to me a little bit about how your faith played a role in your decision to actually do something, right? It's one thing to say, you know, "This should never happen,” and, “I don't want this to ever happen to somebody else." But it's a different thing, I think, to actually get in the trenches and start creating change. So tell me about how your faith played a role in that decision to kind of go all in on that?
Sage Williams 6:14
I think, well, the very first way that my faith played a role is because the first time I really remember meeting a survivor and hearing their story and seeing the–kind of the craving for healing and the desire to have hope that healing was possible, was as a missionary. And I didn't know very much at the time, but this particular survivor was female and, and really just kind of listening to her and, and mourning with her–keeping that first baptismal covenant to mourn with those that mourn–has stuck with me.
And then along the way, my faith is a part of every single part of this. This is mourning with those who mourn, comforting those who stand in need of comfort, advocating, Jesus Christ is the perfect advocate, and this is a Christlike attribute. And really, the goal of advocacy is to bring healing and health and flourishing, which is kind of like the definition of restoration, and so this is a big part of how I can help in the restoration to help God prevail in people's lives. To really help them find peace and healing through Jesus Christ.
And the other part of it that's really important to me is in the Scriptures, one of the things that really has kind of impressed on my heart of Joseph Smith's story of the restoration is that there was a scripture that entered every feeling of his heart. And that scripture for him was James 1:5, and it taught him a lot about his mission. And "every feeling of his heart," meaning that sometimes it felt–it may have felt somber, and sometimes it may have felt exciting, and joyful, so many feelings that our heart is capable of feeling. And there are a few scriptures for me, that really enter every feeling in my heart, and the restoration has taught me to pay attention to those scriptures.
And for me, those scriptures are in Isaiah about undoing the heavy burden and letting the oppressed go free and repairing the breach, and about bringing hidden things of darkness into the light. We know that both of those things are–have to happen in preparation for Christ to come. That's what the scriptures teach. And we know that when Christ does come, all healing will happen, all suffering will end, there won't be any more pain, and joy will be restored. And so a lot of this effort for me is spiritual in nature, and that I'm doing what I can to help people come to Christ and be prepared for His return, and hopefully do my part in in preparing and bringing about that possibility.
Morgan Jones 8:51
Yeah, I want to touch on a couple of things that you just said. One was you mentioned the scripture of repairing the breach. How do you think that that applies to this topic?
Sage Williams 9:02
Oh, I love that question. So I looked up the definition of the word “breach," because I didn't really know that much about it, before I thought it was like a gap in a wall or something. But the actual definition is about repairing a law. A breach is a law and so–or, is a broken law. So repairing the breach is repairing the law. And actually, that scripture talks about, you repair the breach to build the old waste places, and waste places referring to communities or societies, and we know that the family is the fundamental unit of society. It's the fundamental unit of the Church and to repair the breach is about repairing and restoring and strengthening families as we repair laws that have been broken in destroying the family, we bring flourishing and health to a society.
And I actually, in my graduate studies, I studied the role of sexual abuse on health, and also the role that faith leaders could play on this. And I wrote kind of a side paper where I went through every law in the Family Proclamation, and I wrote, I wrote them out. One of them is that children are entitled to the birth of parents who love them. And another one is that men and women are equal partners, I think, "Mothers and fathers are equal partners” is the line. And another is that societies are responsible to care for families and to lend support when needed, and to hold those accountable, who are, who are destroying the family. And I went in that paper, and I showed in the paper for school, I showed the long, the short- and long-term effects of sexual abuse on individuals and on their families. And then for myself, wrote kind of an adjunct paper showing where in each of those areas, somewhere in the Family Proclamation, that kind of law had been broken, and how as we help people heal, and as we hold perpetrators accountable, and as we really work to bring healing and restoration and really understand sexual abuse, where we're repairing breaches, and we're strengthening families.
Morgan Jones 11:15
So well said, thank you for that. My next question for you is, what is your sense of the significance of the problem of sexual abuse within our culture?
Sage Williams 11:29
That's a great question. So we know that one in three women and one in six men at some point in their life will experience sexual abuse. And much of that happens in childhood before the age of 18. And in our culture, specifically in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and among our people, those statistics hold up perfectly. I know the Church is global, but I'll use the example of Utah, just because it's predominantly Latter-day Saint. I was working, both in my research and as sexual assault nurse examiner in Utah, and the numbers and the statistics hold up perfectly. We follow all the national trends, and maybe actually even more personal, which really is what brings it home for me, is at the time, when I was working as a sexual assault nurse examiner, I was also serving as a Relief Society–in the Relief Society presidency in my ward in Orem, Utah. And I was amazed. I actually told people sometimes that I feel like my work as an advocate actually happened when I took off my nursing badge, when I was working in my ward, because so many people in my ward came and just shared their experience with me. And I'm so grateful that they did, because it helps me understand that this is something that affects members of the Church and it affects their families and is really something that we can be talking about more to really help members heal and come closer to Christ and, and, and also to live healthy and flourishing lives where they can contribute in their communities.
Morgan Jones 13:08
So, now that we've like laid the groundwork, Sage, I feel like this is something that we don't talk about a lot as Latter-day Saints. And I say that because in the past year, I've had a couple of friends who have been victims of sexual abuse who have asked me, "Do you know what resources are out there for members of the Church?" and there are resources, I don't want to act like there are not. But it's not something that–where the resources are easily found, and you kind of have to hunt for them–from my experience at least–so how do you think that we open this conversation, and is that helpful in creating a healing space for survivors of sexual abuse?
Sage Williams 13:58
Yes, this is such a great question and one that I think about all of the time because I care so much about members of the Church and really, for anyone listening who has experienced sexual abuse, I care that they know that there is healing possible and I want us to move towards really becoming a more supportive and healing community.
The first thing that comes to mind is exactly what you said, is just to start talking about it. To use the word "sexual abuse" in some of our conversation, in every opportunity we have both in the home and at Church. And there are a couple of maybe more simple ways that we can start including this in our conversation. The first is really to use our doctrine and our scriptures. And to connect those two lived experiences.
I actually really love the word religion, because it comes from the Latin word, re-ligare, which is ligate, which means to connect it together. And so the purpose of religion is to connect all things together to bring doctrine and life experience together to help us better live this, this mortal life. And so as much as we can connect our doctrine and use those words, for example, if someone is maybe teaching a lesson about Christ's healing power, they could include talking about how sexual assault survivors can find healing through Jesus Christ, in the same way that Jesus Christ has the power to heal us from loss or from physical ailment or any other mortal experience that we have.
Anytime we're talking about our baptismal covenants to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, we can include a conversation about how to listen to people who have experienced sexual assault, and how really just listening to them is a way, and feeling the grief and the pain, and just sitting there with them is a way to really keep that covenant. Or, Jesus Christ we know is the perfect advocate. And so when we're talking about Him and His role as an advocate, and we talked about how we can follow His example, we can talk about how we can advocate for vulnerable populations.
And when you talked about “Does it make a difference?”–it does. Just saying the words creates a healing environment. Anyone sitting in a class where a teacher brings up sexual assault, and just maybe, carefully shares their testimony about how healing is possible, if they're a survivor, immediately, it sends a message to them, that they're welcome here, that this is a safe place, and that this is a community that supports them.
Very quickly–the other thing I thought of was that teachers should just maybe keep in mind, teachers, Young Women leaders, Young Men leaders, parents, that because of the statistics, if there's five people or ten people in your Young Men's class, the likelihood that someone has experienced sexual abuse is really high. And so if you're teaching maybe a lesson about the law of chastity, just including a little note of, "If anyone here has experienced sexual abuse, or if any of your friends have experienced it, just know and remember that that's not your fault. And this is something that you can heal from, and I'm here to listen or to provide support." So I think just talking about it, sometimes it's hard and it's uncomfortable, but if we can just start by saying the words, it sends a really clear message that this is something we care about, and we want to help.
Morgan Jones 17:36
Great. So now that we know that, now that we know that it's you know, helpful–because I think sometimes it's like, "Well, I don't want to say the wrong thing. I don't want to say something that's going to offend somebody"–I think the word “trigger” is often used, we don't want to, to trigger someone. So how can we be careful in that space? Do you have any suggestions on that?
Sage Williams 18:04
Yes, absolutely. So similar to my experience, when I was serving as a Relief Society–in the Relief Society presidency, when you start talking about it, people will then . . . you've created a space for them to come and talk to you about it. And people may decide to disclose their experience with you. And when they do, there are a few kind of simple phrases that will make a huge difference. Those being, "I believe you." "This is not your fault." "You have so much courage for coming and sharing this with me, thank you." Because really, in my opinion, every time someone shares a personal story, it's a gift. And then, then you could just say, "I'm here to listen and to support you."
And then just listen, listen, listen. Because as you listen, you'll hear what they need. You can even say, "I don't exactly know how you need support, but I am here to listen, and I'm here to be your advocate. And I love you and I care about you." And then just listen.
There are a few things that we shouldn't say. And maybe those would be helpful, too. And the reason for it, I think it's always well-intentioned and well-meaning people who are just asking because when we hear something that's happened–when we hear that a human being has been violated in this way, we want it to stop, and we want to prevent it from happening again. And so it's really easy to ask the question, "How did this happen?" Or, like, "What did you do?" or "What were you doing?" or asking other questions about the event or about the abuse, and that can be perceived as feeling blamed–by the victim or survivor–because their body, physiologically, may have felt like the best way to respond was to do nothing. And that may have been what kept them alive or kept them safe. And asking those questions may kind of trigger some shame or some fear that this was their fault, or they didn't do something when that's really not the case.
And so my best suggestion is just say a few words, than I believe you listen, listen, listen, and then connect, as much as you can. Connect them to professional help, connect them to mental health services, to law enforcement, and try and make as much of your interaction in connecting a choice for them, because they're, they've been violated, something happened to them that was not their choice. And as much as you can say, "I would love to help you, would you like me to help you with this?" and put it in their hands and make it their choice.
Now, of course, really quickly, I have to share if it's a child, you do need to report it. Of course, we want to give the survivor the . . . the, as much of a choice in possible and reporting, and for an adult, of course, we'll just support them and say, "I'll be there with you."
The other thing I did want to add to that just briefly, is saying, "I will be there with you and I'm happy to go through this process with you" –in something like reporting or in finding a mental health professional, is really powerful. In my time as working as a sexual assault nurse examiner, almost every single case that I had, every patient I cared for that came into the emergency department, usually came in because a friend–they told a friend or a trusted, a trusted peer, and that friend encouraged them to come in and brought them in with them. And so there's just a huge role to play as an advocate and as a friend in saying, "I believe you. I want to support you. Let me help you find help."
Morgan Jones 21:40
Okay, Sage, one thing that I wanted to ask you about is, I know that when we, when we spoke before, you mentioned that a huge part of preventing childhood sexual abuse is holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. And so how do we do that?
Sage Williams 22:00
This is such an important thing to be talking about. Because first of all, it's really hard to hold perpetrators accountable. In child sexual abuse, specifically, 90% of the time, the child knows the perpetrator. It's a trusted family member or a friend or a coach. And so when they disclose, it could be really hard to want to report that, because you may know the perpetrator. And immediately we'll think of the effects, some of the devastating effects that accountability can have on the perpetrator, on their family, on the community. But this is where our doctrine, I think, is really powerful, in that we know in the context of the plan of salvation, that we'll all be accountable for actions. One day we'll all stand before God and be accountable. We also know that this is the time to repent, and to change. That is one of the purposes of our time here in mortality. And so perhaps one of the most merciful things we can do in the context of the plan of salvation is to hold perpetrators accountable, because it gives them an opportunity to understand what they're accountable for, to feel the consequences of their actions, and can bring them to a place where they want to repent.
I just want to share really briefly, because I think that the story of Alma in the Book of Mormon, he shares this exact truth with his son Corianton, who was pretty concerned actually about the role of punishment in relation to a merciful God. And Alma shared with him, Alma was going around destroying the church, and he shared with him about how life changing it was for him to feel for three days, the soul racking consequences of his actions of going around destroying the Church. He actually says in the Book of Mormon, that he was “astonished,” which makes me think that maybe he didn't really understand how devastating what he was doing was for the members of the Church and their families. And that experience didn't change him, but he actually says, he says he was brought to the knowledge of the truth, in that his past and present actions were connected with future accountability. And that experience was a tipping point for him. It brought him to a place where he could really clearly see the truth of what he was accountable for and come to a place where he wanted to change because he understood what he was doing.
And so really, what Alma teaches us is that sheltering perpetrators from the consequences of their action isn't merciful at all. The word–we talk about how we're enticed one way or the other, that's what the Book of Mormon talks about. And I learned that the, the word “entice” comes from the Old French word enticier, which means to set on fire. And I had previously always thought that the word “entice” was like, oh, just like gently lead someone along. But no, in this case, Alma was really enticed to repent by seeing very clearly what he was accountable for.
And then, of course, and this is something that Sister Costley has reminded me of, she's on the Young Women's Advisory Committee. When perpetrators have been held accountable, we need to rally around their families because of the shame and the stigma. We need–when they do come back from the accountability that they have to . . . um . . .
Morgan Jones 25:29
To answer to.
Sage Williams 25:31
Answer to–yeah, thank you–with their laws in their community and in their country, and when they have changed after serving that time, whether that's in jail or some other means, depending on the country, then we also can embrace them, because we believe everybody can change. But we don't, we're not going to skip any steps. We have to hold people accountable. That's the most merciful thing we can do.
And also very quickly, I want listeners to know that reporting abuse is not an indictment. That's the job of the detective, and the jury, and the court. It could be that maybe a child's disclosure is pretty vague, and you don't really know what you heard, just call in and share anyways. You can share it anonymously, you can even preface it, "I'm not sure about what I heard, but this is what I did hear." Because the more reporting that happens, we know the increased likelihood that actually perpetrators–the amount of sexual abuse decreases in a community as reporting is easier and reporting increases.
And so a detective will go in and look in more and look into it. And it's possible that there are three children who have had a little bit of a confusing disclosure, and none of the three people disclosing were really sure, but now the detective is saying, "Okay, I'm hearing this from three different families, now I need to pay attention to it." So you're not, you're not putting someone in prison by sending a report. You're just trying to make your community safer. And you're, and you're standing up for the vulnerable. And really, if the, if the person is a perpetrator, you're doing the very kind of thing you can do from our faith tradition, which is helping them to get to a place where they understand what they're accountable for, and they can repent.
Morgan Jones 27:14
So, so well said, thank you so much for I–you know, that's something where I've never thought of it that way. And so I appreciate you sharing it and breaking it down in that way, because I think it's super helpful.
One thing that I have noticed in talking with friends that have been the victims of sexual abuse, many times it's something where it happened years ago, and then they you know, are in therapy and it comes up, or they decide to go to therapy, because they want to confront this thing that happened years ago, and I always believe them, and I always want to help, but I don't really know what to do. And I also feel like I want them to believe that there's hope for healing. And I know you mentioned that earlier, like there is a way to heal from this, but I don't want to diminish their experience or make them think that I, you know, I'm saying, "You can heal from this," when I have never experienced it and don't actually know how traumatic it is. So how would you approach that situation?
Sage Williams 28:28
Wow, that's an amazing question. Especially because in child sexual abuse, the average age of disclosure is about 52.
Morgan Jones 28:37
Sage Williams 28:37
And so most people are disclosing this much later in life. And it's not going to be a visit to the emergency room where they're having a full medical exam, it really is going to be about peer support. And I think my suggestion or my insight is, again, just reiterate as much as possible, "This wasn't your fault,” and, “I do believe you," exactly what you're saying. And then ask, "How would you like me to support you?" And as much as possible, as many people in the community rallying around that individual and supporting them is going to make a difference. And that's why it matters that all of us are aware of this and involved in this because the messenger sometimes matters just as much as the message, and when someone they really trust or really look up to says, "I love you," and that–and validates that pain, and just lends their love and their support and their listening ear, that makes a huge difference and is freeing.
I will say–and I'm glad you brought this up–healing is a process and a journey. And it will, none of us will be fully healed until Christ comes again and we're all resurrected. And so we shouldn't push healing, we definitely don't want to weaponize healing or forgiveness, we don't want to put that burden on, that is something that they will naturally come to as they feel loved, as they feel safe, and as they develop their own relationship with God and work through this journey. And I think actually what you said is really good in that, we shouldn't really pressure or push the healing process, part of really loving and supporting survivors, is saying, "Even if this is something that you experience this pain forever, I'm still here to listen to you, every single time."
And just to really empathize. That's my best–that's the best answer I can give. I think everyone is unique and individual. But really, as you listen, the spirit will tell you, they'll tell you directly, how to support and, and give them the space to have their own healing journey on their own time, and really just help them feel loved and safe.
Morgan Jones 30:57
Great, that's helpful. So, kind of along those same lines, another thing that I have noticed is the ability of sexual abuse to affect and impact generations of people. So it's not just the person who is abused, it tends to affect that person's children. And why is the generational impact so significant when it comes to sexual abuse? And why should that motivate us to do more, to do our part to prevent it?
Sage Williams 31:36
Amazing, I think you're exactly right in your observation that sexual abuse, it does. It affects individuals, it affects families, it affects marriages and children and parenting. And to be really clear, it is not the fault of the survivor when their parenting is affected by the fear and the trauma that they've experienced. And we know that Christ heals all generational wrongdoing, and everything will be made right through Him. But it does kind of underscore how important this is to be talking about, and how essential it is for us to kind of normalize conversations, and to create communities where people feel comfortable sharing this with their families and sharing this with their friends.
One of the most rewarding things from the symposium is that I have had so many people who are, who are the children of survivors, or the spouses or the friends of survivors, who found out that their mother or their father had been sexually abused as a child say, “Just knowing, just bringing this into the light has already started, jumpstarted my healing process. Because for the first time, I realized that the relationship I have with my mom or with my dad isn't my fault, and it's not their fault, either.”
I was in my home ward this Sunday–and I received permission to share this–and one of my Young Women leaders told me her mom just disclosed to her at age 80, it's the first time she's ever told anyone. And she said, “That makes a huge difference. It doesn't necessarily change the dynamic, but understanding it helps us to be more merciful and more compassionate and more patient with our family members and those we love.” And so when it comes to addressing this, I just, I hope everyone listening who's a leader in their family and their community, in their Church family, I hope they can all kind of hear the potential for impact if we do start talking about this, this doesn't just change the trajectory in life of one person, but also of their family for generations.
Morgan Jones 33:52
Absolutely. Sage, I wanted to touch on one thing really quick before we wrap up. And that is you worked with some leaders of our Church in preparing for this symposium. Is that right?
Sage Williams 34:06
Yes, it is.
Morgan Jones 34:07
So can you tell me, just you know what your impression is of the importance of this to Church leaders at this time?
Sage Williams 34:18
I, I can totally speak, I can definitely speak to the leaders that I did interact with. And the beautiful thing about leadership in our faith is that we do have a lot of local leaders as well. So I can tell you that the Young Women–the Young Women . . the General Young Woman Board cares deeply about this. I was mentored by Sister Lawrence Costley, she sits–I guess it's called the General Advisory Committee.
Morgan Jones 34:44
Right, right. It's a new development.
Sage Williams 34:46
Yes. So I might apologize for that term. But she has just been a huge advocate since we first connected and has really been a voice of inspiration and of encouragement. Elder Holland's son, David Holland, is the interim dean at the Divinity School at Harvard, and they were a partner for the symposium. And I communicated with him quite a bit in preparation for the symposium, and he would always end his emails–"This is sacred work, Sage." And that made such a big difference to me to hear and to always be reminded that this matters to God.
And I also had the privilege of working with Sister Kaylene Harding on the Primary Advisory Committee, and she connected us with some of the partners who we had at the symposium who the Church has been working with. And many, actually, of the women who were involved in the social media campaign, Darien Laird is a faithful member of the Church, and Sarah Smart did all the preliminary research, she's also a Latter-day Saint. And so in the interactions that I have had with Church members and Church leaders, they care a lot. And this matters a lot. And I think as more and more leaders learn about it and talk about it, this kind of change has to come both top down and bottom up. That's always the best approach to change. And top down as our leaders talk more and more about it will give the local leaders kind of the permission to feel comfortable, more comfortable talking about it, and all the change. And really, the healing environment is going to be created as local Primary and Young Women and Young Men's and Relief Society and Elders Quorum leaders just start really consciously creating this kind of healing community through their language, and then through their actions.
Morgan Jones 36:38
Sage, let me ask you this. You mentioned what David Holland would say at the end of his emails, and I just wondered, why do you believe, personally, that this is sacred work? And why do you think that it matters to God?
Sage Williams 36:55
I believe that this is sacred work, because God loves all of His children dearly. He's so aware of them. And one of the, one of the main ways that He communicates with His children, I believe, is through other people. I can't tell you how many times someone has said something to me, or encouraged me, and it's really been a blessing. And . . . He cares about healing. He cares about us feeling seen and validated, and He wants us to know that there's hope, and that He's aware of us. And that will happen through all of us. And this is often difficult work.
President Nelson at one point said, "You have to pray. There'll be days when you're thoroughly discouraged. And you have to pray for the courage not to give up." And I know probably everyone who has been involved in this work at some point or another has felt that. I feel that pretty regularly. It's really hard. It's hard to be a witness to suffering. It's hard to be an advocate. Sometimes it can be thoroughly discouraging, as you see so much pain and so much suffering. But this matters to God and He's always blessed me with the courage to keep moving forward. And He's always blessed me with opportunities to share my voice and to connect with people who care and to learn from them.
And so that's what I would say, is that God loves His children. Any work caring for them and meeting their needs and nurturing and ministering to them is His work. It's all about loving the people in this world. And this is about the greater human family. This affects so many people. And as we have the courage to sometimes stir the pot a little bit–Jesus Christ is a perfect example of that, He went about doing good, sometimes in public, and He worked with vulnerable people and vulnerable populations who were deeply stigmatized, and it was even off putting to some of the religious leaders at the time. But He had the courage and set the perfect example of how giving voice to those who are marginalized is His work.
Really quickly, I actually learned–I love this phrase, I was actually studying something that one of my Jewish friends sent me about faith and religion and I think it applies perfectly to Jesus Christ about how He's a great equalizer, not because He levels everyone, but because He elevates everyone. And as much as we can elevate people and help them find health and healing and feel loved and feel and understand who they are–that's sacred work.
Morgan Jones 39:50
Thank you so much for that. I love what you said about how so much of what makes a difference in the lives of individuals is something that has been said or done by someone else. And that, that means for good or bad, right? The things that we do, or the things that we say have the ability to make all the difference in someone's life. And, you know, I think it's hard because–and this applies to different situations in life–but you know, you talked about disclosing, and I think many times on the, on the side of the victim, that's something they've had to work up the courage to disclose. And so they've thought through their approach, and oftentimes for the person receiving it, you're receiving it on like a moment's notice, you don't see it coming and how you respond makes a huge difference. And so I think, being prepared, and I think that's one reason why I hope people, even somebody–I think most of us, at this point, know someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse, but even if you're listening to this podcast, and you're like, "I don't know anybody that has gone through that," which again, probably low likelihood, but if you are listening, there's a reason to listen to this and prepare for that moment, because it will likely come, whether it's someone disclosing sexual abuse or something else significant in their lives, and being prepared to be a friend in that moment, and to be the person that makes a difference by the response that you offer and the love that you give is huge.
Sage, thank you so much for sharing your research and your example with us. My last question for you is, what does it mean to you, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Sage Williams 41:42
This is such a great question and I love learning from all of the people that you've interviewed about their response. Just to quickly contextualize my answer, as I was preparing for general conference in April of 2020, President Nelson asked us to study the early Restoration. And one of the things that really impacted me was understanding how young everyone was. Joseph Smith was a teenager, and then he was single, and he got married, and nobody was financially stable, no one was well established, everyone was kind of doing their life and helping in the Restoration, all at the same time.
And that really inspired me to realize, I had this silly idea in my mind that I have to be a little bit older, a little more established, or have a little more education before I can make a difference. And that's just not the truth of how God works. As soon as we are willing, as soon as we have a desire, we're called to the work. And for me, being all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really learning about who Jesus Christ is, developing a personal relationship with God and understanding His plan and His love for His children, and then receiving revelation about how you can be a part of that plan, and then just following it immediately and right away. And I think that service and love and how you minister to people in your family or in your community, will, will change in every season of life. But just taking the ownership right away for me, has made a tremendous impact, and I hope that I can have the courage to do that throughout my life, to really follow Jesus Christ and believe that I can be a part of the gathering of Israel and a part of the Restoration–right now, and, and every day until Christ comes again.
Morgan Jones 43:39
Thank you so much, Sage. I think there's so much wisdom in that. And there was someone recently that I heard that was talking about something along the same lines, and they just said, like, "You'll never be totally prepared to do something," and so you just do it, and you hope that the Lord will accept your best effort. And I thank you for your example of doing that and appreciate all the work that you're doing. And we're excited to continue hopefully to open this conversation and to help create that healing space and appreciate you helping us kind of lay the groundwork for that.
Sage Williams 44:19
Thank you so much, Morgan. And thanks for being such an advocate of having the courage to talk about and use this platform to, to really share this message and to share that we care about all survivors of sexual abuse and we want to support them.
Morgan Jones 44:37
We are so grateful to Sage Williams for joining us on today's episode. If you have specific questions related to this topic that Sage or those she has worked with in advocacy might be able to answer, please reach out to us on Instagram at @allin.podcast. We will be making efforts to answer those questions and Sage is going to help us in creating content for LDS Living that will hopefully continue this conversation.
A huge thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode and thank you so much for listening. We'll look forward to having more time with you next week.