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Last week the BYU-Idaho and Rexburg community reeled at news of a BYU-I student arrested on multiple sex charges, including rape of a minor and lewd conduct with a minor.

The news of an incident like this happening at all, in what many consider a safe community, is disturbing. But in the days that followed the initial incident, an alarming number of women came forward saying how the same individual had made strange, aggressive or manipulative advances on them as well. Though none of the women who came forward claimed he attempted anything illegal, many of them said they found the messages “creepy” or it “gave them a bad feeling.”

From the stories a pattern emerged showing that the individual would often make advances on complete strangers over social media. From the posts and comments shared, the women claimed he would often attempt to convince them to be alone with him or to meet him by saying how he was lonely, hurt or depressed and the only thing that would help him was seeing them.

Perhaps the most horrifying such claim was shared in a screenshot of messages he had sent in a viral post after his arrest. The screenshot showed how he had messaged a girl he had never met over Facebook and told her the Holy Ghost prompted him to search her name and message her and that they should consider pursuing a romantic relationship. Fortunately, the girl rejected his advances.

We at the Scroll editorial board believe that romantic or sexual urges should not be interpreted as promptings from the Holy Ghost. Any cultural beliefs or attitudes that help this misinterpretation need to be eradicated immediately. God is able to lead, direct and guide His children in all things, and we recognize that this includes clarity and guidance in finding a romantic partner, including marriage. However, praying for clarity whether you should seek marriage with a romantic partner in a consensual relationship is far different than manipulating a woman to date you, be alone with you or meet you because of a “spiritual prompting.”

Unfortunately this can allow inappropriate and dangerous urges, desires or feelings to go unchecked, potentially leading to evil actions. Whether or not the offender truthfully believes they’re following the Holy Ghost or are simply attempting to manipulate their victim in the most terrible way, potential victims should be equipped to protect themselves, even if that means refuting someone’s so-called spiritual prompting.

Comments, including jokes like “I had a vision that we would be married,” “My patriarchal blessing says your name in it,” or “I had a prompting that I should marry/date you,” may not be harmful in and of themselves. However, they help perpetuate an environment where messaging a random girl on social media saying you should be alone together, because of the Holy Ghost, lives in the realm of possibility.

We can do better by teaching our young men how to properly differentiate between sexual urges and spiritual messages and how to properly channel each in appropriate ways. We can also start by teaching them that not everything that “feels good” means it is a message from God and that girls should never be objectified or sexualized. We can teach our young women that it is never their fault if boys do objectify them. We can also teach them it is OK to say “no” to boys, even if that means turning down a dance at a Church-organized function if they feel uncomfortable in any way, or even if they just don’t want to.

This in no way is meant to excuse, justify or apologize away any individual’s heinous acts. Instead, in an attempt to prevent further such heartache and pain, we invite all to reflect on how we can change cultural attitudes within our faith so that predators have no way of using sacred terms or beliefs to manipulate their victims.

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