Despite its insistence that it has a “zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abuse,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been accused by many former and current members of covering up systemic sexual abuse.
The claims stretch for decades and across several states. A steadily growing number of sexual abuse claims also stem from events held as part the Church’s century-long alliance with the Boy Scouts of America, a relationship that ended recently.
But the thousands of claims against bishops and other leaders of the Mormon Church largely come from LDS members. Many of the Church’s views on sex and sexuality only add to the pain victims endure.
How the Mormon Church’s Teaching on Sex Create an Environment for Abuse
Many of the Church’s teachings focus squarely on the sins of premarital sexual intimacy, whether sex or sexual acts between men and women. Same-sex intimacy is forbidden, and subject to probation, a period of disfellowship to “correct” their behavior, or excommunication for those who engage.
The Church’s views on sex and sexuality are harshest towards women, whose “chasteness” is central to their purity of body and soul in the Church’s eyes. This overt and unwavering patriarchal view remains one of the ways the Church creates an environment of fear and intimidation for those who suffer abuse.
According to one licensed clinical social worker who works with survivors of sexual abuse in Salt Lake City, the Church’s steadfast commitment to preserving patriarchal power is a glaring blind spot in its reckoning with the rampant abuse. She states that “patriarchy creates layers of scenarios that are ripe for abuse, both in ecclesiastical and private life.”
Her experience working with current and former LDS members is consistent with much of the news in the growing number of abuse cases, including the many that we represent.
Forgiveness Is the Burden of the Survivor
The LDS Church typically teaches that the best way to move forward from a sexual abuse allegation is for the victim to forgive. In this scenario, the burden of forgiveness is placed on the sexual abuse survivors. Ultimately, the Church has used this teaching to dissuade sexual abuse victims from speaking out—especially filing a claim against their abusers.
This backwards practice unfairly puts the responsibility for the abuse back on the victim (it’s the victim’s responsibility to forgive and forget) and enables the abuse to continue. These teachings have been central to the virtually unchecked abuse that has occurred throughout the Church since at least the 1950s.
The Mormon Church’s Approach to Abuse Is Inconsistent with Its Policies
To be clear, the Mormon Church’s response to abuse does not align with its public statements. The Church has known that sexual abuse has occurred for decades, yet made no substantial efforts to stamp out the abuse. In fact, it has allegedly fostered conditions that protect the Church’s reputation above all else.
It likes to point out that in 1995, it established a helpline for those who suffered sexual abuse or those who knew of the abuse to report these heinous acts. However, court testimony and other documents suggest that the Church restricted which calls progressed and which ones were screened as threats to the Church finances and reputation.
Also, bishops aren’t always required by law to report sexual abuse. In Utah, the epicenter of the LDS, the law states that all suspected abuse or neglect of a child must be reported to the authorities—though the law excludes members of the clergy.
The Church’s teachings, relationships with local and international institutions, and imperfect laws have made it incredibly difficult and painful for sexual abuse victims to speak up. But they are not alone.
Don’t Let Fear Silence You: File a Claim Against Your Abuser
The Church has an established history of protecting bishops and other members of Church from repercussions of their sexual abuse. Know that you do not have to keep your experience silent. We are here to help you seek justice against those who have harmed you, and we can help protect your identity to the fullest extent of the law.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today for your free consultation. We’re here to help you build the strongest case possible and to help you receive the justice you deserve.