Unfortunate instances of sexual abuse within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) continue to make headlines, as the long-running pattern of indiscretions among the ranks of the Church is brought to light. When people in positions of power use their status to take advantage of trusting youth, the world must take a collective step back and ask, “how?”
Many parents would trust that their Church would be a safe space for this growth and development. Unfortunately, that has really never been the case for some families.
Especially where children are involved, sexual abuse is a horribly detrimental crime that can forever alter one’s life—and even shatter their faith. So why does sexual abuse in the LDS Church seem so common?
There are many reasons for the prevalence of sexual abuse within the Mormon Church. Most often, it’s a result of favoring the Church’s reputation, the way laws are written, and the values that are impressed upon LDS members.
The Reputation of the Church Comes First
When a member of the church shares sexual abuse allegations with a leader, they expect to receive personal guidance and good care.
But most LDS leaders, such as Bishops or Elders Quorum Presidents, are often unpaid volunteers who step into appointed positions within their wards. They likely haven’t received formal training on handling the types of personal conflicts and crimes that have become a pattern of behavior within the Mormon church.
While leaders might be acting in what they think is the best interest of all parties involved, they’re ultimately putting the good of the Church ahead of the victims’ wellbeing.
Bishops, for example, act in representation of God—which usually means serving the Church above the individual. Though Bishops and other Church leaders may use their best judgment when making decisions related to sexual abuse allegations, those decisions almost always favor the Church’s reputation over a victim’s needs.
And with that mindset, unfortunate patterns of systemic sexual abuse are allowed to continue.
Bishops Aren’t Always Required by Law to Report Sexual Abuse
In many instances, Bishops and other LDS leaders don’t contact local authorities when they are made aware of sexual abuse. But it’s not always against the law to fail to report such a crime, the way it might be for a school official or human resources manager.
In Utah, for example, there is an exemption for religious leaders to report abuse or neglect. The law currently reads:
“…if an individual, including an individual licensed under Title 58, Chapter 31b, Nurse Practice Act, or Title 58, Chapter 67, Utah Medical Practice Act, has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect, or observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in abuse or neglect, that individual shall immediately report the alleged abuse or neglect to the nearest peace officer, law enforcement agency, or office of the division.
“…the notification requirement described in Subsection (1)(a) does not apply to a member of the clergy, with regard to any confession made to the member of the clergy while functioning in the ministerial capacity of the member of the clergy and without the consent of the individual making the confession…”
House Bill 90, which would eliminate the exemption for religious leaders, was just struck down at the Utah State Capitol in March of 2020.
Even more disturbing, while the Mormon Church maintains a 24-hour hotline for leadership to report abuse and learn their local laws around contacting authorities, the Church has been accused of using the hotline to silence victims instead.
>>> Related read: How the Mormon Church and the Boy Scouts of America are Linked
Forgiveness Is a Pillar of the Faith
Finally, many LDS followers have been taught to subscribe to forgiveness as a means of solving a problem. This may also serve as a guide to perpetrators who feel their abuse is justified and/or forgivable.
According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints online gospel:
“We should pray for strength to forgive those who have wronged us, and we should abandon feelings of anger, bitterness, or revenge. We should also look for the good in others rather than focusing on their faults and magnifying their weaknesses. God will be the judge of others’ harmful actions.”
Sadly, many victims are encouraged to simply forgive their assailants instead of seeking justice through the legal system. Not only does this unfairly shift the burden of responsibility for the abuse back to the victim, but it also allows the abuse to continue without intervention or penalty.
>>> Related read: Is It Worth It to File a Claim Against the Mormon Church?
Do You Need Help Filing a Sexual Abuse Claim Against the Mormon Church?
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse at the hands of the LDS church, we are here to help you. Please contact us for a free and confidential consultation. You could be entitled to compensation and we’re ready to guide you through the process of seeking justice.