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Why So Many Sexual Abuse Perpetrators Get Away With It

October 21, 2021  ·  By HM&M


Many sexual abuse survivors suffered at the hands of individuals, but also at the hands of some of the most visible religious, cultural, and medical institutions in the United States. One would think that, due to these organizations’ public visibility, rampant sexual abuse would come to light sooner rather than later. However, this is rarely the case.

In many instances, an organization’s size and status make it much easier for sexual abusers (and those who wish to keep abusers’ crimes concealed) to evade the public. For example, the frequent sexual abuse committed by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) remained mostly hidden for years. This coverup was due to the Church’s systematic efforts to keep victims silent, to protect or keep abusers in the Church, and to make a public display of a helpline that it used to report potential cases to lawyers it hired to protect its public image.

Other organizations, including some Catholic Dioceses, established medical organizations, and the Boy Scouts of America used their size and power to enable perpetrators to go unpunished for years—or decades.

This is how they did it, and how too many others follow similar paths.

Institutional Cover-Ups Keep Victims Silent

Those in positions of power have used their status, networks, and reputations to construct elaborate cover-ups in an attempt to keep sexual abuse survivors silent.

In the case of the Mormon Church, leaders at various levels used intimidation, scripture, and fear of being ostracized from the Church’s largely insular community. Many sexual abuse survivors feared that, if they came forward, they would be excommunicated from the Church, subsequently severing ties with family and friends.

With close ties for more than a century, the Mormon Church’s sexual abuse cover-ups extended to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization with Mormon Church members totaling nearly 20% of its membership. As the Mormon Church encouraged its male members to join the Boy Scouts, this ensured a steady and sizable membership for the Scouts—and a wide web between it and the Church. Ultimately, this close relationship and powerful public perception helped keep victims’ voices silent for decades.

Many Victims Feel Isolated and Think the Abuse Was Their Fault

Sexual abuse can inflict a staggering range of emotions and traumas. But a tragic, overarching theme is that too many victims wrongly feel that their experience is rare and that no one else has suffered like they have. They may feel that, if they come forward, no one will believe them or that they will have to face an uncertain future by themselves.

Many who were sexually abused by members of the Mormon Church may not have known for years that others in the Church were also subjected to heinous sexual abuse. Even still, filing a claim against an abuser, even anonymously, can be incredibly difficult, even for those with strong support networks. Many perpetrators take advantage of this fear and prolong their victims’ silence.

Furthermore, it’s common for sexual abuse survivors to be bullied into thinking that the abuse was their fault. This is a common trauma response, and something that abusers and complicit parties take advantage of. It’s often perpetrated in religious teachings, making it even harder for devout victims to stomach the idea of speaking up.

Many Survivors Think No One Will Believe Them

Perpetrators affiliated with large, influential organizations take advantage of their status in many ways. For example, sexual abusers within the Mormon Church sought and received assistance from higher-ups in the Church to both protect themselves and to keep victims silent. Many victims felt that they couldn’t confront the vastness of the Church, let alone both the Church and the Boy Scouts.

Those the Catholic Diocese abused faced a similar situation: remain silent, or take on the largest Christian denomination in the world. The brave few who chose the latter knew what they were up against—but other sexual abuse survivors followed them. Since then, the Catholic Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, have filed for bankruptcy due to the growing number of cases filed against them.

Each Sexual Abuse Survivor Deserves Justice and Experienced Legal Representation

Sexual abuse victims have many reasons for wishing to remain silent—despite the abuse never being the fault of the victim. However, it’s unfortunately uncommon that only one person has suffered abuse at the hands of powerful organizations.

Hurley McKenna & Mertz has represented thousands of sexual abuse victims, helping each pursue and get the justice they deserve. If you’re ready to file a claim against your abuser, reach out to us today to learn how we can help you receive the justice you deserve.

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