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Unfortunately, abuse within religious organizations is not uncommon. In recent years, there has been a surge in lawsuits related to sexual abuse in the Mormon church. The LDS Church can be particularly susceptible to abuse for several reasons, including the prioritization of the church’s reputation, the importance of forgiveness in the religion, and the hierarchy and power structures within the church.  

Prioritizing the Church’s Reputation over Victims

The priority placed on preserving the LDS Church’s reputation has led to a multitude of sexual abuse cases being concealed or inadequately addressed. Bishops and other Church leaders often act as representatives of God, which influences their decision to serve the Church’s interests above victims. This leads to favoring the protection of the Church’s image, even when faced with allegations of sexual abuse. In cases of abuse, decisions are often made behind closed doors, leading to an atmosphere where the Church’s reputation remains pristine at the expense of the victim’s needs.

This prioritization of reputation over victims has allowed patterns of systemic sexual abuse to persist within the LDS Church. It becomes increasingly challenging for survivors to find justice and closure when the Church’s image is more important than the victims. The fear of public condemnation is coupled with a passion for preserving the sanctuary of religious beliefs, ultimately resulting in a culture of cover-ups. It is particularly concerning that many of these decisions fall on LDS Bishops, individuals with full-time jobs who volunteer their time as clergy with minimal training or compensation. As the first point of contact for reports of sexual abuse or moral transgressions within the Church, these leaders are often ill-equipped to handle such complex cases, and their decisions are guided by the overarching goal of shielding the Church’s reputation. This systemic prioritization of reputation over the welfare of victims has played a significant role in perpetuating the problem of sexual abuse within the LDS Church.

Forgiveness as a Pillar of Faith

Values of the Mormon religion have also contributed to the high rates of sexual abuse within the Church. For example, forgiveness is a fundamental tenet of the LDS faith, emphasizing the importance of compassion, reconciliation, and redemption. However, within the context of sexual abuse cases in the LDS Church, this emphasis on forgiveness has inadvertently contributed to a cycle of silence and impunity. Many LDS followers are taught to regard forgiveness as a means of problem-solving. This principle may serve as a guide to perpetrators who believe that their actions are justified or even forgivable. This perception can lead to a pattern where abusers find a sanctuary within a faith that can place an undue burden on survivors.

One of the most troubling consequences of the emphasis on forgiveness is that many victims are encouraged to simply forgive their abusers rather than seek justice through the legal system. This approach shifts the burden of responsibility back to the survivor, leaving them to grapple with the emotional and psychological weight of their trauma. Additionally, it allows the cycle of abuse to persist without intervention or penalty. When survivors are encouraged to forgive rather than seek justice, it can create an environment where perpetrators go unchecked, and survivors are denied the support and protection they need.

Hierarchy and Power Structures within the LDS Church

The hierarchical and power structures that underpin the LDS Church have also contributed to the rise of sexual assault within the community. In this patriarchal religious community, the concentration of power and authority can make it difficult for survivors of abuse to come forward or seek justice.

One aspect of this power dynamic is the belief in the divine promotion of Mormon church leaders, which results in an unrealistic view of those in ministerial positions. This idealization of leaders can bolster their influence while simultaneously erasing accountability, making it challenging for those who experience abuse to trust the system’s fairness. This loss of trust can stop survivors from coming forward with their allegations, allowing the abuse to remain hidden.

Additionally, the hierarchy of the LDS Church is structured in such a way that it often places children and vulnerable individuals at risk. The organization’s structural order is characterized by a subordinate nature, wherein the notion that “the Church knows best and will fix what requires fixing” prevails. This overreliance on internal processes may deter child sex abuse victims from seeking justice outside of the faith community and perpetuate the cycle of abuse.

Further exacerbating the issue is the role of local bishops, who serve as the “front line” clergy within the LDS Church. These bishops often have full-time jobs and receive little formal training in handling serious problems like child sexual abuse. Despite being the first point of contact for reports of abuse within their congregations, they may lack the guidance needed to address these issues effectively.

Moreover, bishops are not always required by law to report sexual abuse, creating a legal gray area that leaves room for unreported cases and institutional secrecy. In some instances, Bishops and other LDS leaders may not contact local authorities when they become aware of sexual abuse. In certain regions, religious leaders have exemptions from mandatory reporting laws. This lack of legal oversight can further discourage survivors from seeking justice outside the faith, contributing to the perpetuation of sexual abuse within the LDS Church.

Predators and Vulnerable Groups

Predators can be found among those in positions of authority, individuals who wield their ecclesiastical power to gain control and influence over children. Notably, Mormon bishops, who often have close and influential contact with youth members, are among the individuals who have been identified as perpetrators.

Tragically, children within the LDS Church are at risk of sexual abuse in various settings, both past and present. This includes missionary programs, Boy Scouts of America involvement, youth camps, the Indian Placement Program, foster care and adoption programs, and Young Men’s and Women’s programs, among others. While these programs are designed to promote a sense of community and spiritual growth, they have been exploited as breeding grounds for abuse.

Culture of Secrecy and Protection

Within the LDS Church, a culture of secrecy and protection has played a significant role in enabling sexual abuse to persist and survivors to remain silent. Victims of sexual abuse within the Church often grapple with emotions and fears that deter them from speaking out, compounding the issue.

Feelings of shame and guilt, for instance, can make victims feel responsible for the abuse and lead them to internalize their suffering. This self-blame, coupled with the fear of retaliation from the perpetrator or within the Church community, creates an environment where survivors are forced into silence.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the culture of secrecy within the LDS Church is the fear of expulsion from the Church. Many survivors worry that reporting their abuse will result in their exclusion from their community, adding to the emotional trauma they are already experiencing. This fear is further amplified by the knowledge that the Church has a history of handling sexual abuse cases in ways that prioritize the institution’s reputation over the needs of survivors.

In some cases, victims also fear publicity and the prospect of facing their abusers in court. This fear is not unfounded, as several lawsuits in recent years have revealed instances of sexual abuse within the Mormon Church and allegations that the Church attempted to cover up abuse and protect abusers. This culture of secrecy perpetuates a cycle of abuse, making it incredibly challenging for survivors to come forward and seek justice.

Accusations of Covering Up Abuse

Accusations of covering up sexual abuse within the LDS Church have raised concerns about the institution’s handling of these cases. Moreover, the Church’s mechanisms designed to address abuse have been accused of being used to silence victims rather than provide the support and justice they need.

The LDS Church maintains a 24-hour hotline for its leadership to report abuse and gain a better understanding of their local laws regarding contacting authorities. Since 1995, the Church has operated this hotline, primarily for bishops and other leaders to call in the event of receiving reports of abuse. However, allegations suggest this hotline has been exploited to protect the Church’s reputation and suppress accusations rather than assisting survivors. This pattern has resulted in survivors feeling silenced and disempowered, further perpetuating the cycle of abuse within the Church. The result is an atmosphere where survivors are hesitant to come forward, fearing that their accounts will be ignored or buried by the institution.

LDS Sexual Abuse Victims Deserve Justice 

At Crew Janci LLP, we are committed to helping survivors of sexual abuse find healing, help, and justice. We understand the courage it takes for victims to come forward, and we strive to provide the support and legal expertise they need during their journey toward healing. If you or someone you love has been a victim of clerical abuse, please contact us today. 

 

You are not alone. We are here to help.

Madeline Russell

Madeline is a law clerk at Crew Janci and a law student at Lewis & Clark Law School, where she will be entering her final year as a J.D. candidate this fall. As a law clerk, Madeline supports Crew Janci attorneys with legal research and writing largely regarding sex abuse cases. At Lewis & Clark, she is involved with Women’s Law Caucus and International Law Society while pursuing a certificate in International Law. Madeline hopes to pursue a legal career advocating for victims. In her free time, Madeline likes to read fiction, travel, and dance.