Mormons are a religious group belonging primarily to The Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, LDS boasts more than 16 million members around the globe, most prevalently in the US, Latin America, Canada, Europe, the Philippines, Africa, and parts of Oceania. Another denomination with its headquarters situated in Independence, Missouri, has about 250,000 members.
Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion in the early 1800s. The publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 gave the religious organization its official start. Mormons follow many Christian beliefs, but with some deviations based on Smith’s calling or visions. One major distinction is the Mormon belief that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three separate entities. Mormons consider Smith a prophet visited by the angel Moroni, selecting him to translate the Book of Mormon named after Moroni’s father.
Smith was later criticized for his teachings and jailed for treason. He and his brother died in jail at the hands of an anti-Mormon mob in 1844. The Mormon religion is still widely discriminated against today, with many Mormons claiming Americans misunderstand their religious practices.
Modern Mormons live strictly avoiding sexual relations outside traditional marriage, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea, and devote themselves to missionary work or following a Kingdom-focused lifestyle. Mormon individuals highly value traditional gender roles and family bonds.
The Mormon Church has a hierarchy as follows:
- The first presidency (president and two counselors)
- The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
- The First Quorum of the Seventy
- Stake Presidency
- Ward Bishopric
- Individual members
How common is child sex abuse in the Mormon Church?
Hierarchal structures within the Mormon Church leave many children vulnerable to sex abuse. The subordinate nature of the religious organization’s structural makeup puts children at risk of harm due to the overreliance on systemic arbitrations (i.e., the Church knows best and will fix it if it needs fixing).
Additionally, the Mormonism culture of love appears to be inclusive. Instead, it masks a power imbalance that leads to submissive values and philosophies seen as “pleasing to God” when in fact, they can be dangerous to the “weaker” member and advantageous to those seeking to abuse their exalted positions.
Lastly, believing in the Divine promotion of church leaders leads to an unrealistic, infallible view of those awarded ecclesiastical positions (i.e., priesthood), essentially bolstering influence and eliminating accountability. This point alone can result in diminished trust, preventing child sex abuse victims from coming forward with allegations and squandering fairness when those who find the courage do speak up.
Religious leaders scramble to defend not only their reputation but also that of their deity. Coupling the fear of prosecution and condemnation with the passion one has to preserve their religious beliefs and sanctuary of sorts results in mass cover-ups and an ideal of protecting the institution at any cost – not just silencing but also scorning victims of child sexual abuse within the Mormon Church.
Who are the sexual perpetrators from the Mormon church?
Children experiencing sexual abuse in the Mormon Church can suffer harm at the hands of anyone, especially those in authority. Individuals in ecclesiastical (i.e., leadership or priesthood) positions use their status to wield control and influence over children in the Church, garnering their trust and abusing their powerful roles as mentors. Mormon bishops are most likely to have close, influential contact with youth members.
Children are also at-risk of sex abuse within the following past or present Mormon Church affiliations:
- Missionary programs
- Boy Scouts of America
- Youth camps
- Indian Placement Program
- Foster care and adoption programs
- Young Men’s and Women’s programs
- LDS Church-sponsored activities
What kinds of sex abuse cases have been brought against the LDS Mormon Church?
Sexual abuse claims filed against the Mormon Church include touching and non-touching acts. Child sex abuse is usually a slow and ongoing process, too, involving emotional and mental manipulation or grooming. When perpetrators groom their victims, they seek to build a relationship based on trust and a strong emotional connection, allowing them to easily manipulate, exploit, and abuse the child.
The non-profit organization Stop It Now defines sexual abuse as “an adult [engaging] in any sexual behavior (looking, showing, or touching) with a child to meet the adult’s interest or sexual needs.” Additionally, the organization states, “Sexual abuse does not have to involve penetration, force, pain, or even touching.”
Sexual abuse actions involving physical contact or touching include:
- Touching a child’s genitals or private parts for sexual gratification
- Making a child touch their genitals or someone else’s genitals
- Penetration with objects or body parts, vaginally, orally, or anally
Sexual abuse actions involving no physical contact include:
- Showing pornography to a child or creating pornographic materials involving children (e.g., photographing a child in sexual or suggestive poses and situations)
- Intentionally exposing your genitals or another adult’s genitals to a child
- Making a child witness sexual acts (e.g., masturbating in front of a child)
- Inappropriately watching a child undress or shower or do other things without clothes
Children experiencing grooming for sexual abuse might show the following signs:
- Being secretive or withdrawn
- Having new “gifts”
- Engaging in reckless behaviors (i.e., using drugs and alcohol or taking risks)
- Being upset or distressed
- Spending time away from home or apart from family (i.e., opting to be alone)
- Exhibiting sexualized behaviors
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Acting out with self-harming behaviors
- Feeling ashamed or guilty
- Suffering from eating disorders
- Struggling to cope with stress
- Finding it difficult to maintain relationships with family and friends
- Being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Becoming pregnant
- Having suicidal thoughts
Where did the abuse happen?
Mormon Church child sexual abuse has occurred and continues to happen across the US and around the globe.
Specifically, cases have been reported in the following states and nations:
- Ogden, Utah
- Wasatch County, Utah
- Mapleton, Utah
- West Virginia
The abuse happened all around the country, with the religious organization enabling the abuse to be rampant throughout the Church. When survivors came forward, they trusted the religious leaders to take action to hold the abusers accountable. Instead, church leaders failed to take any steps to protect victims, often transferring abusers to other locations where they would continue to abuse. Further, the culture within the church discouraged victims from coming forward.
Cases of LDS Mormon Church Sex Abuse
There have been several notable cases before the wave of recent litigation against the LDS Mormon Church. Some of these include:
- Jeremiah Scott – In this case, Scott, a Portland man, sought $1.5 billion in damages from the LDS Mormon Church for withholding knowledge that Franklyn Curtis, an 88-year old member of the church, was accused of molesting children. Scott alleged that Curtis abused him in 1991 after his mother invited Curtis to live with them. Though Curtis had previously been excommunicated when he was accused of molesting children, when he went to live with the Scotts, the church restored his membership and gave him the title of high priest. The Church paid $3 million as a settlement.
- Timothy McCleve – This former LDS Bishop was sentenced to up to 30 years in September 2008 for admitting to sexually molesting three sisters in Weber County. The mother of a 6-year-old child came forward as well shortly afterward.
- In 2017, Erik Hughes, a former LDS Bishop, entered a guilty plea for two second-degree felonies for forcible sexual abuse and one third-degree felony for tampering with a witness. There were three victims that bravely came forward against this abuser.
- In 2018, allegations against Joseph L. Bishop, former Provo Missionary Training Center president, came to light regarding his sexual abuse of women in the 1980s.
More recently, many victims have been able to come forward due to changes in state legislation that allow victims to file claims no matter when the abuse happened:
- In December 2020, seven lawsuits were filed against the Mormon Church in Arizona for covering up sexual abuse for decades among Boy Scout troops. The victims allege that the church officials never reported to authorities about the abuse the victims reported to the church officials. The lawsuits claim that bishops would tell the victims to remain quiet so that the church would conduct its own investigation. Yet, the church investigations rarely punished abusers, allowing them to continue in their roles or be transferred to different troops.
- In June 2020, 72-year-old Joseph Neipp, a former Bishop in San Jose, was accused of sexually abusing two sisters. A lawsuit was filed against the Church itself as well, claiming they knew about the abuse and could have prevented it from happening but failed to do so.
- In February 2021, David Hiser, an Oregon man, came forward alleging that he experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a youth leader in the Church back in the 1980s. His lawsuit alleges that the Utah-based church failed to protect him even though there were warning signs from the abuser and the perpetrator had abused another child before him.
These are not the only examples of alleged abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Church has facilitated systemic abuse for decades, silencing victims and covering up for perpetrators. Nevertheless, if you experienced sex abuse while in the Mormon Church, you may still be able to file a claim. It is crucial to contact an experienced sex abuse legal team to understand your legal rights.
How does abuse happen in a religious organization like the Church of Latter Day Saints?
Religious organizations have created a culture of secrecy and protection of the Church’s reputation. This has allowed child sexual abuse to be rampant within the LDS Church.
Testimonies from victims explain that the patriarchal authority, along with the notion of modesty, make speaking out against abusers especially difficult within the Mormon Church. Victims of sexual abuse explain that there is a parallel between the abuse of the Mormon Church and abuse in Hollywood – mainly that it is men in power who take advantage of their authoritative positions. However, in the LDS church or any religious institution based on faith, Mormon victims of childhood abuse are silenced by the fact that the church is condensed and insulated. Though the Church states that they have a zero-tolerance policy against child abuse, the notion of shame allows predators to keep victims quiet.
Further, Mormon culture places great pressure on abstinence and objectifying women’s bodies. Church bishops use this to pressure to have access to vulnerable LDS members, knowing they will feel that shame that they are no longer “pure.”
Again, the issue also lies with the leaders of local congregations that failed to help the victims when they did come forward. LDS officials have the responsibility to protect their members. Yet, when young women and male victims came forward regarding the alleged abuse, the officials took that information and hid it from local authorities.
How has the LDS Church responded to child sexual abuse allegations?
Though in the past LDS leaders have failed to properly respond to abuse allegations, in recent years, more and more family members and abuse victims are coming forward to hold the church responsible.
The LDS Church has now enacted training programs for officials to be able to prevent abuse and properly report it. The Church also provides multiple resources for members. However, whether or not these policies will prevent sexual predators from abusing children or committing inappropriate sexual contact will only be seen in the coming years. The Church still needs to face legal liability for the decades of sexual abuse it did allow to happen.
How is the Mormon Church related to the Boy Scouts Sex Abuse Scandal?
The Mormon church is facing another sexual abuse scandal with its relation to the Boy Scouts. These lawsuits claim that church officials ignored the claims of the seven people who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of troop leaders in the Boy Scouts. The church officials never reported the abuse to law enforcement or looked into the sexual abuse allegations. The reasons they failed to put a stop to these sex offenders was to maintain the Church’s reputation and protect its church members.
The Church was the most significant sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America until the Church ended the partnership with the youth organization on January 1, 2020.
Can I file a lawsuit if I was sexually abused while in the LDS Mormon Church?
Most likely, yes. Many states have changed the statute of limitations for when victims have to file a civil lawsuit. The first step is to contact an experienced sexual abuse attorney to see if you can still file a claim.
Some states, such as New York and California, have enacted limited-time lookback windows that allow child sex abuse victims and adult victims to file a lawsuit, no matter how long ago the abuse happened or how old the victim currently is.
An experienced attorney will help you determine whether or not you can still file a claim.