Mormon Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer
There is no acceptable place for sexual abuse or sexual assault. But when it takes place in a religious community—and especially when that community takes steps to cover up the abuse—victims may feel doubly betrayed.
In recent years, a series of lawsuits against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—also called the Mormon Church, after its Book of Mormon—alleged that within the church, leaders routinely cover-up allegations of sexual assault among members.
This permits abusers to eventually find new victims, the plaintiffs say, and prevents victims from healing or remaining full members of the Latter Day Saints community.
It can also create a social backlash against accusers, who may be accused of provoking the attack with immodest dress or behavior, or instructed that a good Christian must forgive the attacker.
A Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) Attorney Can Help Victims of Sexual Abuse
Each sexual abuse attorney at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to assisting victims injured by sexual predators in sexual abuse claims involving Mormon church officials, the Catholic Church, and youth organizations including the Boy Scouts, YMCA and Boys and Girls Club.
If you, or a family member, suffered sexual abuse or molestation by an official with the Mormon Church, contact our sexual abuse attorneys today at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free case evaluation.
All of our Church sex abuse cases are handled on a contingency fee basis where we only receive a legal fee when we are successful in obtaining a recovery for you. Our law firm is committed to getting justice for you.
About the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its Lay Leadership
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a uniquely American religion, Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Mormon church believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ just like Protestants and Catholics, but they also believe in additional material that the religion’s founder uncovered in the late 1800s, which says a lost tribe of Israel settled in the Americas and worshipped as Christians.
Latter-Day Saints were forced by prejudice to flee to Utah in the 1800s, and, as a result of their isolation, developed different cultural practices that observant members still follow. Observant members are banned from using coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol.
The Mormon Bishop preaches a very strong emphasis on family, a commitment to emergency preparedness, and a tradition where young adults do one to two years of missionary work. (Mainstream Mormons have not practiced polygamy since 1890, but polygamy is practiced in some fundamentalist LDS splinter groups.)
LDS (Mormonism) has a slightly different structure than mainstream American Christianity. As the church itself explains, local religious leaders are adult males in good standing with the church and are not ordained. The presiding ward's priest Mormon Bishop holds the position for about five years voluntarily, even though he performs some of the same functions as an ordained priest, minister, or rabbi.
The Bishop's functions include conducting services, church administration, and counseling church members with spiritual or practical needs. Full-time church elders hold a higher position in the church’s hierarchy.
Coverups of Sexual Abuse Within the Mormon Church
Unfortunately, the practice of putting untrained volunteers in charge of spiritual counseling can lead to potentially catastrophic reactions to reports of sexual molestation.For example, a 2018 lawsuit from a 55-year-old woman says that Mormon Church leadership knew for years that her father, a church employee, was raping her and her sisters but never reported it to the police. Instead, the Huffington Post reported, the church simply moved the family to a new city after each report.In another sex abuse case filed in 2018, covered by the Salt Lake Tribune, McKenna Denson says Joseph Bishop, the head of the LDS Missionary Training Center, tried to rape her in 1984. Denson says she told church elders several times, starting in the late 1980s, but Mormon Church elders merely turned a blind eye towards the sex abuse while promoting Bishop repeatedly into positions where he had access to young adults.Bishop denies the allegations but has confessed to other sexual improprieties; he told police that church elders kept him as Missionary Training Center president after the confession.One of the most thoroughly covered child sex abuse cases within the Church of Latter-Day Saints involved Michael Jensen, a man who was convicted of sexually abusing two young boys in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. As ABC News explained in 2019, Jensen is the son of a prominent Mormon church family in Martinsburg, West Virginia; his grandfather is a church leader in Utah.As a juvenile, he was convicted in Utah in 2004 for groping two girls under fourteen, after which the family moved to West Virginia.In 2009, Michael’s mother asked the local bishop to send Michael to live with a farmer because she couldn’t risk “our other children.” Michael was kicked out of his parents’ home in 2010 for sexually assaulting his 12-year-old sister.Nonetheless, his parents frequently offered him as a babysitter to other Mormon Church families in the area, including after kicking him out of their home. He was convicted in 2013 of molesting two boys under 5. Other plaintiffs from the lawsuit have similar stories; one woman’s four-year-old cried when he heard Michael was going to babysit him, because “he makes me suck his privates.”That family went to their local bishop in 2008, but the bishop ultimately didn’t go to the police. The same bishop testified in the families’ lawsuit that he never spoke to the child’s mother and was not aware of any sexual abuse.
Why Does Sex Abuse in LDS Communities Get Covered up?
The family accepted the bishop’s decision at the time, in part because Mormons believe church elders have a “gift of discernment” that helps them sort out competing stories. But regardless of whether bishops have such a gift, it’s clear that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a policy of trying to avoid the police in sexual molestation cases within the Mormon Church.
As Vice News notes, the church has a helpline, and documents published by a sunshine organization once called MormonLeaks—now the Truth and Transparency Foundation—show that calls about child sexual abuse are to go directly to its outside law firm, Kirton McConkie. Another document from that law firm, Kirton McConkie, says the firm opened six investigations into sexual molestation within the Mormon church between August and October of 2012.
In one of those cases, a missionary was accused of abusing an 8-year-old, but the firm’s summary said neither missionary nor local stake leaders took any disciplinary action other than sending him home.
There can also be consequences for people who report sexual abuse. The woman who sued the church for covering up her father’s years of sexual abuse said she went to the police as a young woman but was chastised by the church for involving secular authorities.
Another woman was excommunicated from the LDS Church in the 1990s for publicizing sexual abuse by church elders and denied re-baptism (which would welcome her back to the LDS community) in 2019.
Gender politics can also play a role. Religion writer Jana Riess, who has studied Mormon church life extensively, wrote in 2019 that because women are excluded from church decision-making, church leaders are naturally inclined to believe men over women, especially when the accused is someone they know and like.
Pacific Standard magazine reported in 2014 that because Mormons are taught that women are responsible for controlling men’s sexual desire, young women are sometimes blamed for provoking their own sexual molestation with immodest clothing or behavior. That article details one case where a bishop forced a rape victim to repent “her part” of her rape for nine months.
Impact of Sexual Abuse on Mormon Church Members
The Pacific Standard article says several of the women it spoke to left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints after they were blamed for their assaults. Another stayed with the church but told Pacific Standard that her experience provoked a spiritual crisis for her.
A 1998 study of Mormon victims of sexual abuse found that they generally had more negative concepts of God and less spiritual well-being than Mormon women without a history of sexual abuse.
The effects were more immediate for the young children abused by Michael Jensen. Mothers of affected children described their kids regressing in their development, with potty issues, separation anxiety, and night terrors.
A study of adult women who were sexually abused as children say they were typically less emotionally mature, more depressed, had lower self-esteem, and had less stable interpersonal relationships than women who had not been abused.
Vice says at least two of the mothers of Jensen’s victims separated from their husbands after the ordeal. Those mothers also say they were ostracized by the LDS community in Martinsburg, whose members told them they had to forgive Michael, or that the Jensens were good people who couldn’t have raised a molester.
That story is echoed in other victims’ accounts. A 2006 article from the Salt Lake Tribune says one family was shunned by their community after telling the police that a then-bishop had repeatedly molested their son.
The man was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but he was still welcomed at religious services. Meanwhile, out of the victim’s ten-person family, only their father was still going to the Mormon church.
What Can Victims Do After Sexual Abuse by an Mormon Church Official
There is an active movement within the Latter-Day Saint community to push for more responsiveness from within the church. The Truth and Transparency Foundation exists partly to reduce abuse in religious institutions; groups like the Feminist Mormon Housewives push for a world where faith can go hand in hand with respect for women.
Riess, the religion writer, reports that while millennial Mormons are often observant (and are the most likely of all age groups to tithe), they’re “troubled” by their church’s sexism and response to criticism.
Even if generational changes don’t bear fruit for a long time, victims of sexual molestation may also look into a lawsuit. Airing allegations in open court put the community on notice about a molester or rapist.
If the church was responsible for covering up allegations against someone who went on to assault again, going to court can also force it to acknowledge its own role, and perhaps make changes.
Regardless of when your episode of sexual abuse within the LDS church occurred, you should report the incident to local law enforcement so they can investigate the child sexual abuse and bring criminal charges against the responsible parties. By holding the part perpetrators accountable, this will prevent ongoing acts and stop others from becoming victims of sexual abuse.
Furthermore, while the criminal investigation will likely be inadmissible in a civil lawsuit, it can be helpful information for sexual abuse attorneys in pursuing a claim for you.
Time Requirements to Pursue Sexual Abuse Claims Against the Mormon Church
All civil cases have specific time requirements to file a lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. If you fail to file a case within the prescribed time frame your case will be forever barred.
The statute of limitations for filing a sexual assault lawsuit is dependent on where the abuse occurred (the state) and when it occurred.
Some states have begun to recognize that victims suffer in silence and may repress an episode of sexual abuse for many years and the traditional statute of limitations for civil cases are not realistic for abuse claims. Consequently, state legislatures have begin to relax the statute of limitations for church abuse claims.
For example, there is no statute of limitations for rape or sexual molestation of a child in Utah. Consequently, a victim of abuse can pursue a claim even if the sexual abuse occurred years ago. Similarly, recent legislation extended the deadline to sue (statute of limitations) over childhood sexual molestation in at least twenty states and Washington, D.C.
In order to determine the applicable time requirement for filing a sex abuse case against the Mormon Church, you should consult with a sexual abuse lawyer as soon as feasible.
Damages in Sexual Abuse Cases
While criminal cases are intended to punish the perpetrator of sexual abuse, civil claims are for compensating the victim. Civil lawsuits related to sex abuse can have significant value depending on the incident and the impact that the abuse had on the individual.
As a victim of abuse perpetrated by church leader or other person affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you can recover compensation for economic and non-economic damages including:
- Counseling and therapy expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Punitive damages (in some cases)
If you or a loved one was sexually abused by Mormon church officials, we encourage you to speak with one of our experienced lawyers for a free consultation regarding your legal rights and options.
Mormon Church Sexual Abuse FAQs
How Does Sexual Contact Violate a Religious Leaders Professional Ethics?
The sexual behavior of a religious leader with ministerial power over another should never consent to engage in a sexual relationship with a clergy member. The power of a religious leader creates an emotional vulnerability of a clergy member or parishioner that could cause emotional, physical, and mental harm.
The religious leader's power circumvents mutual consent between adults that might involve sexual discussions, innuendo, suggestive comments, inappropriate hugging, and kissing an accidental “sexual” touching.
How Does a Mormon Church Leader Justify Sexually Abusing Others?Cannot many religious leaders have used their power of authority to cross the boundaries of appropriate behavior in numerous ways that could include:
- Using religious teachings to support inappropriate touching, sexual contact, or intercourse
- Using coercion, fear, or intimidation to ensure the victim “mutually” consents to the relationship
- Using Holy Scripture to declare that their sexual actions are the product of God’s will
- Coercing the victim to “sin boldly” to discover God’s forgiving grace
How Do Religious Leaders Cross Sexually Inappropriate Boundaries?
Many Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, Mormon Bishops, Jewish rabbis, and other religious leaders, cross boundaries by making their victims feel:
- Confused about the personal attention that might include accidental sexual touching, playful aggression, prolonged kissing, intimate hugs, inappropriate gifting, and sexual intercourse
- Perplexed by the religious leader’s theological rationale for inappropriate sexual contact claiming that the two were brought together by Go
- Baffled by inappropriate discussions during religious counseling that provides the religious leaders sexual gratification instead of answers the victim seeks
What Are the Steps I Must Take If I Been Sexually Abused by a Person Affiliated With the Mormon Church?
How you handle a sexual molestation by a religious leader could determine the future of your mental health and well-being. Common steps to take if you been victimized include:
- Keeping in touch with your feelings, trusting yourself and sharing your anxiety, fear, confusion with a trusted friend
- Remembering that you are the victim and do not share the blame of an inappropriate relationship started by a powerful religious leader
- Reporting what happened to local law enforcement if the victim is an underage minor
- Finding an advocate in your community that understands the Mormon Church and rely on them for support and guidance
Is the Catholic Church Is the Only Religious Organization with Sexual Abuse Cases?
In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has faced thousands of victims alleging sexual molestation among its leaders. However, there are other religious groups throughout the United States, including the Mormon Church and Southern Baptist Church that sexually molested children, adolescents, and young adults.
These churches faced accusations of fostering sexual molestation and attempting to cover up what occurred among their congregations. Ultimately, the religious organization holds responsibility for supervising their clergymen, elders, and religious leaders and hold them accountable for sexually assaulting children and vulnerable adults.
How Do I Cope with the Traumatic Event of Sexual Assault by a Religious Leader?
According to the National Institutes of Health, Creditors in many sexual molestation cases and religious groups were known entrusted by the sexual abuse survivor. Catholic priests, Mormon Bishops, Jewish rabbis, and other religious leaders have used their power and religious belief to coerce, intimidate, or force innocent victims into non-consensual sexual activity.
Many older innocent victims of sexual molestation seek guidance to their religion through salvation and forgiveness to get past the post-traumatic experience and achieve spiritual growth. Unfortunately, many child sex abuse victims use coping mechanisms to overcome the trauma by overeating, becoming depressed, living with anxiety, or suicidal ideation.
Sexual abuse survivors should seek professional mental health care to learn how to deal with what happened and learn the tools necessary to move forward.
Hiring a Mormon Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer
Were you, or a loved one, a victim of sexual molestation by a religious leader with the Mormon Church? Contact our law office today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation with an experienced sexual abuse attorney.
We have years of experience handling cases throughout the United States involving sexual molestation by Catholic priests, clergymen, Mormon elders, rabbis, and other religious leaders. We offer every client a no-win/no-fee guarantee, meaning if we are unable to successfully resolve your case, you owe us nothing.
All discussions with our law firm remain confidential through an attorney-client relationship. Our attorneys follow social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus).