Mormon Church Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
Each personal injury attorney at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to assisting injured parties by sexual predators in abuse claims involving the Church of Jesus Christ 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 personal injury attorneys today at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free case evaluation.
All of our Church sex injury legal services are handled on a contingency fee basis. We only receive a legal fee when we successfully obtain a recovery for you. Our law firm is committed to getting justice for you.
A Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Attorney Can Help Victims of Personal Assault
There is no acceptable place for personal molestation or assault. But when it occurs in a religious community—and especially when that community takes steps to cover up the assault—those injured 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 leaders routinely cover up allegations of sexual assault among members.
The plaintiffs say this permits abusers to eventually find new persons to harm and prevents those injured 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 sexual predator.
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. Still, 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 worshiped 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.
Emphasis on Family Values
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 claim 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 abuse litigation 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.
Turning a Blind Eye
Still, Mormon Church elders merely turned a blind eye towards the child 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 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 leader in a Utah church. 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 parent's 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 civil 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' claim that he never spoke to the child's mother and was not aware the child was sexually abused.
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 abuse 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.
Sexually Abusing an 8-Year-Old
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 childhood sexual abuse said she went to the police as a young woman but was chastised by the church for involving secular authorities.
Blaming Women for Men's Desires
Another woman was excommunicated from the LDS Church in the 1990s for publicizing children being abused 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.
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 sexual molestation with immodest clothing or behavior.
That article details one claim where a bishop forced a rape victim to repent "her part" of her rape for nine months.
Impact of Sexual Assault on Mormon Church Members
The Pacific Standard article says several women it spoke to left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints after being 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 sexually abused sufferers found that they generally had more negative concepts of God and less spiritual well-being than Mormon women without a history of personal injury.
Regressive Childhood Development
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 suffered sexual assault 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 sexually abused.
Vice says at least two of the mothers of Jensen's injured parties 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 injured party's 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 injured party's ten-person family, only their father was still going to the Mormon church.
What Can Victims Do After an Assault by a 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.
Filing a Sexual Molestation Lawsuit
Even if generational changes don't bear fruit for a long time, those injured by 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 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.
Holding the perpetrators accountable 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 personal injury 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 claim within the prescribed time frame, your claim will be forever barred.
The statute of limitations for filing a personal assault lawsuit is dependent on where the harm occurred (the state) and when it occurred.
The traditional statute of limitations for civil cases is not realistic for abuse claims. Consequently, state legislatures have begun to relax the statute of limitations for church abuse claims.
Some states have begun to recognize that those injured are suffering in silence and may repress an episode of sexual abuse for many years.
For example, there is no statute of limitations for the rape or sexual molestation of a child in Utah.
Consequently, an injured child can pursue litigation even if they were sexually abused 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.
To determine the applicable time requirement for filing a sex abuse claim against the Mormon Church, you should consult with an abuse lawyer as soon as feasible.
Damages in Sexual Abuse Cases
While criminal cases are intended to punish the perpetrator of abuse, civil claims compensate the injured party. 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 sufferer of abuse perpetrated by a leader of the church 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)
Did Mormon officials sexually abuse you or a loved one? If so, we encourage you to speak with an experienced attorney for a free legal services consultation regarding your legal rights and legal options.
Mormon Church Sexual Abuse FAQs
Below are some frequently asked questions raised by injured parties of church sexual abuse. Our attorneys appreciate that victims of sexual molestation face hurdles in many areas of their lives.
Should you have additional questions regarding an alleged sexual abuse claim, we invite you to contact us for a free case evaluation.
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 suffering of 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 injured party "mutually" consents to the relationship
- Using Holy Scripture to declare that their sexual actions are the product of God's will
- Coercing the injured party 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 those harmed 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 God.
- Baffled by inappropriate discussions during religious counseling that provides the religious leaders sexual gratification instead of answers, the injured person seeks.
What Are the Steps I Must Take If I Been Sexually Abused by a Person Affiliated With the Mormon Church?
How you handle sexual molestation by a religious leader could determine the future of your mental health and well-being. Common steps to take if you have 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 injured party and do not share the blame of an inappropriate relationship started by a powerful religious leader
- Report sexual abuse 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?
The Roman Catholic Church has faced thousands of people alleging sexual molestation among its leaders in recent years. 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 holding 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 and trusted 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 adults or children into non-consensual sexual activity.
Many older innocent parties 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 having 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 case evaluation 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.
Our law firm offers every client a no-win/no-fee guarantee, meaning if we are unable to resolve your case successfully, you owe us nothing.
All legal services 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).