Cases of sexual abuse and child abuse have plagued many religious organizations worldwide. The Mormon church, known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), is no exception.
The religious organization has faced sex abuse lawsuits against its leaders and members for decades. There are also sexual abuse allegations of cover-ups, allowing abusers to remain unpunished and even remain within the church.
Victims of sexual abuse by members or leaders of the Mormon church can seek justice against their abusers, even if the abuse occurred years or decades ago.
If you were sexually abused by someone from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, could help pursue a Mormon victim sexual abuse lawsuit.
Contact our sexual abuse lawyers at (888) 424-5757 for a free case evaluation to discuss your legal rights. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under your attorney-client privilege.
What is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), commonly known as the Mormon church, is a nontrinitarian Christian organization that considers itself the restoration of the original church established by Jesus Christ.
The Mormon church embraces many beliefs and practices from traditional Christianity but has several unique beliefs. Followers do not believe in the Holy Trinity but a God with a physical body. There are many other key differences between Mormonism and Christianity, some more central than others.
Systematic Secrecy Within the Mormon Church
Like some Christian sects, the Mormon church has internal procedures for dealing with sexual abuse complaints. According to an investigation conducted by the Associated Press (AP), the LDS church established a “helpline” to guide victims or witnesses of sexual abuse.
AP reported how the helpline could divert severe allegations of sexual abuse to church attorneys instead of law enforcement. Recently, an Arizona-based bishop, John Herrod, called the helpline after Paul Douglas Adams, a church member, admitted to sexually abusing his 5-year-old daughter. The attorneys who staffed the helpline told Herrod not to call the authorities.
Herrod said in an interview with law enforcement, “They said, ‘You absolutely can do nothing.”
Herrod continued to counsel Adams for another year. He later told another bishop about the child sex abuse, who remained silent about the matter. Mormon church officials maintained that bishops were exempted from reporting sexual abuse to police under Arizona’s “clergy-penitent privilege.”
Homeland Security Finally Makes an Arrest
Adams continued to sexually abuse his daughter for seven more years, and abusing the victim’s infant sister. He often recorded the abuse and posted videos on the internet. Homeland Security finally arrested Adams in 2017 after New Zealand law enforcement discovered the videos. The Mormon church did not help.
AP obtained almost 12,000 pages of sealed records from a Mormon child sexual abuse lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Virginia. The records provide a detailed and more comprehensive look into the “helpline” Herrod called.
Plaintiffs stated that the line is part of a system that religious leaders can easily use to divert reports from the police and instead to church lawyers who may bury the accusations.
The records also show how the Mormon church handled sexual abuse allegations in secrecy. Employees had to follow a list of questions to determine whether an accusation was severe enough to go to a Salt Lake City law firm.
Conflicting Abuse Reporting Protocols
According to one protocol instruction, employees should tell bishops to encourage victims, perpetrators, or witnesses to report abuse. Another Latter-Day Saints Church instruction contradicts this, stating to “never advise a priesthood leader to report and address abuse. Counsel of this nature should come only from legal counsel.”
One director who works in the Mormon church’s Department of Family Services revealed that records and call notes were destroyed at the end of each day.
The Adams Mormon sexual abuse case is only one of many. From 2000 to 2016, the Mormon church faced 43 sex abuse lawsuits for failing to prevent or report alleged sexual misconduct. These sexual abuse cases involved 90 children.
Mormon Sex Abuse Crimes Involving the Fundamentalist Church Branch
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ has also negatively affected the church’s reputation, due to the actions of leader Warren Jeffs. He’s currently serving a life prison sentence for polygamy, childhood sexual abuse. and welfare fraud.
The System of Impunity Within the Mormon Church Puts More Children at Risk
Many child sex abuse cases within the LDS church remain unreported and unaddressed. The culture of secrecy, which is not uncommon in sects, allows perpetrators to continue abusing victims and preying on more individuals.
In one high-profile case, child abuse survivor McKenna Denson filed a lawsuit against a Mormon church leader who raped her and filmed the abuse. The abuser, Joseph Bishop, was the president of the Missionary Training Center in the 1980s, overseeing hundreds of young members.
In 2017, Bishop told Denson that he confessed to “incidents of sexual predation” to LDS church leaders in the 1970s before he was appointed leader of the training center. Only then did Denson discover the cover-up.
Reported Sex Abuse Several Times
Denson stated that she reported the sex abuse crimes several times, but the church did not take action, stating that Bishop wasn’t punished because he denied the accusations and the Mormon church could not verify them. Bishop admitted to abusing other members aside from Denson.
In 1998, the Mormon church paid over $3 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Jeremiah Scott, who claimed he was sexually assaulted by Franklyn Curtis, an 88-year-old LDS church member. He filed a lawsuit against the church for withholding knowledge of Curtis’ alleged history of molesting children.
Scott claimed Curtis sexually abused him in 1991 after his mother invited the Mormon church member to live with them. Scott was 11 at that time. Curtis was previously excommunicated from the church for sexually abusing children, but his membership was restored when he moved in with the Scott family. He was given the title of the high priest.
Mormon Sex Trafficking
Several cases of sex trafficking by Mormon church members have surfaced over the years. In 2019, a 51-year-old Mormon bishop was arrested in a sting operation in Utah. The Mormon bishop, David Moss, was accused of contacting women online who he believed to be prostitutes and stating he could “manage” them.
Moss was charged with exploiting and patronizing a prostitute and two counts of lewdness and sexual battery. During the sting operation, Moss forcibly put the hands of one of the undercover detectives on his genitals and exposed his genitals to the two detectives.
The Mormon church relieved Moss of his position as bishop, stating, “the behavior alleged in this incident is completely unacceptable and unbecoming of any member of The LDS Church , and especially of someone serving in a position of local leadership.”
The church leader was a former police vice squad lieutenant.
What is Considered Sexual Abuse?
According to the law, sexual abuse is any non-consensual sexual act with an individual. Acts of sexual abuse include:
- Touching or groping
- Forcing someone to remove their clothing
- Coercing or forcing someone to take explicit photos or videos
- Masturbating in front of an unwilling participant
- Penetrating someone’s vagina, anus, or mouth with a body part or object
- Intentionally exposing oneself
- Engaging in obscene digital conversations
- Showing pornography to a child or creating pornographic materials involving children
- Watching someone shower or undress without their consent
Signs of Adult and Child Sexual Abuse
For adult victims, signs that they are being sexually abused may include:
- Becoming extremely withdrawn or anti-social
- Being irritable or angry
- Feeling anxious or depressed.
- Being ashamed or guilty
- Losing their appetite, losing weight
- Being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections
- Becoming pregnant
- Engaging in self-harm
- Having trouble sleeping
- Attempting suicide or having suicidal thoughts
- Performing poorly at school or work
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
Child abuse victims may exhibit the following signs:
- Having unexplained new toys, clothes, or other “gifts.”
- Being secretive or withdrawn
- Throwing tantrums more frequently
- Having nightmares, wetting the bed
- Exhibiting sexual behavior inappropriate for their age
- Feeling ashamed, guilty, or “dirty.”
- Losing appetite, losing weight
- Being extremely upset and distressed
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections
- Performing poorly at school
- Not wanting to be left alone with specific individuals
- Having regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
- Spending an unusual amount of time alone
- Experiencing unexplained health problems, such as headaches
- Being overly compliant
If you suspect a Mormon church member is being molested or violated, child or adult, report abuse to local law enforcement.
Signs That an Adult May Be Abusing a Child
Many church sex abuse cases go unaddressed because child victims cannot or do not seek help. It is up to parents, caregivers, and other adult members to protect their children from abuse. Knowing the warning signs is a great start.
The following signs may indicate that a church official or member is abusing a child:
- Does not respect boundaries; does not take “no” for an answer
- Touching a child even if the child or the parents have indicated that it is unwanted
- Attempts to be the child’s “friend” instead of assuming an adult role
- Spends time alone with children outside of their duties as a church official or member
- Makes excuses to be alone with the child
- Gives a child gifts without reason
- Restricts a child’s access to other church members
- Talks to children about personal issues or relationships
- Comments on a child’s sexual development or sexualizing normal behaviors
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 93% of child victims know their perpetrator. Potential abusers include family members, teachers, Mormon church leaders, and fellow members.
Consequences of Sexual Abuse
Sex abuse inflicts many physical, psychological, and economic consequences on victims, including:
- Unwanted pregnancies
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Physical injuries (bruises, bleeding, cuts)
- Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
- Reduced family and social ties
- Susceptibility to substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms
- Self-esteem and self-worth issues
- Poor school or work performance
- Lost school or career opportunities
- Sexual dysfunction
Furthermore, victims who endure sexual abuse as children may carry its adverse effects well into adulthood.
Filing a Mormon Abuse Victim Lawsuit
Some church organizations are notorious for failing to protect members from sexual abuse and covering up allegations. The Mormon church is part of the ever-growing problem of church sex abuse cases, with dozens of claims arising over the years.
If you suffered sexual abuse from a member of the Mormon church, you have the legal right to seek damages. While no money can erase the hurt and suffering you’ve endured, taking legal action can help punish perpetrators of sex abuse and give you a sense of justice.
The Burden of Proof
In sex abuse lawsuits, the victim carries the burden of proof, meaning they must prove that the defendant is more likely than not to have committed the alleged acts.
The following forms of evidence can help you establish the defendant’s liability:
- Sexual assault evidence collection kit (or rape kit)
- Medical records
- Photos of injuries
- Torn or bloody underclothing
- Church records
- Police reports
- Witness accounts from family members and other church members
If a court convicts the perpetrator for criminal sex abuse, you could also use the conviction as proof in your Mormon church sexual abuse lawsuit.
Who is Liable?
Any member or leader of the Mormon Church can be liable in a sex abuse lawsuit if they:
- Commit sexual assault or abuse
- Fail to report sex abuse to law enforcement
- Intentionally cover up the abuse to protect the perpetrator
In many church sex abuse cases, church organizations are liable for the victim’s damages, regardless of who is directly at fault.
Victims of Church Sex Abuse Pursue Compensation
Filing a Mormon sex abuse case could help you recover financial compensation for the following damages:
- Medical Bills: Out-of-pocket expenses for treating injuries and illnesses associated with sexual assault or abuse, e.g., hospitalization, therapy, abortion, medication, etc.
- Pain and Suffering: Physical or emotional injuries resulting from sexual abuse, including physical pain, mental trauma, emotional distress, etc.
- Loss of Quality of Life: Quality of life lost due to the abuse, e.g., reduced social ties, inability to form meaningful relationships, loss of sexual function, etc.
- Lost Wages: Income or wages lost due to the physical or psychological effects of the abuse. These damages may also include income or wages lost while filing a Mormon church sex abuse lawsuit.
- Punitive Damages: Additional fines on top of compensatory damages if the court finds the defendant’s actions were egregious. These damages are used to punish perpetrators of church sex abuse and deter similar behavior in the future.
Your lawyer will determine the potential value of your settlement based on these damages. Other factors may affect how much you receive in compensation, such as the victim’s age at the time of the abuse and the jurisdiction under which the civil lawsuit falls.
A settlement agreement between two disputing parties involves financial recovery for the victim. Many Mormon sex abuse cases settle out of court with plaintiffs accepting payment without continuing to court proceedings.
When you file a sexual assault or abuse claim against your Mormon church, the organization’s defense lawyers may offer you a settlement. If this happens, you can accept the payment or have your lawyer negotiate a better offer.
Unfortunately, defense parties rarely make fair offers outright, so our lawyers recommend negotiating settlement values. Remember that you can no longer sue for additional damages once you accept the compensation.
Mormon Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Other child sex abuse cases go to trial. Your sexual abuse lawyer could help you file a suit in civil court if:
- Mormon sex trafficking is involved
- Negotiations with Mormon church leaders have stalled
- The Mormon church denies alleged sexual abuse
- The defense party refuses to make a fair compensation offer for sexual abuse crimes
A judge or jury will decide the verdict if your Mormon sex abuse case goes to court. Litigation can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the case’s complexity.
Statute of Limitations
Many states have no statute of limitations for filing child abuse cases. However, some states, such as New York and New Jersey, have time limits on taking sexual abuse lawsuits to court.
Fortunately, recent laws like the Child Victims Act allow victims and their family members to file sex abuse lawsuits after years or even decades since the abuse occurred.
The deadline for adult victims may be shorter. Your lawyer will review the statute of limitations in your specific state to determine how much time you have left to file a case.
If you have suffered sexual abuse in the Mormon church, take legal action even if the abuse occurred many years ago. Our lawyers will discuss your legal options during your free case evaluation.
How a Sexual Abuse Lawyer Can Help
Filing a case against the Mormon church–or any religious organization, for that matter–can be daunting. You may fear the repercussions on your reputation, family, and (if you are still a member), your standing as a part of the LDS church. Furthermore, sex abuse laws are often complex.
An experienced Mormon church sexual abuse lawyer can take most of the burden off your shoulders. They can help you:
- Investigate how and where the abuse happened
- Identify liable parties, including people who covered up the abuse
- Determine the extent of your losses
- Gather evidence to support your claim
- Negotiate settlement values with the defense party
- File a civil lawsuit on your behalf
Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Lawyer Today
The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS denounces all forms of abuse by members and threatens ex-communication for those who violate its policies. Unfortunately, many Mormon church sexual abuse cases are swept under the rug and remain unresolved.
You deserve justice for suffering harm from the people who were supposed to protect you. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can help you file a case against your abuser for their actions and the Mormon church for failing to prevent or report abuse.
Our skilled attorneys recover financial compensation for Mormon church sexual abuse victims through out-of-court settlements and litigation.
Contact our attorneys at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form for a free case evaluation. We understand that this matter is sensitive and challenging to discuss.
Rest assured that all confidential or sensitive information you share with our child abuse lawyers will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our Mormon church sexual abuse attorneys handle all accepted cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures that you don’t have to pay for our legal services unless we win your case.