Sexual Abuse in the Pennsylvania Mormon Church
Sexual abuse is abhorrent in all forms but when it happens under the auspices of a religious institution, it is particularly troubling and victims understandably feel greatly betrayed.
There is an increasing awareness of this problem in the United States and the Mormon Church or Church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) has not escaped accusations.
More victims of sexual abuse within the Church are coming forward, many having remained silent for years.
A victim is still a victim, whether the crime happened 40 years ago or yesterday.
At Andreozzi + Foote, we are committed to getting you the justice you deserve for historical or current sexual abuse.
UPDATE: HB 963 to extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse
Sexual abuse coverup within the Mormon Church
The practice of covering up serious sexual abuse crimes such as rape and assault in the Mormon Church mirrors the well-documented practice in other religious institutions.
Rather than suffer the reputational damage and public shame of confronting sexual abuse claims openly and transparently, the crimes are covered up by the institution.
Sometimes, sexual abuse coverups result from the fact that untrained volunteers are commonly put in charge of spiritual counseling as Bishops in the Mormon Church. They may not be suitably qualified to deal with serious allegations like sexual abuse and, instead, choose to sideline the issue.
Another problem is moving the problem elsewhere. For instance, known perpetrators of sexual abuse may be moved to another area of the country by Church officials so that they become “somebody else’s problem”. Some are even promoted to more senior positions, allowing them more access to repeat their crimes. Even after confessing to crimes, the Church may refuse to make the allegations more widely known, simply “re-assigning” the official elsewhere.
Rather than seeking justice for the victims, officials play down the allegations or pretend that they do not exist in an effort to save the reputation of the Church.
In one well-publicized case of, the son of a prominent Mormon family in Martinsburg, West Virginia (and the grandson of a Church leader in Utah) was convicted of sexually abusing two young boys and sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013. He had previous convictions in Utah and was a known sexual offender, yet his parents frequently allowed him to babysit children from other LDS families in the area. The Church had been made aware repeatedly of these crimes but had never acted to protect the victims and to bring the perpetrator.
Why does the Mormon Church coverup sexual abuse?
Besides the practical reasons already given for covering up sexual abuse, Mormons believe that church leaders have a “gift of discernment” that helps them sort out competing stories. This makes them more likely to accept official judgements and not to pursue matters.
The Mormon Church’s policies avoid external investigations into the behavior of its officials. Its helpline transfers all calls about child sexual abuse to its law firm, which does little to help the victims and seems more concerned with the matter of liability.
In documents that have come to light, a pattern of coverups is evident, with missionary leaders taking no disciplinary action beyond relocating perpetrators.
Sometimes, too, the people who report sexual abuse against the Mormon Church are targeted by the Church for involving “outside” entities like local law enforcement. Members are taught not to trust outsiders and for all matters to be resolved within the Church, increasing the vulnerability of victims to institutional abuse. Sometimes, they are threatened with sanctions or even excommunication from the Church.
Mormons are also taught that women are responsible for controlling men’s sexual desires. This points the finger of blame at women themselves for provoking sexual assaults due to their behavior or their clothing.
Another possible reason for the institutionalized coverup of abuse is the overriding male dominance in positions of authority within the Mormon Church. Naturally, men are more likely to believe, and to side with, other men with whom they may be friendly over women who report abuse.
How does sexual abuse affect victims of the Mormon Church?
Sexual abuse victims process their experiences in many different ways – and these may become apparent immediately or in the longer term.
Many child victims grow up having problems forming close relationships, especially sexual ones, and some turn to addiction to alcohol or illegal substances.
Victims of child sexual abuse are at higher risk of suffering from future sexual abuse. They may be hindered in their emotional development, suffer from low self-esteem, and also suffer sleep problems, anxiety issues, and mental problems like depression.
Sometimes, the signs of suffering are obvious and, other times, less so. Women who have left the Mormon Church and been blamed for their assaults may suffer from spiritual crises in their lives.
For some, the Church is all they have known since they were born. Being ostracized or shunned by their community and having to leave behind all these experiences of their youth can be very challenging emotionally.
What options do abuse victims of the Mormon Church have?
Bringing a claim against abusers can act as some small measure of comfort for victims who are prepared to confront what’s happened to them.
Fortunately, there have been moves in recent times within the Mormon Church to address the issue of sexual abuse and to increase the respect for women, in particular. Many good, honest, practicing Mormons are ashamed of allegations of sexual abuse against Church officials and have demanded more responsiveness, acknowledgment of the problem, and action.
If such changes are too slow, it is likely that more victims will turn to lawsuits. The statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse has recently been extended in many states across the country, meaning that they can report cases of abuse from long ago. In many states now, “windows” have been created where you can bring a lawsuit for any historical case of child sexual assault.
Another positive move in this sense is that if the institution that harbored the sexual abuse is found to cover up the situation, damages awarded to a plaintiff can be tripled.
“Treble damages”, as it is known, is encouraging more complainants to come forward.
If you would like to discuss a case of sexual abuse that involved an official at the Mormon Church, you will find the lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote compassionate and accommodating.
We can start with a free case evaluation and take it from there.
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