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“The first responsibility of Church leaders is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse.” These words can be found on the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also known as The Mormon Church. But what if that isn’t always the case? What if you or someone you love has been abused while in the care of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Victims of sexual abuse and assault should hire a trusted, experienced attorney to help navigate the litigation that a claim could bring. If you have any questions or concerns involving a potential case against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please contact us; our sexual abuse lawyers care and are here to help.
Formally organized for the first time in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in western New York. More colloquially known as the ‘Mormon’ Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints surpassed 16 million followers worldwide in 2018, with more than half of that population residing in the United States.
One of the main focuses of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the centrality and importance of family. 81% of Mormons count being a good parent as a central life goal, roughly two-thirds of Mormons are married, and on average a Mormon family will have 3.4 children compared to the 2.2 children averaging in most Christian households. However, this focus on family and children has unfortunately not translated to care for all members of the Church. In recent decades, dozens of Mormons and former Mormons have come forward with allegations against members and elders of the Church for sexual abuse they suffered as children in the Church.
According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “The Lord expects us to do everything we can to prevent abuse and to protect and help victims… No one is expected to endure abusive behavior.” The Church further asserts that “Reports of abuse should never be dismissed,” and that those affected by abuse need to be “heard and supported.”
How the Church plans to enforce these statements remains to be seen. The Bishops of the Mormon Church are volunteers who have other careers and who are often not formally trained with how to tackle serious allegations like sexual abuse. However, the Bishops’ position in the Church means that the congregation relies upon them to step up and handle these issues, whether the Bishops are trained or not. This has resulted, unfortunately, in a high number of mishandled cases that results in additional trauma to the victims who have come forward. Understanding signs of sexual abuse and the long term effects of sexual abuse could help churches identify and understand how to deal with these issues.
Another common issue with reports of sexual abuse to the Mormon Church is the insistence of the Church and Church officials to protect the Church rather than the individuals harmed by the Church’s conduct. Per the Church, “No Church leader should ever dismiss a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity.” Consequently, in the mid 1990s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set up a hotline for clergy to call in the event of child sexual abuse. While this appeared to be a step in the right direction, the hotline simply transferred the caller to the Church’s attorneys where discussions about the Church’s liability could be had. Understandably, this did little to help the victims of sexual abuse, and rather shifted the focus to the protection of the Church’s name and reputation.
But what if the abuse happened ten years ago? Twenty? Forty? There is what is known as a ‘statute of limitations’ that determines when a victim can bring a claim for suffering endured. Thanks to recent California legislation, AB 218, and similar law passed in other states across the entire United States, the statute of limitations for bringing a case concerning childhood sexual abuse has opened up for certain years. In California, there is now a three-year window until 2023 to bring a lawsuit for childhood sexual assault. This means that if you or a loved one was abused you may be able to bring a claim forward while the statute is “tolled.”
Additionally, if a court finds that a defendant like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tried to cover up the situation, any damages awarded to a plaintiff can be tripled. This is called treble damages. Considering the Mormon Church’s efforts to protect the reputation of the Church and not always the victims of these crimes, this could make a huge difference in your or your loved one’s case. Ensign Peak Advisors, the investment manager for assets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has $100 billion in accounts, thanks to donations, fundraising, and tithing – a commandment in the Church that designates a portion of your income back to the Church – which on its own brings in about $7 billion a year.
The way that each person deals with sexual abuse can manifest in a variety of ways. For some, there is an aversion to sex, but for others, it could become an addiction. Maintaining relationships can become a struggle both professionally and personally. Victims of childhood sexual abuse are often at a higher risk for future sexual assault or abuse. Additionally, drug and alcohol usage is also prevalent amongst survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There are no limitations to the amount of suffering a child endures into adulthood as a victim of sexual abuse.
No matter how you or a loved one have coped or dealt with the scars left behind from childhood sexual abuse, it does not bar you or your loved one from bringing a claim. The money recovered in litigation is often used to develop healthy coping mechanisms including therapy and drug and alcohol prevention programs.
With the changes in California law, tolling the statute of limitations, now more than ever it is important to know your rights as a victim of childhood sexual abuse. If you or a loved one has survived sexual abuse while in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please contact our professional and successful sexual abuse attorneys. At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we understand the unique dynamics of abuse in churches such as the Mormon Church, and are here to offer caring, compassionate support for survivors of sexual abuse. If you are ready to take legal action against abusers and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or just need more information, please call us at (619) 237-3490 or email us for a free and completely confidential initial consultation.
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