Chapter 3
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VOLUME 1, 1995

Chapter 3




Ensign Articles

Other Statements by Officials





Endnotes for Chapter 3


Although lacking the status of general conference statements or official statements by the Church, a number of other resources also provide a recent commentary on child sexual abuse. This chapter summarizes:

  1. President Hinckley’s comments on sex abuse in a "60 Minutes" interview, 7 April 1996, and the study published in Affilia upon which the question was based. (This study is summarized and discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5.)
  2. Personal accounts in the Ensign and passing references by Church officials.
  3. A 1993 address by Chieko N. Okazaki, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, published as an audiotape by Deseret Book.
  4. Statements by Church Public Relations spokesman Don LeFevre.



Perhaps the best-known Mormon statement on sexual abuse, though provided informally, was President Gordon B. Hinckley’s statement to the 20 million viewers of "60 Minutes" that mishandling of sexual abuse in the Church was "a blip here, a blip there." Wallace interviewed President Hinckley for CBS’s "60 Minutes," in a segment that aired on Easter Sunday, 7 April 1996—also, coincidentally, the night of general conference. The statement in its context reads:

Mike Wallace: Most Mormon women don’t want to be priests. They accept that men control the church and dominate Mormon society. And this has triggered complaints about how the Church handles child sexual abuse. Child abuse among Mormons is surely no greater than among non-Mormons. But a study has found that many Mormon women who went to their clergymen for help believe the clergy were just not sympathetic. The sociologists tell us, at the root of the problem is the fact that men in effect in your church have authority over women, so that your clergymen tend to sympathize with the men, the abusers, instead of the abused.

President Hinckley: That’s one person’s opinion. I don’t think there’s any substance to it. Now, there’ll be a blip here, a blip there, a mistake here, a mistake there. But by and large the welfare of women and children is as seriously considered as is the welfare of the men, in this church, if not more so.

Mike Wallace [voice over; screen shows cover of Responding to Abuse: Helps for Ecclesiastical Leaders]: President Hinckley says the church has been teaching its clergy how to handle abuse more effectively.

President Hinckley: We’re working very hard at it There are cases. They’re everywhere. They’re all over this world. It is a disease, it’s an illness, it’s a sickness, it’s a reprehensible and evil thing. We recognize it as such.1

The research referred to by Wallace was a study conducted by four sociologists: Karen E. Gerdes, Martha N. Beck, Sylvia Cowan-Hancock, and Tracey Wilkinson-Sparks. They published their findings, "Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Case of Mormon Women," in Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work 11 (Spring 1996): 39.60.2 This article appeared in March 1996 and the producer of this particular segment of "60 Minutes," Robert G. Anderson, received a copy of the article from a friend of one of the authors. Mike Wallace returned to Salt Lake City and did additional taping to discuss the topic of sexual abuse with President Hinckley.

Although President Hinckley’s dismissive comment about inappropriate priesthood response as "a blip here, a blip there" is demeaning on its face to the pain and violation suffered by the survivors of sexual abuse, it is not clear whether he is familiar with the article. His reference to it as one person's opinion suggests that he was not, since it was, in fact, the work of four people and since, far from being an opinion, it was based on the experience of seventy-one Mormon women when they disclosed their abuse, or considered disclosing their abuse, to ecclesiastical leaders. The article certainly merits careful reading by all priesthood leaders, members, and abuse survivors. The researchers found that only twelve (17 percent) of the women had positive interactions with their Church leaders when they disclosed their abuse. Forty-nine (69 percent) had negative experiences, and ten (14 percent) had not talked to church leaders, because they "had no confidence in their leaders’ ability to help them." (p. 50). This study therefore raises serious doubts about the accuracy of President Hinckley’s statement that unsupportive priesthood leaders are "a blip here, a blip there." Obviously more research needs to be done with random samples and generalizable results. But in this group alone, 69 percent of Mormon women sexually abused as children had negative experiences (including disfellowshipping and excommunication) when they disclosed their abuse to their bishops as adults while another 14 percent (a total of 83 percent) feared to do so lest they be punished. Nor can President Hinckley convincingly maintain that there’s "no substance" to Wallace’s suggestion that "your clergymen tend to sympathize with the men, the abusers, instead of the abused." (See more detailed summary and discussion of this study in Chapter 5.)



Ensign Articles

The Ensign, which is the magazine for adults, has published four articles on sexual abuse. The New Era for teenagers and The Friend for children under twelve have not. In January 1992, the Ensign published its first full-length first-person account by a female survivor of sexual abuse, several years after Exponent II and Dialogue, among other publications, had broached the topic.3

The second Ensign article is a relatively extensive six-page article in January 1993 by Maxine Murdock, a former counselor at BYU and member of its psychology department. It is a workmanlike and helpful overview of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, with the emphasis on the third category. It acknowledges that abuse impacts both boys and girls, that abusers "come from all social classes, geographic areas, and racial and religious backgrounds," and that abused children frequently act out in teen years by becoming promiscuous, running away, and using drugs, and that they have great difficulty "in forming healthy, trusting, loving relationships." One section talks about prevention, another about helping the victim. Particularly useful counsel is to "trust your feelings as a parent, and encourage your children to trust their feelings." Murdock encourages parents to intervene without feeling required to explain when they feel uncomfortable with an interaction between their child and another person, encourages them to allow children to shake hands instead of hugging or kissing a grownup if they are uncomfortable with him or her, and urges them to take seriously a child’s reluctance to be with a babysitter or relative.

Murdock insists that abuse be reported immediately, warns that "perpetrators tend to be highly manipulative and [may] deny the abuse or blame the victim for having caused it," advises that dealing with the consequences of abuse "may take years of patient work," and urges that professional therapy for "both victim and offender" is critical. She specifically warns, in cases of incest, against seeking family counseling prematurely lest the perpetrator "use the opportunity to manipulate other family members into maintaining the victim’s role."

In the section on treatment for the abuser, Murdock summarizes a range of types of abusers and provides specific advice on dealing with habitual abusers. Again she counsels that "long-term therapy is essential" and warns that abusers may minimize the harm they have done[,] ... project blame on their wives and victims," or "simply refuse to think about the devastation the child suffers. .... Although he may feel true sorrow for his actions and may even confess to Church authorities, the cause of the problem remains to be dealt with. Therapy may help him understand his behavior, turn him from seeking additional victims, and lead him to repentance. ... When incest is involved, the abuser and the victim cannot even live in the same home." Murdock promises that "the Atonement extends even to this great sin" for perpetrators. "Thus, change and forgiveness are possible," although she warns, "The damage caused by abuse is extensive and is not easily cured."4

The third Ensign article was an anonymous first-person account by a mother whose daughter began having nightmares, calling herself bad, cried excessively, and "had an unhealthy compulsion with cleanliness" soon after her first birthday. Her two younger brothers manifested the same symptoms, also from infancy. It was not until the children were four, two, and one that the mother was "reading a list from LDS Social Services describing symptoms of sexual abuse victims. The Holy Ghost bore witness to me as I read that my children were victims and needed help." A few days later, again prompted by the Spirit, the mother was able to ask her four-year-old directly about being abused. She felt the guidance of the Spirit as she was "specific" but without putting "words in her mouth" or "build[ing] unnecessary or unnatural curiosity by asking unrelated questions." The daughter revealed that the perpetrator was the grandfather. The mother recounts briefly the action they took: seeking medical help and professional counseling, "visiting with proper Church authorities, cooperating with law enforcement officers[, and] ... moving away from the perpetrator." Poignantly, the mother wrote:

There is a battle in the sexual abuse war that no one warned us about: that is the alienation it can cause. Perpetrators of abuse live a life miserable with deceit, lying to themselves and to those around them. I didn’t realize that not everyone would believe my children. Some believed the perpetrator, enabling him to continue abusing. Even some of those who did believe our children were repulsed by such an ugly situation and withdrew from us. I had no idea that our personal integrity would be put to such a test. The alienation from others is as real a part of sexual abuse as the nightmares or regressive behavior, and it lasts just as long or longer.5

Maxine Murdock is also the author of the fourth Ensign article, an answer to the question, "Am I in error to avoid all contact with a family member who has seriously wronged me and continues to emotionally abuse me? I harbor no bitterness toward this person, yet my spouse wonders if I am nevertheless being unforgiving." Although the article does not specify child abuse, its application is obvious and the Ensign indexed this article under "Abuse."

Murdock responds that those who have been abused "have the right and responsibility to protect themselves" and that they, "not their well-meaning friends or relatives, must determine when to reinitiate contact." She validates a "no-contact" policy until "the time is right and … a perpetrator has repented and abandoned abusive behavior," then suggests cautious progressive contact through cards, letters, phone calls, and brief visits in a group situation. She points out the double burden placed on survivors who feel pressured to forgive prematurely. Not only does the hurt remain but they also feel guilty because their efforts at forgiveness have not worked. She also acknowledges that forgiveness may be extremely difficult "when an offender does not care, feel sorry, apologize, or even recognize the offense." She concludes by assuring the reader that forgiveness, though a lengthy and highly personal process, is possible.6

Other Statements by Officials

On 26 September 1992, speaking with exceptional candor at the General Women’s Meeting, Virginia H. Pearce, First Counselor in the Young Women’s Presidency, quoted some fears acknowledged by young women including sexual abuse: "‘Because of some things that happened to me when I was young, I have a hard time not being afraid of men. Even being alone with the bishop in his office can sometimes be frightening to me. I’m also afraid that if anyone else knew what has happened to me, they wouldn’t love me anymore.’"7

On 5 August 1994, Clyde Parker, a psychologist at LDS Social Services, participated on a panel on child abuse. When posed the question of what he would advise a religious leader to do if a father confesses to child abuse and, separately, the daughter later says she’s being abused, he answered that he "would probably encourage the bishop to report the daughter’s situation."8 He was apparently not asked what he would advise the bishop to do, either in terms of reporting or intervention, if only the father confessed.



Interestingly enough, the most forthright, detailed, and helpful counsel on sexual abuse is an audiotaped speech, Healing from Sexual Abuse: Eight Messages for Survivors, Family, and Leaders, recorded by Chieko N. Okazaki, first counselor in the general Relief Society presidency and released by Deseret Book in the early spring of 1993. Among the examples in her address were a Relief Society president who had been sexually abused by her father with the knowledge of her mother and a man who had been sexually abused in his youth and who sometimes could not attend church for up to a year at a time because he could not "face the members." This man described attending priesthood meeting as being like facing "a firing squad" because of the judgmentalness of the men present. He described the harshness with which he was treated when he suggested, during a lesson on forgiveness, that sometimes healing must occur before someone can offer forgiveness.

Sister Okazaki’s eight messages were: (1) "Sexual abuse is a problem for all of us, both men and women, whether we have experienced it personally or not." Some estimate that one in three women is abused before eighteen, and one in ten for men. "If you are a woman, it means that you have a 33 percent chance of being that woman. If you are a man, it means that your wife, your mother, or your daughter may be that woman. If you have three daughters, if you have three sisters, if you have three daughters-in-law, if you have three granddaughters, this terrible evil could have entered your family’s life, with or without your knowledge. ... If you have worked in three elders’ quorum presidencies or bishoprics or stake presidents, the statistical odds are that one of them bore this grievous, invisible wound." (2) "Sexual abuse is not the child’s fault" (3) "Women and men who have been sexually abused probably need professional help and certainly need personal support." (4) Provide spiritual support. (5) Teachers and leaders "speak with the voice of the Church." She asked them to consciously remember that probably one person in each classroom has been abused. What does a seven-year-old incested girl think about when she hears the song, "I’m So Glad when Daddy Comes Home"? When a twelve-year-old boy has been "physically and sexually abused by an uncle who holds an ecclesiastical office, how does he deal with his confusion during a lesson which teaches that we should obey our priesthood leaders because they want what is best for us?" When a woman’s husband beats and rapes her, how does she hear a Relief Society lesson that it is her "responsibility to maintain the spiritual atmosphere in the home and to support the priesthood"?

Sister Okazaki urged priesthood leaders to believe the survivors and give them "permission" to acknowledge it and then begin to heal. (6) Healing "is a very long and very painful process." She cited a study that included LDS women which found that being able to forgive the perpetrator took an average of fifteen years. (7) We know perpetrators. "Yet the secrecy with which we shroud the victim is nothing to the secrecy with which we shroud the perpetrator. When the abuse is incest, that means that a wife and a mother either does not know or chooses not to know what her husband is doing to her child. She may love him and choose to not know what is happening because the knowledge is too painful, because she feels too helpless, because there is too much to lose. ... If you know a perpetrator and if you love him or if you love his victim, set the processes in motion so that he can receive help and start on his own process of healing." In response to those who maintain the image of a strong LDS family, she cited the example of her Relief Society president friend—born into an LDS family that had been active in the Church for generations on both sides. "That lineage did not make her father pure. It did not make her mother brave. It did not protect my friend. ... We must believe this dismal message: No child in a neighborhood is safe from a sexual abuser. No child or grandchild in a family is safe." (8) Prevent abuse by "holding the men and women in our lives to gospel standards. ... Raise sons and daughters who do not make disparaging remarks about other girls or boys or who think they can bully anyone else just because they are stronger. We can teach children to feel ownership of their own bodies and to trust their feelings. We can insist that our sons respect the young women they date. We can raise daughters who have a sense of themselves as daughters of God too strong to submit to abusive treatment from their husbands."

None of these statements addressed the Church’s possible role in the prevention and early detection of abuse by incorporating materials into a revised curriculum, by empowering members as well as leaders to set their own boundaries, by training officers and teachers, and by screening officers and teachers more carefully.



The first (and so far only) substantive professional effort to explain and mitigate the effects of abuse designed for Mormons is Confronting Abuse: An LDS Perspective on Understanding and Healing Emotional, Physical, Sexual, Psychological, and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Anne L. Horton, B. Kent Harrison, and Barry L Johnson and published by Deseret Book in 1993. All three editors teach at BYU and both men are bishops; thus, the book has the halo of authority provided by the Church’s publishing company and the Church’s university. Horton, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in domestic abuse, is an associate professor of social work; Harrison, a professor of physics, serves on the board of trustees of the Utah County Center for Women and Children in Crisis; Johnson is an associate professor of sociology and serves on the board of directors of the Utah Valley Family Support Center.

The text is 373 pages long with an additional two-page directory of helping organizations, two pages of additional readings, and an index. There are thirty-one essays, which means that most of the essays are short, under twelve pages. It also tries to provide a guide to all types of abuse, which further limits the depth in which each topic is treated. Still, coverage is admirably broad as shown by the topics of the chapters, and at $16.96 it is within the reach of most readers.

Part 1, "Understanding Family Violence," contains six essays: "Children of God in a Violent World: Confronting the Existence of Abuse" by Susan L Paxman, "Safeguarding Our Homes: What Every LDS Family Ought to Know about Abuse," by Anne L Horton, "Abuse or Discipline? The Threshold of Violence" by Alvin H. Price, "What to Do If Your Child Has Been Abused" by Patricia B. Esplin, "A Word about False Reporting" by Anne L Horton, "When the Mind Hides the Truth: Why Some Abuse Victims Don’t Remember" by Elouise M. Bell and Noemi P. Mattis (this essay is particularly helpful in explaining dissociation and repressed memories), and "What Survivors of Abuse Want Others to Know—A Guide to Their Pain" by an anonymous writer.

Part 2 discusses "Types of Abuse and Guidelines for Change." Its essays include: "Child Abuse and Neglect" by Victoria Anderson and Laura Ann Blanchard, "Incest: Sexual Abuse in the Family," Lynn M. Roundy, "Adolescent Sexual Offenders: Victims, Perpetrators, or Both?" by C. Y. Roby, "Sibling Abuse: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?" by Reed L Finlayson, "Spouse Abuse: Confronting the Problem and Seeking Safety" by Barbara Thompson, "Marital Rape: A Violation of Trust and Love" by Leslie L. Feinauer, "Abuse of Parents and the Elderly" by Barry L. Johnson and Suzanne L Maughan, "Healing Covert Abuse: Defining Verbal, Psychological, and Emotional Abuse" by Anne L Horton and Byron J. Marquez, "Spiritual Abuse" by Edward Gardiner, "Ritual Abuse" by Noemi P. Mattis and Elouise M. Bell, and "Males Are Victims Too" by Rex Croft Kocherhans.

The third section, "Some Specific Considerations for Ending Abuse" includes "How Can I Help? Concepts and Cautions for Ecclesiastical Leaders and Others" by B. Kent Harrison, "Legal Support for Victims: Asking for Help from the System" by C. David Condie, "The Sex Offender and Legal Remedies" by Robert P. Faust and C. Y. Roby, "Counseling the At-Risk Adolescent and the Dysfunctional Family" by Gregory A. Hudnall, "Adult Survivors: A Path to Healing" by Geraldine Good Hanni "Regaining Self-Esteem and Trust" by Deborah A. Christensen, "Responding to Abused LDS Women: Roadblocks to Recovery" by Judith Rasmussen Dushku, and "A Program for Treatment of Sexual Abuse: Essentials for Responsible Change" by Dorothea C. Murdock and S. Brent Scharman.

The fourth and final section, "Spiritual Recovery," has a preface, "A Word about Survival and Spiritual Recovery" by Anne L Horton, and six essays: "Why Did Abuse Happen to Me? What Does the Lord Want Me to Learn?" by Elaine Cannon, "Steps to Recovery and Repentance" by C. Ross Clement, "The Role of the Gospel in Individual and Family Recovery" by Warren R. Nielsen, "Abuse, Covenants, and Divorce" by Larry James Hansen, "When Forgiveness Flounders: For Victims of Serious Sin" by Wendy L Ulrich, and "The Path to Wholeness: A Survivor’s Story and Recovery" by an anonymous writer.

Because the book covers all types of abuse, the editors no doubt assumed that many readers will seek out only chapters that apply particularly to them. Consequently the book repeats much of the same information about diagnosis and treatment from chapter to chapter. This is not necessarily a disadvantage in a culture that so easily denies victimization. The book is also written to multiple audiences: primarily to survivors but also to third-party supporters, to ecclesiastical officers, and to the perpetrator. The tone is deliberately matter of fact and so noninflammatory that it occasionally leads to such unintentionally strained understatements as: "Your staying with an abusive partner who may kill or injure you or your children is not in the best interests of either party" (p. 15).

Much of the information would be applicable in any setting rather than being tailored specifically to a Mormon setting. As a result, the interface between the abuse survivor and ecclesiastical officers representing the institutional church is not one of the most frequently discussed topics. However, the authors are both candid and dispassionate in discussing what someone reporting abuse can expect.

Anne Horton recommends:

Explain the specifics of your own situation with your bishop, describing events and using exact dates, number of incidents, and details. Avoid vagueness or generalities. Do not be defensive or allow probing questions to upset you. Although abuse has been part of your life and you know you are telling the truth, others, hearing it for the first time, may have difficulty understanding or believing your account. Some may even deny or minimize it. Do not be discouraged by such a response. Most people are not well informed about abuse. You must learn to advocate for yourself, because Church leaders may not be trained in this area and many have never had any experiences with the behaviors you are describing. Unfair as it may seem, because you are making serious charges against someone, you must bear the burden of proof. Stand firm and ask for help.

… In their ecclesiastical role, bishops can support you and your family, but you should not assume that they have all the training or the time needed to deal with all aspects of these problems. Church leaders make excellent treatment partners, particularly for secular counselors. They carry authority and knowledge that the counselor does not and should not. Some bishops may prefer to work directly with the family without making an outside referral, but professionals who specialize in treating violence in the family strongly recommend that experts be consulted in all cases involving sexual abuse and physical violence. Because abusers will deny or minimize the severity of the problem, it is best to take a proactive treatment approach to give the family the best chance at success. Remember, however, that the rate of success in families with histories of severe abuse is quite low, even when treatment is attempted. (Horton, "Safeguarding Our Homes," 15-16)

This section clearly puts the reader on notice that not all listeners, including ecclesiastical officers, will be empathic and supportive. Her suggestions for dealing with disbelief (by marshalling specific information) are excellent, but she fails to make any recommendation for the scenario in which the bishop insists on handling the situation himself, without therapeutic assistance.

A second author also explains: "Overcoming the intensity of the emotions and the depth of the pain will usually require the assistance of a mental health professional. ... Untrained helpers may unwittingly do more harm than good" (Roundy, "Incest," 106). He does not say what to do if the bishop is the "untrained helper." A third author, after a balanced discussion about the merits of finding an LDS or non-LDS therapist, suggests using LDS Social Services if they are available but does not mention that a bishop’s referral is required (Thompson, "Spouse Abuse," 136).

Another area where ecclesiastical leaders clearly have a role is when the trauma of untreated childhood sexual abuse, which results in a free-floating "pervasive sense of ‘badness,"’ erupts later into such behavior as drinking, taking drugs, becoming promiscuous, running away, or acting out in other ways. Although Elouise M. Bell and Noemi P. Mattis, "When the Mind Hides the Truth," 53-62, discuss this situation cogently and helpfully from the survivor’s perspective, they do not take the next step of counseling ecclesiastical leaders to look beneath the surface for underlying causes of such dysfunctional behavior and to refrain from moving swiftly to punish the offending behavior. More helpful is Edward Gardiner’s recommendation:

Bishops and stake presidents must sometimes render judgment on sexual transgressions. ... Such a judge will necessarily take into consideration the degree to which an abused person is accountable for sinful behavior. When an abused person has been an innocent victim of another’s treachery and perversion and has subsequently adopted a promiscuous life-style, surely the priesthood leader will need to carefully assess the sinful behavior against the background of the experiences … which may have contributed to the victim’s distorted view of sexuality. In situations where accountability is a concern, it is best to deal kindly and sensitively with the person, avoiding harshness. Treatment that is either too severe or too lenient may not serve the need, and so one should seek the Spirit for help in evaluating the circumstances that have led to transgression. (Gardiner, "Spiritual Abuse," 172)

Still, he fails to offer any suggestions for an abuse survivor whose bishop sees only a need to punish.

Dorothea C. Murdock and S. Brent Sharman, in their essay, "A Program for Treatment of Sexual Abuse: Essentials for Responsible Change," acknowledge: "In the past and today as well, bishops have found it relatively common for a sex offender to confess his sins and reveal that he had confessed them earlier to other bishops. Usually, the perpetrator would report that following his prior confessions, he had gone through a period of abstinence and had experienced an intense motivation to change but that in time the old thoughts, feelings, and behaviors had returned" (296). They do not comment on what the bishop was doing during this period, if anything, either with the victims or with the perpetrators. The rest of this chapter describes a treatment program for "incest offenders but not fixated pedophiles" (297). The program, as they describe it, requires that the client be willing to involve the bishop, admit guilt, and be involved in the legal process. The perpetrator, the spouse, and the other children, as well as the incest victim, are all involved in stages of therapy that lasts two years or more to eliminate "the code of secrecy, ... prevent additional abuse," and to solve "enmeshment, boundary issues, communication problems, and misuse of power" problems (298). The program has been operational in Salt Lake City for seven years, but they provide no statistics about numbers of client families in treatment, rates of success, and rates of recidivism.

One of the most interesting sections of this chapter is a list of "problems of LDS offenders." Although the heading is neutrally phrased, obviously some of these problems are those of the perpetrator and some are problems of those, like bishops, who should be working with the perpetrator. Several items on this list describe reactions reported in both Part 1 and Part 2 of this book.


  1. Feelings of entitlement. LDS offenders may feel that they deserve to be treated differently from others or may minimize their behavior. They may also find it hard to understand why others don’t see that "they are a good person who just made a mistake" and that "they would certainly never do it again." LDS offenders in group settings have frequently been described as self-righteous and act as though they are better than others in the program.
  2. Harsh judgment of an LDS perpetrator who has previously held responsible Church positions.
  3. Feelings that a separation of the perpetrator from the family is incompatible with the philosophy of a family-oriented program.
  4. Feelings by some Church leaders, extended family, and others that two years of therapy is an overreaction and that the perpetrator is being mistreated.
  5. Feelings that the perpetrator, who may have held a very positive reputation in the Church community, may be innocent and simply the victim of someone who is taking advantage of him.
  6. Feelings that professional help is not needed and that spiritual direction is all that is needed.
  7. Feelings that non-LDS professionals cannot understand what the perpetrator is going through and therefore could not help.
  8. Feelings that the treatment program can be taken lightly. This attitude tends to come from the idea that it is one’s standing with God that matters, rather than one’s standing with men (as represented by the court or therapists).
  9. A tendency on the part of LDS perpetrators to want the Church to pay for their therapy. (302)

In one of the most candid essays, C. Ross Clement, a clinical social worker with LDS Social Services, made the dual point that most perpetrators lie and that the perpetrator must not be treated in isolation. Though he is not a bishop, this example makes the point that not all helpers, even those representing the Church, are equally skilled. Clement’s first therapeutic experience with sexual abuse occurred "several years ago, before there was public awareness of sexual abuse issues, reporting laws, and treatment protocols." He was assigned to work with a perpetrator from another city, prominent in the Church and the community, who was excommunicated for sexually abusing a seven-year-old girl in his neighborhood. Her parents refused therapy for themselves and their daughter. In his appointments with Clement, the perpetrator seemed sincere and cooperative, but one day failed to keep his appointment. Clement learned that he had left the state. The perpetrator had not broken off contact, as ordered, with the victim’s family, had continued to abuse the seven-year-old with the collusion of her parents, and had taken advantage of Clement’s "naiveté and eagerness to close this case successfully" (319.21). Since Clement was trained, though not experienced, it is easy to understand how a bishop or stake president could also, as he put it, become "part of the system that enabled the abuse to continue."

Since it is important for ecclesiastical leaders to see appropriate behavior modeled through case reports and examples, it is somewhat disappointing that so few personal experiences are reported in relation to the amount of prescription present, helpful and appropriate though such prescriptions usually are. One is the example of an abuse survivor who was able to think coherently and constructively about her abuse when her bishop asked her to address four questions: "How did the abuse affect me? How was I able to face it? How did I get help? and "Where am I now?" (Anonymous, "What Survivors of Abuse Want Others to Know," 74).

B. Kent Harrison’s highly compressed chapter, "How Can I Help? Concepts and Cautions for Ecclesiastical Leaders and Others," is the only chapter that speaks directly to bishops and stake presidents. He briefly defines symptoms of abuse, gives guidelines for listening, cautions about unhelpful messages, urges the involvement of others in counseling, provides perspective on the process of forgiveness, corrects mistaken concepts about Eve that some use to justify the abuse of women, offers helpful suggestions on the process of prayer in abuse situations, describes the priesthood leader’s role in countering spiritual abuse (which he defines as "any type of abuse that will reduce the victim’s feeling of self-worth … as a child of God" [223]), and discusses how to help the perpetrator. He gives one case report which includes a helpful role model. One "stake president’s counselor" supportively helped a survivor deal with her anger at God by telling her to "scream at God as much as she wished, which she did. That made God more real to her and helped her … feel his unconditional love." Her priesthood leaders also gave her permission to avoid contact with the abusive relative, even after she had forgiven him, thus validating her slowly regrowing sense of agency (221).

Another bishop-author, in a brief personal glimpse, explains that as a high school principal and a crisis interventionist, he considers anger to be a symptom of deeper feelings of "fear, hurt, and disappointment. As a bishop, I also look for guilt" (Hudnall, "Counseling the At-Risk Adolescent," 251).

Judith Rasmussen Dushku, in a helpful chapter, "Responding to Abused LDS Women: Roadblocks to Recovery" (285-93), acknowledges: "I believe that there is, unfortunately, abuse in every ward in the Church. The probability that it will continue is great. … Women are still perceived as weaker and therefore are the usual victims—in and out of the Church of Jesus Christ." Her counsel is shaped for other women who become aware of an abused sister, but she also deals straightforwardly with the interface between the bishop and the abuse survivor. She encourages such support people to "challenge denial," to help during the remembering process by listening without judgment but with strong expressions of love, to use inclusive languages ("those of us who are abused" rather than "people who are abused" to avoid further marginalization), accompanying a woman to a bishop’s interview if desired, encouraging appropriate anger, respecting even small acts of courage, and identifying and denouncing sexism in speech or behavior. Unobtrusively, Dushku also provides considerable advice for bishops.

As this summary shows, even though it is focused on the topic of information about the interface between the survivor and the institutional Church through its representatives—bishops and stake presidents—Confronting Abuse is a specific, helpful voice, only occasionally muted, in discussing abuse issues for a Mormon audience.



Many have praised a novel of realistic abuse situations with mainly happy endings published in 1992 by Deseret Book. Secrets is written by Blaine M. Yorgason, the author or co-author of fifty popular books, and Sunny Oaks, an abuse survivor, sixth in a Canadian Mormon family of fourteen, and the mother of eight. In a closing note (facing p. 503), the authors state: "All of the characters we described, as well as their experiences with abuse, have been based upon the lives and experiences of Latter-day Saints. All of these people, both perpetrators and victims, have willingly shared this painful part of their lives and have graciously consented to have their own personal horror made public in the hope that the cycle of abuse thus exposed will begin to lose its insidious power over others."

The book is framed around the gradual education of Frank Greaves, a goodhearted but inexperienced bishop who, in chapter 1, tells a colleague at work that "‘thankfully, we don’t have any [abuse] in my ward, at least that I know of." His counseling approach is: "Life is simple when we simply live the gospel" (45). The rest of the novel spells out a carefully chosen spectrum of abuse and the bishop’s increasingly sensitive and competent response to it over the next two years.

Jeanne Greaves, Frank’s wife, tries to help others. She is a multiple with a child alter who carries the memories of being incested by her father. Her first husband was physically abusive, and a second marriage had ended, apparently by the suicide of her husband, before she married Frank. The story of recovering these memories with the help of a therapist runs the course of the novel, partly triggered when her preschooler granddaughter is raped by a babysitter.

Marie Spencer, incested by her father, gang-raped as a teenager, and sexually abused by the bishop she told thirty years ago, brings herself to confide in Frank. Frank assures her that she is not sinful and advises her to get on with her life. She writes him an angry letter: "‘No one wants to feel or know anything that doesn’t suit them. ... It hits too closely to the old nerve of lust that causes shame and guilt in most men! … So with a torrent of priestly platitudes you tell me to either stuff it back inside or go someplace else to suffer."’ Frank’s wife Jeanne explains that Frank "‘made [Marie] feel that the gospel has no place for people who are hurting"’ (140) and Frank’s cousin, a fellow teacher at his school who is identified only as Mrs. O., explains that anger is not a sin; but if it is not acknowledged and dealt with, it can become bitterness, which is. Tern Elder, the competent and compassionate Relief Society president, also an incest survivor, tells him about another incest survivor whose father raped her every Thursday afternoon when the mother and younger children went to Primary. Neither the mother nor the bishop believed the victim. Tern tells Frank: "‘Some of the deepest wounds have been given [to] sisters by a few of my brothers who wield priesthood authority without charity, compassion, or inspiration"’ (196). Frank reestablishes contact with Marie. By the end of the novel, Marie’s father, who had been sexually abused by a "maiden aunt" when he was a child, has apologized—so sincerely that Marie’s nonmember husband becomes interested in the Church.

June McCrasky, a student in his sixth-grade class and recently bereft of her mother, has turned into an obsessive adult pleaser without friends of her own and without, apparently, any recognition of her right to her own feelings. She protectively defends her stepmother for screaming at her and the other children and defends her father for always being gone. Frank helps Elaine McCrasky, the stepmother, realize that she is emotionally abusing June out of displaced feelings of anger toward her older sister, who took on much of the burden of the family when their mother took to her bed.

Bob Nichols is a rageaholic and physically abusive to his wife, Claudia, and teenage son, Robby. Robby goes on destructive rampages that land him in jail. Claudia tries to defend Robby but is secretly grateful when Bob beats him instead of her. Finally she flees the house and goes to a shelter. Robby is put in foster care. With newly learned assertiveness skills and taking responsibility for herself learned in a twelve-step program, Claudia becomes newly attractive to Bob who has an Alma the Younger experience of suffering, repentance, and forgiveness, restoring their marriage.

Mel Blodgett, Frank’s counselor in the bishopric, has sexually abused his three daughters, Tess, Tish, and Trace, beginning when each is about a second-grader for the past ten years. When he begins playing "Daddy’s games" with little Trace, the two oldest girls tell their mother who believes them and calls the police. When Frank confronts him in jail, Mel’s defenses are: (1) His wife was not meeting his sexual needs, (2) "1 love my girls, and they love me. ... We’re family!" (3) His daughters have also benefited by receiving some "pleasure" and "some education that will help them in their own marital relationships," (4) He did not hurt them physically, (5) His temple covenants related only to other women, and he had not been unfaithful to his wife, and (6) Despite some feelings of shame, "when I analyze it in my mind, it all seems so logical, so helpful" (179-82). He later admits to having sexually molested his sister until he was sixteen and acquired a girlfriend. Gossip in the ward revictimizes the children; the oldest daughter becomes sexually promiscuous; Mel, serving his prison term, begins to deny that he ever touched the youngest child.

Abby Martin’s husband of sixteen years leaves her and the seven children, taking all the furniture with him, canceling the VISA cards, refusing to pay child support, and telling Abby that the financial problems are all her fault for not getting a job. Originally taken in by John’s protestations of concern for Abby, Frank initially counsels her to be patient. When John continues to terrorize her and the children, she files for divorce and Frank learns that John has been dating someone else. At the novel’s end, she is sitting in sacrament meeting with an attractive stranger.

The long novel contains numerous gospel discussions on scriptural insights and links all healing ultimately to understanding and accepting the Savior’s atonement. Frank’s closing sermon summarizes many of these insights. No General Authority is quoted by name, although President Hinckley’s and President Monson’s 1991 conference addresses are both quoted. The stake president is warmly supportive. LDS Social Services are readily available and well-informed, both in counseling with the bishop and in providing therapeutic services for some of the survivors. Jeanee’s therapist is a non-Mormon woman.



Don LeFevre of the Church’s Salt Lake City Public Affairs Office downplayed both the extent of abuse and the obligation to report when he talked to Lisa Davis, an Arizona reporter, in 1994:

"We notice that when a person does wrong and he makes the news, he’s news because Mormons aren’t supposed to do things like that. Because they’re taught to do better. ... In a way, it’s really kind of flattering to the Church that they [the news media] chose this, because it’s a unique angle: A Mormon did this, and Mormons aren’t supposed to do things like this.

"If you put it in perspective, out of that many members, it doesn’t sound like the problem is rampant in the Church. We would hope that it’s more rare in the Church than it is in society in general because of our emphasis on the family and moral living and that sort of thing. ...

"If, when you refer the individual to counseling services or to the local authorities for help, and he refuses, ... I suppose your next option is to work with that individual yourself—calling him in regularly and counsel with him and encourage him to keep the commandments and to avoid what he has confessed to having done."9

Marion Burrows Smith in late March 1996 published an investigative report in a Salt Lake City alternative newspaper chronicling sixteen cases of sexual abuse. She also contacted LeFevre. Asked to comment "on the failure of bishops, stake presidents and other church officials to report and take action on egregious cases of child sexual abuse" and also to comment on the $750 million negligence suit filed against the Church in the John Adams, Jr., case in West Virginia (see Chapter 4), Don LeFevre faxed the following statement:

Children are precious in the sight of the Lord and the Church. For this reason and also because child abuse is increasing in frequency and intensity in today’s permissive society, the Church in recent years has been among those in the forefront of the battle against such vile conduct.

The Church produces public affairs radio programs on the subject and distributes them widely. Members of the Church are taught to obey the laws of the land wherever they reside. This, of course, applies to child abuse reporting laws. If local leaders of the Church have any questions about local reporting requirements, they are encouraged to call the Church’s 800-number "Help Line" for counsel.10

Notes: (Click the Back Button to return to the note reference.)

1 Videotape and transcript in our possession.

2 The research was supported by an Eccles Foundation Grant, administered by the Women’s Research Institute at Brigham Young University where all four of the authors were then teaching. When the article was published, Gerdes was director of the BSW program at the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, Tempe. Martha N. Beck was a faculty associate at the American Graduate School of International Management at Phoenix. Sylvia Cowan-Hancock was visiting professor in the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University, and Tracey Wilkinson-Sparks had recently received a graduate degree in social work from BYU.

3 Anonymous, "A Refuge for the Oppressed," Ensign, January 1992, 62-64.

4 Maxine Murdock, "Hope and Healing: A Discussion of the Tragedy of Abuse," Ensign, January 1993, 62-67.

5 Name Withheld, "‘I Just Need to Cry,"’ Ensign, September 1993, 22.

6 Maxine Murdock, "I Have a Question," Ensign, June 1994, 60-61.

7 Virginia Hinckley] Pearce, "Fear," Ensign, November 1992, 90.

8 Norma Wagner, "Child Sex Abuse Violates Sanctity of Confessional," Salt Lake Tribune, 6 Aug. 1994, D-1, D-2.

9 Lisa Davis, "Sins of the Temple," New Times (Phoenix, Arizona), 22-23 September 1994, 19-20; this article is titled, "Latter-day Sinners," on the cover.

10 Marion Smith, "Blame the Victim: Hushing Mormon Sexual Abuse," Event (Salt Lake City), March 28, 1996, 9.