The LDS Church should offer its members a new sexual assault hotline. It’s called 911, writes the editorial board

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A culture of secrecy and an all-male clergy render the Church unfit to deal with issues of sexuality and abuse.

AP Illustration by Peter Hamlin based on legal documents.

Whether one accepts The Associated Press’s version of a horrific case of protracted sexual abuse known to officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or believes the own version of events of the Church, it is a fact:

Two LDS bishops in Arizona were given the option of calling police or social services to respond to a clear pattern of abuse by a father against his two young daughters. And they didn’t.

Counselors and lawyers working for the church’s “hotline” had the opportunity to urge local leaders to pick up a phone. Or make the call themselves. And they didn’t.

The good legal point on which the church has hung its public defense is that the relevant law in Arizona – that which requires anyone with knowledge of child abuse or neglect to report it to the appropriate legal authorities – has a loophole that makes it legal for religious people. leaders to keep to themselves whatever knowledge they gain from private confessionals or counseling sessions with members of their religion.

These laws must change. In Arizona. In Utah. Wherever they exist.

Clearly, in at least some cases, the church and its attorneys have read the provision of the law that states church leaders can choose whether or not to report as a requirement that they do not report.

One of the LDS bishops in the Arizona case told federal agents investigating the crime about his communications with the church helpline.

“They said, ‘You absolutely can’t do anything,'” he recalled.

So nothing is what he did.

We only know all of this because the perpetrator made videos of his crimes and posted them online, where they were seen by law enforcement officers in New Zealand. Officers who saw their duty and alerted their American counterparts, who eventually moved in and shut it down.

The reporting loophole for churches makes it far too likely that abuse will continue and become even more damaging to even more people, that perpetrators have the opportunity to entice or intimidate victims and witnesses, to confuse tracks and escape responsibility for their actions.

At least two members of the Utah Legislative Assembly — Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding — have officially backed legislation that would remove any doubt about the legal obligations of clergy. LDS or any other person. , must report when they have reason to believe that abuse is taking place.

Romero proposed such a bill in 2020. It didn’t go anywhere quickly. Now, with the backing of at least one Republican — and, as of Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox — there’s a chance it could become law. This is exactly what should happen, as soon as possible.

The church, sued by abuse survivors, denies any legal responsibility in the case. He takes issue with the suggestion that the local bishops were fully aware that the behavior had gone on for seven years. He claims that the Bishop Counselors had, on several occasions, told the abuser and his wife that they should report the abuse and seek professional help.

For a defense, the church’s version of events makes a pretty good charge of wrongdoing.

People who love and support the LDS Church should be the first to support a clear legal requirement that its leaders report cases of child abuse. They should see it as an intervention.

The attitude of the church towards sexual matters – abusive or not – has long shown a dangerous ignorance. This is to be expected when an all-male power structure, made up of people with absolutely no professional training in the matter, applies a culture of purity and an atmosphere of secrecy to an assumed duty of policing, not only the sexual behavior, but also the thoughts, even of very young members.

Most of us, even in a highly sexualized culture created by advertising and popular media, intuitively sense that a middle-aged man asking a teenage girl about her sexual thoughts, urges, and behavior is frightening to the core. extreme. Yet when one of the former bishops of the LDS Church launched a very public campaign to change Church policy on these issues, they excommunicated him.

Officially, of course, the LDS Church is horrified by all cases of child abuse and wants all such cases to be handled in the most beneficial way for the victims. These claims ring hollow, however, when the institution’s hotline runs out of the church’s risk management division and involves attorneys whose first allegiance is to the church, not to victims.

It’s time for the Mormon Church to inform its members and clergy of a new “hotline” they can call when notified of ongoing cases of child sexual abuse.

It’s called 911.

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