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Utah civil rights group reaches out to sex abuse victims, calls for dialogue with Mormon church

First Published      Last Updated Feb 01 2017 07:49 am


Initiative » Group wants to improve church’s policies while providing support.

A Utah civil rights group has launched a two-part initiative to raise awareness of sexual abuse and assault inside the Mormon church and help purported survivors connect with services and support.

The effort of Restore Our Humanity (ROH) also asks leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to engage in a dialogue to improve the faith's policies related to abuse prevention and the response of ecclesiastical leaders to abuse allegations.

The focus of ROH's undertaking follows 18 months of gathering data and hearing the personal stories of individuals from across the country, ROH founder Mark Lawrence said Tuesday before an afternoon new conference.




A common thread heard by the group: Raising allegations of abuse with lay Mormon bishops has not always resolved the issue or brought needed help.

"I've talked to more than 100 people," Lawrence said. "They all go through the same thing. If they go to their LDS Church for help, the first thing they experience is victim shaming … which leads to ostracization and isolation."

Many of the individuals who have contacted ROH say they were never referred to counseling services, nor sought such support on their own out of fear, Lawrence said. About half have posted their stories, some in essay form and a few in videos, on the ROH website: www.restoreourhumanity.org.

ROH has social workers, volunteers and legal experts available to talk or meet with survivors to assess their needs, Lawrence said. Services can be accessed by calling the ROH hotline, 801-215-9748.

"Our goal is to help people out there get the support they need," he said.

An LDS Church spokesman did not immediately provide a response to ROH's effort, but referred The Salt Lake Tribune to the faith's webpage, which details the faith's policies and efforts to combat abuse: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/how-mormons-approach-abuse.

"Child abuse is a matter the church takes very seriously," according to the website. "When we learn of abuse, our first priority is to help the victim and stop the abuse."

The site, which states that the faith has a "zero-tolerance" policy to abuse, also notes the church has a professional help line for congregational leaders and counseling for victims.

Like many other faiths, the LDS Church and its leaders have been sued over allegations of abuse, including a current federal court action brought by five members of the Navajo Nation who allege they were abused as children while enrolled in a church-run foster-care program.

Those lawsuits have been commonly resolved through settlement agreements that are not publicly disclosed.

ROH isn't interested in suing the church — although it would support an individual's desire to bring a lawsuit — but Lawrence said the group would like to see more transparency from LDS leaders on the issue.

"The membership has a right to know how much of their tithing money has been paid out to cover up abuse," he said. "But primarily the church needs to change their policies and start believing victims when they come forward."

In letter sent last week to Mormon leaders, ROH challenged public statements from the church that say the faith has the "gold standard" of sexual abuse prevention.

"That is not the case," the ROH letter states. "A substantial number of survivors with whom we've talked detail the ways in which the church has enabled abusers. … We are contacting you to take action on sexual assault in the LDS Church before more innocent children and young adults are victimized."

jdobner@sltrib.com

@jenniferdobner

 

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