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Op-ed: Arrest of Mormon bishop shows that communities must work together to protect children from abuse

First Published      Last Updated Jul 17 2017 10:52 am

On June 21, Mapleton police arrested Eric Hughes, 51, for allegedly drugging and sexually abusing two boys while serving as bishop of a Mormon ward. While Hughes remains innocent until proven guilty, this incident underscores the necessity of instituting effective child protection policies in Mormon wards and communities.

To be most effective, child protection and sexual abuse prevention require community involvement. No individual can alone be trusted to ensure the safety of children. Placing implicit trust in church leaders and Mormon neighbors who seem like "good people" is not enough. Sometimes predators use positions of trust and authority to deceive well-meaning parents and to attract vulnerable children.




Proactive community watch practices can counteract predators' tactics. Predators take advantage of the common and mostly accurate belief that children are, in general, safe with adults who appear to be upstanding community members.

Communities can work together to diminish the efficacy of this predator strategy through maintaining the healthy assumption of general child safety while simultaneously proactively ensuring that -all- eyes are constantly on the lookout for suspicious behaviors.

All children are vulnerable. They're young and impressionable. They can be groomed, drugged or simply cornered and threatened then shamed. And as uncomfortable and unsafe as it makes adults feel, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that any adult could potentially be a child predator -- even a bishop or beloved friend and neighbor.

It is impossible to discern "good" from "evil" just by looking or asking a few questions. And it is impossible to discern by applying common assumptions like "I know she's safe because she talks about how she would personally harm anyone who abuses children," or "I know he wouldn't hurt a child because he's such a good father to his own kids."

Predators intentionally say and do things to make them seem like people we can all trust. When people proclaim their own beneficence, see red flags rather than giving confidence.

Safe adults will support and follow community watch practices that prevent -all- adults, including themselves, from having time alone with others' children. Safe adults don't mind being scrutinized and watched because they aren't looking for opportunities to exploit. Safe adults aren't seeking alone time with children so will not work to find or maintain it. Predators, on the other hand, will resist community watch practices that threaten their access to children. They want implicit trust, not community involvement in child protection.

I propose the community child abuse education, prevention, and response policy below. I believe a policy that educates and encourages communities to work together to prevent private access to children could be instituted in Mormon neighborhoods and wards and even by the church as a whole. I believe it would be more effective than current church child protection policies as well as the Boy Scouts' two-deep program

In fact, I believe two-deep policies are insufficient and have the potential to be dangerous. Sometimes predators work together. A bishop who is a perpetrator himself could easily call two other predators to work with the children in his ward thereby also making it easier for him to gain private access.

It is worth noting that Douglas Sovereign Smith Jr., chairman of the Boy Scouts' Youth Protection Task Force at the time the two-deep policy was first introduced, served time in prison after being convicted of harboring and distributing photos and videos of naked boys and boys engaging in sex acts. A child abuse prevention strategy that was formulated by a task force led by a sexual predator is arguably not one parents or church leaders should rely on.

Better and more effective policies require not only background checks for those who work directly with children on a regular basis, but also assume that background checks and ensuring that at least two adults are present at all times are not sufficient.

Instead, effective policies promote and facilitate the need for adult education and for -all- eyes to watch at -all- times. They are widely published, regularly discussed and encourage community involvement.

The safest community is a community that works together to protect -all- children from predators.

Anne McMullin Peffer is a sixth-generation Mormon who still has membership but no longer self-identifies as Mormon. She cares about the safety of children and has no qualms about being scrutinized while with them.

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This proposed policy is provided to promote discussion. Any organization is free to copy it in part or whole. Always consult an attorney and your insurance provider:

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