Utah ex-therapist Scott Owen charged with 10 felonies, accused of sexually abusing his patients

Prosecutors say he told one patient, “God gives certain people special permission to do things that are normally wrong.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ex-therapist Scott Owen makes his first court appearance from Utah County Jail after being charged with 10 felonies after accusations of sexually abusing his patients, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023.

Editor’s note • This story contains explicit details of criminal charges of sexual assault.

A former therapist in Utah who is accused of sexually abusing his patients during sessions was charged Monday with 10 felonies in connection with two men’s reports.

Scott Owen, 64, was charged with six counts of object rape and four counts of forcible sodomy, all first-degree felonies. If convicted, he faces a five-years-to-life prison term on each charge.

The Salt Lake Tribune and ProPublica reported in August on a range of sex abuse allegations against Owen, who had built a reputation over his 20-year career as a specialist who could help gay men who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He gave up his therapy license in 2018 after several patients complained to state licensers that he had touched them inappropriately. Some of the men who spoke to The Tribune said their bishop used church funds to pay for sessions where Owen allegedly also touched them inappropriately.

Owen was arrested last Wednesday, and he has remained in the Utah County jail after a judge ordered that he would not have the immediate opportunity to post bail — finding that he could be a danger to the community and would likely flee if released. He made his first court appearance on Monday afternoon, where a judge ordered him to not have any contact with the alleged victims in the case.

The former therapist has not responded to detailed lists of questions previously sent to him on two occasions regarding allegations that he touched his patients inappropriately. His defense attorney did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Provo police interviewed 12 former patients of Owen’s, according to arrest records, all of whom say he touched them in ways they felt were inappropriate during therapy sessions. Owen faces charges in connection to two of those former patients. Provo Captain Brian Taylor said Monday that some of the men’s reports involved allegations that were outside the window of time that prosecutors had to file a case, called the statute of limitations.

“Many of those men understood that limitation of the law and were still willing to be interviewed in the hope that their stories would be helpful,” he said. “We appreciated their willingness to come forward.”

Prosecutors wrote in charging documents that one alleged victim told police he began seeing Owen in 2010, and that he told the therapist that he was afraid of physical touch and opening up emotionally. Owen allegedly told this patient that they were going to work on developing “an intimate and spiritual relationship” and that he was unique. Owen also allegedly told the patient that he had been “spiritually prompted” to work with him.

From there, prosecutors allege Owen engaged in increasingly physical contact during sessions. And in 2011, Owen became that patient’s ecclesiastical leader within the LDS Church.

“He told [the alleged victim] that God gives certain people special permission to do things that are normally wrong,” prosecutors wrote, adding that the patient “took this to mean that the defendant had religious authority to be sexually intimate with him.”

The former patient reported that Owen had told him to undress during therapy sessions, that the therapist kissed him and that on two occasions Owen used his hand to touch his anus.

A second alleged victim saw Owen in 2016, according to charging documents, and similarly reported that Owen had determined that he needed to work on “intimacy.” Their sessions became increasingly physical, charging documents allege, and progressed from hugging to kissing, fondling and mutual masturbation.

According to the charging documents, this patient told police that he would express discomfort with what was happening, but that Owen assured him they were making progress — and that while others may not understand the treatment, he could “cure” the patient if the man gave Owen his full trust.

Owen was also this patient’s ecclesiastical leader at the time, and prosecutors allege in charging documents that the therapist told the alleged victim that “what they were doing was consistent with their religious standards and would also result in a closer relationship with God.”

Prosecutors allege that during several therapy sessions in 2017, Owen touched this patient’s anus with his hand and performed oral sex on him.

Provo police wrote in arrest documents that Owen allegedly used his position of trust as a therapist to coerce his patients into engaging in kissing, cuddling and sexual touching during therapy sessions. According to arrest records, many of the 12 former patients told officers that they began seeing Owen for treatment of “same-sex attraction.”

Utah law says patients can’t consent to sexual acts with a health care professional if they believe the touching is part of a “medically or professionally appropriate diagnosis, counseling or treatment.”

Under a negotiated settlement with Utah’s licensing division, Owen was able to surrender his license five years ago without admitting to any inappropriate conduct, and the sexual nature of his patients’ allegations is not referenced in the documents he signed when he gave up his license.

Owen co-founded Canyon Counseling in the late 1990s and continued to have an active role in the business until after The Tribune and ProPublica released their reporting in August. After publication, the counseling center cut ties with him and subsequently announced that it was closing altogether.

Prior to the August publication, Provo police said they had no record of anyone ever reporting Owen to law enforcement for alleged sexual misconduct. “We opened an investigation after we saw your initial report,” Taylor, the Provo captain, told a Tribune reporter in September.

Both state licensers and the local leaders in the LDS Church knew of inappropriate touching allegations against Owen as early as 2016, reporting by The Tribune and ProPublica showed, but neither would say whether they ever reported Owen to the police. In Utah, with few exceptions, the state licensing division is not legally required to forward information to law enforcement.

The church said in response that it takes all matters of sexual misconduct seriously, and that in 2019 it confidentially annotated internal records to alert bishops that Owen’s conduct had threatened the well-being of other people or the church.