Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

Mormon Church Sexual Abuse

While the Mormon Church preaches abstinence before marriage in “thoughts, words, and actions,” sexual abuse in the Mormon church is a bigger problem than many realize. Those impacted are often unsure of what to do or who to talk to  — which is why we’re here to help you understand what your rights and options are for accountability, justice, and healing. 

Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • Mormon church sexual abuse is seemingly a growing issue, with recent criminal and civil cases involving church leaders, clergy, missionaires, and other members using their position of power and Mormon doctrine to prey upon individuals and protect abusers. 
  • Many individuals who have spoken online about leaving the Mormon faith have discussed the sexual abuse issues within the church and have empowered others to come forward to help protect others in the future.
  • If you or someone you know experienced sexual abuse by a leader of the church or while attending your mission, you have rights and options. Helping Survivors can connect you to a local experienced sexual abuse lawyer can help you understand what the next best step is for you including filing a report with law enforcement or filing a sexual abuse lawsuit.

Mormon Church Sexual Abuse: A Growing Problem

Many religious communities have recently had serious allegations of sexual abuse come to light, including many connected to the Mormon Church. The extensive recent examples of sexual abuse cases connected to the Mormon Church show that many religious leaders, clergy, and church members have used their positions of influence and authority to prey on victims or shield abusers.

Meanwhile, religious institutions have too often acted to protect their organizations’ reputations while ignoring the harm to victims — and the Mormon Church appears to be trying to protect their reputation over protecting victims and preventing future harm

People who have experienced sexual abuse related to their involvement with the Mormon Church have options for reporting abuse and accessing the support they need. We’ve created this page to help individuals understand the history of abuse, the forms it often takes, their reporting rights and options, and available support. We encourage any survivor of Mormon sexual abuse to reach out to us for personalized answers to your questions and connections to sex abuse lawyers and/or mental health resources. 

Examples and allegations of sexual abuse within the Mormon Church include: 

  • Sexual assault by a leader of the Mormon Church
  • Reporting sexual assault by another member of the church to church leadership but facing disciplinary sexual worthiness interview with 
  • Facing severe transgressions or having to pay funds to “repent”  for “sexual transgressions” as deemed by church leadership
  • Being suspended or expelled from a Mormon religious university like Brigham Young University (BYU) for reporting sexual assault, harassment, or abuse 
  • Being forced to verbally detail, document in written form, or act out “sexual transgressions” including masturbation to church leadership and being forced to engage in actions to “repent” including by the Church Disciplinary Council (“Court of Love”) 
  • Be offered payments alongside signing documents stating that you will not report or file a sexual abuse lawsuit after you reported to church leadership
  • Sexual abuse, assault, or harassment during a mission by other missionaries, church members providing housing to missionaries, church leadership, and/or others within the scope of missionary service

If you have experienced any form of sexual abuse, harassment, or assault you have rights and options to seek healing, justice, and accountability. Helping Survivors can help answer your questions and put you in touch with organizations and law firms who can assist further.

Last Date Modified
June 11, 2024

The History and Scale of Sexual Abuse in the Mormon Church

Unfortunately, sexual abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, is a seemingly widespread problem. 

The practices and ideologies in the Mormon Church, especially around abstinence and sexual education in general, have created a culture of secrecy and unknowingness within the Mormon community regarding healthy sexual relationships. Because the church has such strict followings regarding what individuals can wear, including temple garment requirements after the endowment ceremony. 

While the church operates a helpline for church officials who learn of sexual abuse incidents to call for guidance, it has recently come to light that the helpline has a history of directing local bishops and church officials to keep the abuse a secret from law enforcement.

This helpline keeps all its operations a closely guarded secret, sometimes destroying call records at the end of every day, so it is difficult to know how prevalent reports of sexual abuse within the Mormon Church are.

There have been several recent cases related to sexual abuse that happened on Mormon church property or perpetuated under the cloak of church policy and shaming tactics.

In December 2023, The Associated Press published reports of recordings taken by Mormon sexual abuse survivor, Chelsea Goodrich, that allegedly showed Paul Rytting, head of the church’s risk management division, deploying what was called “the risk management playbook that has helped the church keep child sexual abuse cases secret”. Beyond discouraging both Chelsea and the local Bishop from testifying, citing a law that exempts clergy from having to share information about child sex abuse, Rytting is alleged to have offered up to $300,000 to Goodrich to delete the recordings and sign an agreement in which her and her mother promised never to use Chelsea’s story as a basis for a lawsuit against the Church. 

In January 2024, John Goodrich was arrested in Virginia on multiple felony charges, including forcible rape, forcible sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery by a parent of a child, shortly following the publication of the Associated Press and Mother Jones investigation. Chelsea and her mother first went to law enforcement in 2016 to file a report. This case and the church’s involvement in allegedly protecting John Goodrich and the bishops who knew about his abuse for years shows the uphill battle survivors of Mormon sexual abuse face. However, Helping Survivors knows that cases like this often have a domino effect — paving a path for more individuals who have suffered in silence to take a brave step and come forward. 

In April 2023, a California jury awarded $2.3 billion to a woman who sued her stepfather, who sexually abused her for nearly a decade. Also named as defendants were the woman’s mother and the Mormon Church. The church was implicated in the lawsuit when it was shown the local bishops were aware of the sexual abuse but did not act to report it. These local officials allegedly also used intimidation and shaming to prevent the survivor from telling her story to anyone else.

Additionally, in 2022, a judge denied an attempt by the Mormon Church to settle sexual abuse claims associated with the Boy Scouts of America for $250 million. The judge ruled that allowing the settlement would provide too much cover to the church and would not adequately allow victims of church sexual abuse connected with scouting to get justice.

Why Does Sexual Abuse Happen in the Mormon Church?

Like other institutions with a hierarchy involving authority figures and forced ideologies and practices, power dynamics and a culture of silence within the Mormon Church enable sexual predators to groom, abuse, and threaten individuals. Over the last thirty years, there have been many documented instances of church leaders ignoring or covering up sexual abuse by clergy and community members to protect the church’s reputation.

The church also generally promotes a view of leadership as being appointed to their positions by God, which makes it challenging for victims or church members to question leadership when they decide to cover up instances of sexual abuse. Additionally, many sexual abusers within the Mormon Church often cite being overtaken by the “devil” or the “adversary” and that they could not control their actions. This belief or phrasing enables offenders to often limit the repercussions and/or reporting of their offenses and makes it difficult for survivors to come forward given the views of sex within the church. Additionally, given the overall views of sex and abstinence in “thoughts, words, and actions” before marriage, individuals within the faith who have been sexually assaulted often feel immense guilt, shame, and fear — and do not tell anyone or report the harm to law enforcement for fear of retaliation, being shamed by their community, or be removed from the church. 

But let’s be clear — Mormon sexual abuse happens because individuals within the church choose to facilitate and/or cover up sexual abuse. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse by a church leader and/or they knew about the abuse and covered it up, you have rights and options and we can help you seek justice, help, and healing.

Filing a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse Within the Mormon Church

Whether you experienced sexual abuse or assault by church leadership, another member, or while on your mission, you may have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the Mormon church. 

Civil sexual abuse lawsuits compensate victims with the resources needed to ensure they get the help they need to recover and move on with their lives. In addition, victims may be able to hold the church or religious institution that enabled or concealed the abuse liable.

Individuals who experienced harm by a member of the Mormon Church may be able to: 

  • File Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Mormon Church – If the person who harmed you is a member of Church leadership and/or if the Church knew about the harm that happened to you and you believe intentionally enabled the perpetrator’s continued abuse, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the church itself for their role in the harm that happened to you. 
  • File Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Individual Perpetrator – Separately, a Mormon sexual abuse lawyer can help you understand if filing a lawsuit against the individual who harmed you is the best legal option for you

Making the decision to come forward as a survivor of sexual abuse and file a claim against the Church you likely grew up in can be a very difficult and overwhelming experience. Here at Helping Survivors, we work with trauma-informed legal advocates and law firms who help you make the best decision for you and your future. 

Speaking with an attorney who specializes in clergy sexual abuse can help ensure that if and when you choose to pursue a sexual abuse claim against the church that you have the strongest. case possible. With this in mind, in a civil lawsuit, a victim can seek monetary damages compensation for their losses, including the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Lost businesses opportunities
  • Therapy costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

Most individuals do not understand all the claims they can file and the damages they can seek against the church and the church. While any personal injury lawyer may want to take your case, an attorney experienced in clergy sexual abuse cases can help increase the strength of your case, protect your private information according to state laws, and be a fierce advocate for you so you can focus on healing. 

Here are the general steps for initiating legal action against the Mormon Church in the case of sexual assault:

  • Document Everything You Remember: Note all details you recall and capture any supporting evidence, such as screenshots of any conversations about the incident. If it happened more than once, write down each incident you remember including the date, your age, location, what you remember, and all details about the alleged perpetrator that you can recall. If you have already reported to the Church and you believe they have mishandled your report, also document everything you can regarding this experience. 
  • Consult an Attorney Specializing in Mormon Sexual Abuse Lawsuits: Contact a lawyer who specializes in this type of personal injury case as soon as you can. The best sexual abuse lawyers provide free consultations for survivors of institutional sexual abuse to get their questions answered and we can put you in touch with the right firm. 
  • Engage a Law Firm: Law firms often handle these cases on a contingency basis, which means they receive payment only after securing a settlement or winning in court. There are no upfront fees, and most states regulate the fees that law firms can charge.
  • Filing a Civil Claim: The law firm will handle all aspects of filing the lawsuit against the Church and/or Church officials, tailored to the regulations of your state, allowing you to focus on healing and moving forward. 
  • Court Summons Response: Should there be any mandatory court dates or submissions, your lawyer will manage these, and it’s likely you won’t need to be present.
  • Discovery Phase: This stage involves collecting all pertinent evidence and information about the incident, including any information you or the other named parties have about the case such as emails, text messages, or phone recordings. 
  • Settlement Talks or Court Trial: After the discovery phase, both parties may negotiate a settlement or proceed to trial to resolve the case. A trial involves both sides presenting evidence either to a jury or an individual judge and a determination is made regarding the outcomes including a potential monetary judgment. 

Survivors of sexual abuse do not have unlimited time to file a lawsuit. Each state has a statute of limitations that sets the deadline for filing suit. 

The legal process is often complicated and overwhelming. An attorney skilled in handling sexual abuse cases, especially those against religious institutions, can help you understand your legal options and navigate either criminal or civil legal proceedings.

It can be hard to know how to find the right lawyer for you and your case. Helping Survivors works with a variety of specialty law firms who are trauma-informed and offer years of expertise in their practice areas. Get in touch with us so we can help you understand your legal rights and options, including potentially filing a Mormon sexual abuse lawsuit. 

What Has the Mormon Church Done in Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse & How Can They Improve?

So far, the Mormon Church has taken seemingly little action to prevent sexual abuse in its community.

On the other hand, the Mormon Church’s continued reaction has been defensive and the long list of allegations of abuse and silencing victims demonstrates this pattern of behavior. Additionally, church leaders have continued to lobby against new regulations that would require church leaders who receive a disclosure of sexual abuse to report the incident to law enforcement or child protective services. 

The Mormon Church could significantly improve its helpline for sexual abuse allegations. Recent cases have shown a tendency among helpline staff to discourage callers from reporting sexual abuse to law enforcement. Reforming the church’s helpline policies to help survivors get justice would be a good first step toward improving how the church responds to sexual abuse. 

Additionally, creating age appropriate discourse around sexual abuse and other harms individuals could experience would benefit children of all ages. Many return female missionaries report having to witness or experience sexual harassment, abuse, or assault while away and that they had little to no education or training provided by the church on how to handle these situations. 

The Church could take several steps to help victims of sexual assault, but instead they appear to continue to try to protect the church’s reputation alongside the reputations of known repeat offenders who are members and in positions of leadership.

Reporting Mormon Sexual Abuse to Law Enforcement

If you or a family member has experienced sexual abuse in the Mormon Church community, the choice of what to do next is a very personal decision that can be overwhelming. Whether you contact law enforcement or use support and resources outside of legal options, no path is right or wrong and you may choose to take action at a later date. 

However, it is important as a survivor to be aware of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse for both civil and criminal court in the state the harm happened in. The statute of limitations is a set of laws that dictate how long after something happens criminal charges can be brought against the individual by the state prosecutor or how long you have to file a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse claims. Each state’s state of limitations differs for each type of offense, including within civil and criminal court in the same state — which is why we recommend reaching out to us at Helping Survivors so you can get a better understanding of the laws in your state. 

If you experienced sexual abuse or assault, one of the most important things you can do gather any evidence, including writing down everything you remember as soon as possible.If the abuse happened recently, undergoing a sexual assault forensic exam may still be possible and is not limited to only those individuals who experienced penetrative rape — any form of sexual assault is covered under an exam. Such an exam can collect and preserve DNA and other evidence should you wish to file a report with law enforcement in the future — as in most states, you are not required to submit the forensic exam to law enforcement unless you choose to do so

A survivor of sexual abuse within the Mormon Church can make a report to local law enforcement, either over the phone or in person at a police station. Most individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or assault do not understand the criminal legal process and their role as the victim of a crime. We’ve put together this resource and the below video to help individuals understand the role of the victim of a crime in the criminal legal process. 

The criminal legal process for reporting Mormon sexual abuse may look like this: 

  • Reporting to law enforcement: By calling local law enforcement or visiting your local police station, you can initiate an investigation into the sexual abuse that you or your loved one experienced.
  • Investigation & prosecution review: The case will be assigned to detectives. You will likely be interviewed by investigators familiar with handling sexual abuse cases. Law enforcement may also collect any forensic evidence that is still available, including clothing, DNA, and other physical evidence that will help supplement the testimony and answers you give in your interview.
  • Criminal proceedings: Law enforcement may use your report to bring criminal proceedings against the perpetrator. Ultimately, the prosecutors in your area will decide whether they have enough evidence to bring criminal proceedings against the perpetrator. During the criminal proceedings, the victim’s role is as a witness to an alleged crime and they typically do not have any say in what charges are brought, the trial, any plea deals, or sentencing if found guilty. 

The criminal legal process can be confusing and overwhelming for survivors of sexual abuse if they do not understand the process. While it is an unfortunate reality that a majority of reported sexual offenses in the US do not get prosecuted, we believe that survivors should still file a report with law enforcement if they feel they can do so — as it may help protect the next victim or lend credibility to others who have already come forward. Additionally, filing a report with law enforcement can be of great help if you choose to pursue a lawsuit against the Mormon church as it creates an official report of the harm that happened. 

If you have questions about the criminal legal process regarding reporting sexual abuse facilitated by religious leaders, reach out to us at Helping Survivors.

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