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Widespread Abuse in the Mormon Church

Few people knew about the persistent problem of child sexual abuse in the Mormon Church. For decades, elders in the Mormon Church silenced any allegations against them through quick cover-ups. Now, cases are finally coming into the light.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stretches across the world with over 16 million members and more than 30,000 congregations. Though the LDS Church claims they care for the poor and needy, they've repeatedly failed to care for innocent children victimized by sexual abuse within the Mormon Church's organizations. For nearly a century the Mormon Church quieted sexual abuse crimes within their walls. Reports from victims reveal that LDS Church elders, members, and volunteers repeatedly abused children under their care. Instead of seeking help for victims and holding predators accountable, LDS officials hid abuse cases through quiet dismissals or clergy transfers. Instead of trying to protect the children under their care, elders protected the reputation of the Church.
Click to view a list of locations by state and city where our clients reported they were abused by LDS leaders.
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Sexual Abuse Hidden By the Mormon Church
In many of the Mormon abuse cases coming into the light, LDS leaders went out of their way to hide or dismiss reports of sexual abuse. Leaked documents from the Mormon Church indicate missionaries, Church leaders, and LDS volunteers molested children and were never reported to the authorities; they were simply moved. Hear the first-hand accounts of sexual abuse victims within the Mormon Church in our mini video gallery. If you were sexually abuse in the Mormon Church, come forward, share your story, and help end the problem of LDS sexual abuse.

Types of Mormon Sexual Abuse Cases

The Mormon Church isn’t just a building. It’s a network of affiliated programs, organizations, and activities where children have been sexually abused. Children have been molested in countless LDS programs, including:
Scouting Programs
The Indian Placement Program
Foster Care or Adoption Programs
YMMIA or Young Women's Programs
LDS Church-Sponsored Activities
Church Buildings
Youth Camps and Programs
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How Did This Happen?


LDS bishops are the "front line" clergy of the LDS church. Unlike Catholic priests and other clergy responsible for leading local congregations, bishops usually have full-time jobs and serve as bishops on a volunteer basis and receive little formal training and no pay. Although they are often the first to receive reports of child sexual abuse and other moral transgressions of their ward members, they are provided little if any training or guidance from LDS church headquarters in how to handle serious problems.


The bishop’s judgment is often the final word in matters of administering the ward. Armed with little more than their “inspiration” and a few paragraphs of written policy from church headquarters, bishops will often make serious decisions about how to handle allegations of child sexual abuse or other serious criminal conduct involving ward members with nominal training and support from church headquarters and NO CONSULTATION WITH SECULAR AUTHORITIES. In part because of inadequate support, supervision, and training from church headquarters, many bishops make poor decisions and mistakes that result in needless damage and trauma to innocent children.


In addition to the problems that arise from bishops failing to protect children and report child sexual abusers to secular authorities, the LDS church has a long well-documented history of protecting offenders at the expense of the children they have abused.


In the mid 1990’s the LDS church introduced a “helpline” for clergy to call in the event of child sexual abuse. Although advertised as a tool to help prevent child sexual abuse, over time it was discovered that the church’s helpline was nothing more than an alternate phone number that rang to the church’s attorneys, where bishops provided information about whether the church might have legal liability in a given situation and were told by the church's attorneys to make sure that child abusers went to legal counsel before they went to civil authorities.
Do You Believe You Have a Case Against the LDS Church?
You may have a case against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for childhood sexual abuse if:
You were abused by bishops or other members of the Mormon Clergy.
Church leaders were told about the abuse and failed to notify the police or civil authorities.
Church leaders knew your perpetrator abused other children and they shielded the perpetrator from the law.
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Most Mormon Sexual Abuse Claims Come From the Following Groups:

Mormon Missionaries

Mormon missionaries are members of the LDS church from all over the world who leave their homes for a period of 18 months to 2 years to share their beliefs and serve in other states and/or countries. These “Elders” and “Sisters” are not paid by the Church to be missionaries, but they act as representatives of the Church on their mission. LDS missionaries typically travel in pairs, acting as each other’s “companions” throughout the duration of their mission.

They go through communities volunteering and teaching about the Book of Mormon to locals, and frequently get invited into peoples’ homes to chat more intimately. People can even go online and request a missionary to visit them if they are curious about the Mormon Church. However, little do they know they could be welcoming a sexual predator into their homes and lives.

Ward Leader Abuse

Some bishops have pushed the boundaries of these interviews and ask questions that quickly cross over into sexual harassment. Bishops have been found to interrogate youth about their sexual morality to the point of making minors feel attacked or violated from the sexually probing questions. Questions may include whether the youth were dressed or not during a sexual transgression, what clothes they took off, or did where someone touched them and how.

Some minors have even reported bishops using minors’ confessions of sexual sins to become aroused, live out sexual fantasies through the youth, or exploit the child’s vulnerability to molest them. Because LDS children are taught to revere their bishop from a young age, some are frightened to speak up if their bishop abuses them due to fear of reprimand or sinning against someone who speaks on behalf of the Church and God.

Boy Scouts of America

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has partnered with the Boy Scouts of America for over 100 years. According to the Washington Post, almost 20% of all the Boy Scouts’ members belong to the Mormon Church. Boys in the Church automatically become part of the Boy Scouts or are strongly encouraged to join when they are of age.

Many of the LDS Church’s bishops and ward leaders lead Scout troops or actively volunteered in Scouting programs. Ward bishops even have the task of choosing and supervising Scout leaders in the LDS church. Numerous Scouting troops are sponsored by the LDS Church, as well.

However, claims assert that child sex abuse committed by both Mormon and non-Mormon Scoutmasters and/or volunteers was masked or not reported to the authorities. Allegedly, the Scouts and LDS Church focused on saving the face and reputation of both the BSA and the Mormon Church instead of protecting innocent youth from predators.

Because the Mormon Church and bishops are so involved within the Boy Scouts of America, LDS members who survived sexual abuse in Scouting say the Mormon Church is responsible for knowingly placing minors in danger of molesters and not reporting child sexual abuse to local authorities.

Indian Placement Program

Also known as the Indian Student Placement Program (ISPP) or the Lamanite Placement Program, the Indian Placement program was operated by the Mormon Church from 1954 to 1996. In this program, Native American students who were members of the LDS Church were placed in foster homes of other during the school year. Experts estimate that approximately 50,000 children were placed in foster homes through this program.

Over the years, increasing sexual abuse allegations have come into the light, each of the cases linked to the ISPP. These cases indicate Native American children placed in LDS foster homes were sexually abused by their Mormon hosts, children in their host family, or elders affiliated with the Mormon Church. In some of the claims, children whose families hosted Native American children were abused by ISPP students.

According to these lawsuits, the LDS Church knew children were being abused in the ISPP but turned a blind eye to the abuse. “They knew there were things going on. They just turned around and closed their eyes to it,” said BN, a former ISPP participant who filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against the LDS Church in 2016.
Am I Barred From Bringing My Lawsuit Because It Happened So Long Ago?
"Not necessarily. Many laws have changed to help victims who were abused, even many decades ago. We are here to fight for your rights."
Many state legislatures are sick of the Mormon Church and other institutional cover-ups that allowed sexual predators to abuse millions of children over the past century. You do not have to suffer in silence anymore. We are here to help victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the Mormon Church---please contact us today to learn more.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Is My Call 

Yes. We realize it is difficult to reach out for help. Some of our clients have reached out to us before they have shared their history of abuse with close friends or family members. We realize these are difficult matters to discuss, and we are here to help.

Is It Too Late 
For Me?

It depends on your age when you finally confront your memories of abuse. Each situation must be evaluated carefully before any legal advice can be given. No one will be denied a confidential evaluation of your potential claim.

Do I Qualify To 
File Suit?

Each potential case is different with different facts. Your situation must be evaluated carefully before any legal advice can be given. Call our qualified representatives right now and they can explain the process and help you seek the justice you deserve.
Reported Incidents of Sexual Abuse in the Mormon Church


A 14-year-old Latter-day Saints boy was molested by Scout volunteer Dennis Empey during a Scouting camping trip in 1981. While the BSA put Empey on its Ineligible Volunteer Files in 1988 for molesting scouts, records in Empey’s files indicated that he was never reported to the police. An LDS boy who was abused by Empey told his father in 1987 that he was abused by Empey in 1981 in an LDS chapel, but no one from the Church or BSA reported the abuse to the police.


As a young boy, a former scout claimed that he was sodomized and endured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of his scout leader, James Schmidt, in 1982. The scout says the BSA and LDS Church were both notified as early as 1979 that Schmidt was abusing Scouts and was a pedophile but neither institution reported the abuse to the police.


In 1985 a 13-year-old girl was sexually abused repeatedly by an LDS missionary assigned to her hometown. When a Mormon Church bishop learned of the claimed abuse, the bishop made a payment to the girl’s family for damages and for them to remain silent about the abuse.

Date Unknown

A young man came forward to his family and said that he had been repeatedly groomed, fondled, raped by his bishop for several years when he was about 10-12 years of age. The boy’s parents confronted the bishop, who confessed to the whole ordeal, but the Church made no moves to take action against the bishop or report the abuse to the authorities.


Helen W.'s 4-year-old son, Zachary cried to his mother that he didn’t want 16-year-old Michael Jensen to babysit him anymore because Michael made him “suck his privates.” Helen and her husband met up with their bishop as soon as they could and reported the details of the abuse. The bishop said he was going to look into it and talk to Michael, but when Michael said he did not sexually abuse Zachary, the bishop simply prayed for guidance and considered Michael to be telling the truth instead of calling the police. Years later the bishop testified that he did not know about the abuse and Helen never spoke to him. He claimed that since he believed Michael as telling the truth, he believed there was no abuse to report of and felt no obligation to report it to the authorities.


In a case leaked by the MormonLeaks whistleblower site, in 2012 a missionary was accused of child sex abuse in another country, but the missionary was only sent back home. The Church decided not to take action, and the local authorities were not informed.

Date Unknown

After being sexually abused by her older brothers and cousin since she was three, a nine-year-old girl was interviewed aggressively about the abuse by her bishop, told she needed to repent for what happened to her as a three-year-old child. She was told by her bishop that boys would always be after her because she was “too pretty”.


55-year-old McKenna Denson spoke in a LDS church meeting that a former Mormon bishop raped her in the 1980's. She asserts that Joseph L. Bishop, former president of a Mormon missionary training center (MTC) raped her in 1984, and Mormon church leaders did nothing to remove Bishop from office or report the offense when she told them of the assault. Huffpost news reported that to confront Bishop on the sexual abuse, Denson posed as a reporter and secretly taped her conversation with Bishop. Bishop called himself an "addict," "predator," and "hypocrite," in the recording, though denies the rape. However, another women has stepped forward, claiming that Bishop sexually assaulted her in 2010.


In a secret recording, Sterling Van Wagenen, founder of the Sundance Film Festival and cinematographer for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confessed of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy in 1993. The Salt Lake Tribune reports the victim was assaulted by Van Wagenen at a sleepover with Van Wagenen's son. Van Wagenen stated he reached under the boy's pants. While Van Wagenen admitted his crime to leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints, the leaders never reported the crime to the police and simply "disfellowshipped" Van Wagenen. He was charged with another count of sexual abuse for touching a girl between the ages of 7 and 9 inappropriately on two occasions. He pleaded guilty to these charges in May 2019.

FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven & the 
Very Real Connections to LDS Sexual Abuse Cases

Inspired by Jon Krakauer's nonfiction book, FX's new limited series, Under the Banner of Heaven, spotlights the 1984 ritualistic murders of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter at the hands of her fundamentalist brothers-in-law Ron and Dan Lafferty.

While Brenda's murder is at the core of the story, it's not hard to see the connection between the fundamentalist-fueled killings and the recent sex scandals plaguing the Mormon Church.

At the heart of both the Lafferty murder and the sex abuse scandals, there is a deeply rooted history of using God to justify one's actions (or inactions) by invoking the name of God.

Like their fictional counterparts, the real-life Lafferty brothers believed in (what they considered) traditional LDS principles such as polygamy, prophesizing, blood atonement, and anti-government sentiments.

While the Church doesn't teach or condone these practices, both Krakauer and the FX series suggest that today's Latter Day Saints struggle to reconcile with a violent history influenced by the ideals of early prophets.   

Both Ron and Dan came to see themselves as prophets, referring to Ron as God's mouth and Dan as the arm of God. This delusional mindset encouraged Ron to prophesied, leading to a message from God the brothers referred to as the "Removal Revelation."

The real-life Laffertys and their dramatized counterparts saw themselves as prophets. Combining fundamentalist idealogy and teachings from early LDS prophets, Ron and Dan justified the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty as an act of God's will.

When we look at the events that went down on July 24, 1984, we can see Brenda and Erica's murder was not a revelation from God. It was a senseless revenge killing that became twisted up with a sense of duty and obligation to God's word. As Krakauer points out in his book, "Common sense is no match for the voice of God."

So how does a brutal murder tie into the current sex abuse allegations against the Church?

In FX's dramatized version of the real-life killings, Dan Lafferty quotes the Church's third prophet, John Taylor: "God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven against the Government."

Both Brenda Lafferty's murder and the current sex abuse allegations center around people who claim to operate "under the banner of heaven." They work for God. The divine drives their actions (or inaction) and, therefore, lacks the need for personal or legal accountability.

When it comes to sexual abuse, the Church operates under this same banner. Leadership prefers to handle it internally rather than through the US Government court systems.

The Church encourages victims and families to report abuse to their local Bishop, a man God has blessed with the power of discernment. Similar to how the Lafferty brothers saw themselves, a man in a bishop's position can make divine judgments in the name of the Lord. The decision is absolute.

After receiving a sexual abuse complaint, Church policy requires the Bishop to call a help hotline that connects to the Church's lawyers.

Designed to protect the Church's interests, their policies regarding reporting abuse victimize survivors twice. First, the abuser, someone usually in a position of authority in the Church, exploits the child, often using religious texts, rituals, and symbols to manipulate them. Then the Church further victimizes them by implementing extensive measures to cover up abuse allegations.

Regarding the sexual abuse allegations, one can't help but ask the same question the FX series' fictional detective, Jeb Prye, asks his church leader.

"What kind of Mormons are you defending?"

The Lafferty brothers went to trial in the 1980s. The courts held them legally responsible for Brenda and Erica Lafferty's murders.

However, thousands of children affected by the decades of sexual abuse that the Church covered up have seen little justice.

Today, The Church of Latter Day Saints continues to fail to protect a fundamental tenant at the core of their faith—the family unit.

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