Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)  

But no change will take root without a blast of widespread attention, coupled with consistent future education and follow-up.  We don’t just need to change policy, we need to change cultural norms.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that these instructions were sent out to Priesthood leaders (branch president level and higher) via letter.  The actual letter was sent as information to the Priesthood only — its not a read-over-the-pulpit letter to entire congregations.  It  does contain instructions to share with the entire Ward Council and auxiliary leaders.  But it concerns me a bit that the letter was not directly sent to those with the stewardship to inform the prime beneficiaries: Relief Society Presidents, Young Women’s Presidents, Young Men’s Presidents, and Primary Presidents.  (Those leaders also do not have have access to Handbook I, where several changes will be formally reflected.)

So let’s change the limited distribution by raising awareness.  I propose everyone who reads this should email a note to their entire ward leadership, informing them of the change and requesting further action.  Here’s a sample draft you’re more than free to steal and/or modify:

* * *

Dear [Leaders],

You may have seen that the Church just issued updated guidance on how to handle  abuse.  I know this week is General Conference, but I feel it is important to ensure that all our leaders know of this change, and are prepared to remark on and implement it when regular meetings resume next week.

It’s tragic, but statistics show abuse is far more common than we realize.  This devastating reality is likely affecting members within our own ward, right now.  I would therefore recommend we inform all members of the ward of Church policy on abuse, including these changes.  We should particularly instruct the youth that they have the right to choose a second adult (such as a parent or other youth leader) to attend any interview or meeting with a leader — and that the exercise of that choice is encouraged.

I believe it would also be beneficial to take this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to making the Church a safe community.  For anyone who has been a victim of abuse in the past, in the present, or the future, the ward family should publicly resolve to offer its complete support.  Perhaps we could schedule a professional therapist to offer a Fifth Sunday or other lesson(s) on this topic?  Maybe abuse and relationships could be a dedicated subject of Come Follow Me lessons in Relief Society or Youth Sunday School?

I look forward to our continued teachings and emphasis that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to develop healthy, respectful, and loving relationship skills — including by setting appropriate boundaries, and refusing to tolerate abuse in any form.

Please let me know how I can help,

[Your Name]

 

Comments

  1. Angela C says:

    Excellent suggestion, Carolyn. Very helpful.

  2. The $64,000 Answer says:

    It’s taking a leaf out of the Catholic playbook. Our approach to the problem of clerical sexual offending has focused entirely on risk management and avoidance. Most of those changes have been forced on us by our insurers refusing to continue to extend liability coverage unless we do something of the kind. Very likely the LDS Church has been facing similar pressures.

    As Carolyn says, it’s a start. But today, two decades later, it has also been as far as we’ve been prepared to go in addressing, or even admitting, the problem of sexual violence. It hasn’t been followed by any kind of serious engagement, reflection, or examination of conscience. To the contrary, we Catholics have elevated procedural changes of this kind as a shield against having to undertake any of those things. “What do you want of us?” we say. “Our child-protection protocols are already the most stringent in the world. There *is* no sexual abuse crisis in the Church any more. We solved this problem, years ago. Time to move on.”

    Beware, Mormons, lest this also happen to you.

  3. Give the Catholics some credit — they also have entire sub-organizations devoted to opening women’s shelters, combatting the global sex trade, etc. They do try very hard to create and promulgate a culture of life.

    But, yeah, their educational efforts to congregations on relationship dynamics could use a lot of work. I’ve seen good scattered Bible Study / Discussion Groups here and there. But in terms of an everyday drumbeat, well, it doesn’t help that most of their leaders are barred from having intimate relationships. While that’s helpful in some ways (more objective?) it’s harmful in others (less awareness of intimate realities / dynamics).

  4. MrShorty says:
  5. Nathan Grout says:

    “I have not yet seen the actual letter, but it sounds like an informational letter to Priesthood only — not a read-over-the-pulpit letter to entire congregations.”

    Both the letter and the “Preventing and Responding to Abuse” document that was included with it are available at mormonnewsroom.org. You are correct that it is not intended to be read to ward members, but it is publicly available.

  6. Oh great — I had went looking for it but apparently my internet sleuthing skills are bad. I’ll update the original post to reflect that.

  7. FWIW, the letter says that bishops are supposed to share both the letter and the attachment you link to in the post with their ward councils (which includes Relief Society Presidents, Young Women’s Presidents, Young Men’s Presidents, and Primary Presidents). It can be viewed at the Church’s Newsroom.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    I can’t yet find anything in the official communications library, so I can’t confirm who it has been sent to.

  9. Nathan G says:

    It was in the official communications library for me, here in the US.

  10. Aussie Mormon says:

    Ahh thanks to the above replies it seems there is no need to rely on the OCL this time

  11. Aussie Mormon says:

    I know the phone number is US only, but I’m surprised this wasn’t sent out world wide.

  12. Oops. Sorry about that. I knew if I sat back someone would pop up and provide the link–I should have hit refresh first.

    Of course, some ward councils function much better and communicate more openly than others. This is a good opportunity for bishops to take all the instruction in recent years about using councils better (and esp. being more proactive about listening to advice from the women present at ward council) and put it in action if they haven’t already.

  13. Wm, one of my first thoughts on seeing these changes was wondering what LDS training procedures look like compared to best practices in the field. LDS leaders do lots of training on lots of topics, but I wonder how well any of it sticks.

    I also think this is a step forward, but the church still has 4 or 5 more steps to take.

  14. Thanks, Carolyn. Excellent work!

  15. James Stone says:

    “It does contain instructions to share with the entire Ward Council and auxiliary leaders. But it concerns me a bit that the letter was not directly sent to those with the stewardship to inform the prime beneficiaries: Relief Society Presidents, Young Women’s Presidents, Young Men’s Presidents, and Primary Presidents.”

    If it’s being shared in Ward Council, the prime beneficiaries are being informed.

  16. bbytheway says:

    2-deep teachers across the board for youth and children is going to be a challenge. Two-hour church would help…

  17. Two-deep teachers have been required by the Handbook for many years. The fact that people think it is “going to be” a challenge illustrates that the next problem is how to institute a cultural change. The piece of paper that the church sent out today is nice, but it means nothing yet.

    In order to establish safer practices as a norm, at least two things have to happen, I think. The SLC leaders have to keep hammering it home, not just by sending a one-time letter or burying it in a sub-sub-section of the Handbook, but by bringing it up again and again and again, over a period of years. We all know that anything less will not be a valid effort.

    The other thing that has to happen is that members have to demand that their wards follow these policies.

  18. bbytheway says:

    2-deep has been required for men teaching, but not for women.

  19. Carolyn —
    Excellent Carolyn. Thank you for a thoughtful discussion on solutions to the problem. And thank you to the Institutional Church for its continuous and thoughtful efforts to create a safe environment for all to worship in!
    Some who join in degrading the Church, for any reason, don’t take the moment to remember that these “leaders” have Granddaughters and Grandsons who attend their local congregations and demand a safe harbor to worship in…and their soul is priceless.

  20. Thanks, bbytheway, I think you’re right about that. I wish I’d chosen an example more carefully in making my point.

    And I do agree that shorter blocs are a good idea that might be made more likely by these larger staffing needs.

  21. bbytheway says:

    Also, I recognize I could be wrong, I don’t have access to Handbook 1 where I know some of the original text is. Handbook 2 about primary only mentions two-deep when men are teaching. These new guidelines don’t make the distinction between men and women teaching, two-deep for all adults teaching children or youth. Maybe this existed somewhere before, but I haven’t been able to locate it myself.

    So yes, staffing primary and youth Sunday School is going to be a challenge (it already is in my ward without the blanket two-deep). Doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.

  22. bbytheway says:

    Loursat, I do agree with you that changes in guidelines like this, that don’t make it into the actual handbooks for maybe years, often get lost in the cracks.

  23. It’s interesting to see how many commenters, especially on the KSL story about it, are actually-ing that this is how things already were in the church. Yep, and we’ve always been at war with Oceania, too.

  24. The knotty problem that I’m thinking of here is the difference between running a ward strictly by the book and running a ward according to the norms that everyone understands. Even in most fully staffed wards with lots of experienced leadership, almost no one knows all of the Handbook policies. The policy changes we’re talking about here have to become so fundamental that every ward, from the largest to the smallest, understands these expectations without having to study the written policies. To instill these policies to that degree will require persistence both from the institution and from the grass roots.

  25. And I think that when we look at it from that perspective, what has to be done is really more than just instilling awareness of policies. We have to help people change the way they think about issues of safety, power, and authority; people have to understand and embrace the reasons for these policies. That can happen if we work to implement the policies properly.

  26. As Carolyn’s Relief Society President, I can confirm two things. First, that she immediately followed her own advice in the blog and reached out to me to communicate the changes and ask what she could do to further spread the word. Second, that there were two other emails right before and after hers when I woke up this morning. One was from the Stake President telling me about the changes and one was from my Stake Relief Society President telling me the same message. So, at least in our Stake the word is certainly getting out as I was told three times within hours of the leadership message. :) Now to make sure members of congregations are informed as well.

  27. your food allergy is fake says:

    “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”
    Are we sure that presence “on all church-sponsored activities” is intended to include regular primary meetings? It sounds like they might mean things like activity days or cub scouts or the like. Are primary classes an “activity”?

  28. nobody, really says:

    From my experience over the last nine years, if a man is teaching or meeting with individuals who are not Melchizidek Priesthood holders, there must be a second adult present. The second adult should ideally be either another Melchizidek priesthood holder, or the wife of the Melchizidek priesthood holder. So, if the Bishop is conducting any youth interviews, there needs to be someone like a counselor or the executive secretary within shouting distance. Same thing if the Bishop is meeting with an adult sister, or conducting a baptism interview for a child about to turn eight. Our unit has started having a counselor or clerk in the Bishop’s office

    For Sunday School and Primary classes, same deal. The minimum to teach a class is two men, one man and his wife, or one woman. Admittedly, there are cases where there aren’t enough people. In cases like this, keep the door blocked open or move the class to a public area, like the gym, a foyer, or outside. It is completely okay to move a class to “Repentance Row”, the line of chairs outside the Bishop’s office.

    There are some other cases where it’s the Bishop who needs to be protected. I know of at least one case where a Stake President mandated that for one young woman in particular, the Bishop could not meet with her at all unless one of her parents was in the office as well. Another woman I know had a nasty habit of asking to meet with the Bishop, then telling him that she would like her rent, utilities, car payments, and groceries to be covered by the ward. And, if the Bishop didn’t pony up the cash, she would be reporting his sexual abuse to the Stake President and the bishop’s wife. For that case, the Relief Society President was required to be present for any and all meetings.

    We’ve had this stuff in place for a while. It’s now apparently time for the FP/Q12 to add “We really, really mean it. And if you won’t abide by these rules, we’ll find somebody who can.”

  29. eternal graduate student says:

    Food allergy, the relevant portion says “When adults are teaching children or youth in Church settings, at least two responsible adults should be present. The two adults could be two men, two women, or a married couple (see Handbook 2: Administering the Church[2010], 11.8.1). Where it may not be practical to have at least two adults in a classroom, leaders should consider combining classes”

    The contrast of “should be present” and “should consider” here with the “must not” and “must be present” found in the bullet points before and after suggests this policy is not quite as mandatory.

  30. marcella says:

    your food allergy is fake says: at 7:15 am – I believe people are referring to the bullet point above that in the At Church section. It begins: “When adults are teaching children or youth in Church settings, at least two responsible adults should be present.”

    I do read that to mean all youth Sunday School and Primary classes need two adults – not as currently stated that it’s only when a man is called there needs to be a second adult or there needs to be a window in the door. There’s no window clause (or prop the door open clause) in the new paragraph. In some wards that might decimate adult Sunday school classes :-) In my ward a lot of primary classes have two teachers called but it’s mostly a situation of the adults taking turns, not of both of them being there.

  31. Welcome news. In our ward, suffering from urbanization and mostly made up of near-retirees or young couples living in apartments, double staffing Sunday School and Primary might seem to be a problem. However, at least during Sunday School there are always enough men sitting in the foyer talking to double cover all the classes.

  32. 2-deep for women as well? Those liberal leaders are taking us on another step towards gender equality in the Church ;-).

    But seriously, while having a parent outside the door may serve as a speed bump for some, I want the questions for youth interviews listed as it is for adult temple recommends. We had a Bishop go rogue with the chastity questioning on my daughter and embarrass her so badly… I doubt she’ll ever trust a priesthood leader again.

  33. Not a Cougar says:

    What do you all think about combining classes? I’d think that making classes span two year groups (e.g., kids turning 10 and 11 in one class) would work fairly well for the Senior Primary and Youth SS classes at least so far as the level of the curriculum goes, but not so well for junior primary as the difference a year makes in maturity level would be so much greater. Fewer classes would help with staffing, but in our building might require some renovations to accommodate larger classes (i.e., more curtain walls), and I’d not look forward to trying to teach 12 to 15 or more kids in a relatively small space.

  34. Eric Facer says:

    “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview.”

    The last sentence falls short. It should have been followed by one more instruction: “Further, if a parent or guardian of a child or youth asks to participate in the interview, their request should be granted.” Don’t put the pressure on the kid to make the request; give the parent that right, too.

  35. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thanks, Carolyn. I will borrow heavily from your suggested letter, and likely add in that my wife and I fully intend to take advantage of the rule changes to be present in all bishopric interviews.

    @Layne “Yep, and we’ve always been at war with Oceania, too.” Love it.

    @James Stone “If it’s being shared in Ward Council, the prime beneficiaries are being informed.” The prime beneficiaries are not the members of the ward council, but the women, youth, and children in the RS, YW, YM, and Primary. As the OP recognizes, the presidents of these organizations simply have stewardship over those that will benefit most from these changes.

  36. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    This does need to be distributed much more widely than to just those in Ward Councils. Parents need to be aware of this, as well as the youth.
    We have specifically, and directly, made it known that we would like to be notified when one of our children is to be interviewed, and our child given the opportunity to have someone present (other than us, if our child would prefer). This is something we have brought up with members of the Bishopric, the Executive Secretary, and the various Youth Leaders. Unfortunately, there’s always turnover, and new members of the Bishopric, those who schedule interviews, and Youth Leaders continue to call our children in for interviews without complying with our wishes. We have tried to combat this by attempting to make it clear to our children that they should not go into the room without us knowing about it, and without another adult present (someone they feel comfortable with). We find that they do not always have the courage to speak up. And…that’s the problem, isn’t it?
    A child (or anyone else) should never feel as though they have to go into a room alone with another adult (regardless of gender). I brought this up with the Bishop, and his first reaction was “Do you have an issue with me, and think I can’t be trusted alone with [your daughter]?” This is where he misses the point – it’s NOT about HIM. It’s about the child. It’s about never making them feel as though they are powerless, about teaching them that they have a right to be comfortable. That’s why the phrasing of the updated policy still misses things – “Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.” This is still about Church leaders protecting themselves, and not about protecting the youth. It’s a good move, and welcomed. But they still don’t get it.

  37. I’m not sure a parent should have the right to demand to be in on the interview, because the parent(s) might be abusing the child. (Or the child is engaging in activities they don’t want to admit to their parents.) The presence of a parent might intimidate youth into silence where silence is less than golden.

  38. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I don’t quite understand. What is the benefit of having a clerk within shouting distance down the hall? If the priesthood leader is being inappropriate he is still behind a closed door. There are still no witnesses. He said she said is still a problem.

    I also have a problem with a leader asking questions about the sexual/underwear practices of the members. I think some of the reporting is worded to sensationalize it and to produce a certain false image of what is going on. But there should be exactly 3 questions, only 2 of which would be asked. (because only 2 would apply)
    1. Do you know what the law of chastity requires? (Yes/No)
    If no, then send them to their parents for a much needed discussion.
    Bishops are not sex ed teachers
    2. Are you keeping it? (Yes/No)
    3. Are you keeping your covenants wrt your temple clothing?(Yes/No)

    A no on these last two might require more discussion, but with the youth I might recommend setting another interview for another time; with others present .

  39. Paul Ritchey says:

    Tsengtsz’s point is apt: I imagine that abuse in the home is more of a problem than abuse at Church, in which case you definitely don’t want policies aimed at the latter to chill prevention of the former. Giving parents the option to sit in likely will chill disclosures of abuse by children, and mandatory sit-ins absolutely will. A child should have as much right as an adult to speak with a priesthood leader or teacher in private if the child so chooses. And allowing a non-parent to sit in doesn’t really solve the problem, since the child will then have to explain to her parents why they are not being invited to sit in. Gosh this is messy: I’m glad my youth is already long gone. But I fear for my children.

  40. Eric Facer says:

    Tsengtsz, those are fair points, though I believe they are outweighed by a parent’s inherent right to make decisions regarding the welfare of their children and we should acknowledge that right upfront.

    If a child is being abused, they have the ability to communicate that information to any adult at any time, unless the parent denies them access to the outside world. Further, if a child knows that an abusive parent is standing right outside the door, they are not likely to disclose the problem to a priesthood leader. And if the leader already suspects the abuse, the new policy instructs him to communicate that information promptly to the responsible authorities.

    In your second scenario, if the child wants to discuss things with the bishop that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with his parents, he can tell them, without divulging details, that he would prefer to not have them present. The vast majority of parents I know would respect the child’s wishes in these circumstances, realizing that their chances of eventually learning what is going on are much better if the child begins with an adult with whom he or she is comfortable. Otherwise, the kid will clam up.

    The truth of the matter is that every parent has the right to say to a priesthood leader, “you don’t meet with my kid unless I’m in the room” whether it’s enshrined in a policy or not. But, sadly, many members are intimated by ecclesiastical officials and may feel that their standing in the church, or at least their relationship with local leaders and others in the ward, would be jeopardized if they unilaterally exercised that right. Better to make it clear, as a policy matter, that they have the right to participate in the interview and trust that they will exercise that right judiciously than to rely on a kid’s ability or willingness to ask that his parents be allowed to participate when it would be prudent to do so.

  41. I will say, I worry about kids who WANT to talk to a neutral adult but whose parents insist on being present. But I’m comforted by the fact that the kid should still have ample opportunities — youth group, school teachers, coaches, etc., — to ask to confide in them when parents aren’t around. They could always ask a youth leader instead of a parent to join them in the Bishop’s office. Maybe that’s in express disregard of their parents wishes … but in that circumstance I think the kid would have made a reasonable choice that the disregard was warranted.

  42. Old Man: “We had a Bishop go rogue with the chastity questioning on my daughter and embarrass her so badly… I doubt she’ll ever trust a priesthood leader again.” Maybe he did her a greater service in making her wary for the future. You never know what she will encounter down the road.

    I tend to agree that once more we’ve put up a situation in which the onus is entirely on the potential victims to prevent abuse, rather than on the leaders. If we really want to prevent abuse, let’s get over the confessional idea. We aren’t great at it anyway. Worthiness is self-reported anyway.

  43. Eric Facer says:

    “They could always ask a youth leader instead of a parent to join them in the Bishop’s office. Maybe that’s in express disregard of their parents wishes … but in that circumstance I think the kid would have made a reasonable choice that the disregard was warranted.”

    Carolyn, I assume in your hypothetical that it is only the child who is disregarding his parents’ wishes and not the bishop. But if you meant the latter, that is unacceptable regardless of whether the kid has made a reasonable choice or not. Frankly, I seriously doubt a bishop who would be so foolish as to defy the child’s parents (as I previously noted, if he suspects abuse, other avenues are open to report it). But if a bishop were to do that and it was my kid who he met with after I had told him that I insisted on being present, he would catch hell like he had never caught it before.

  44. Right right right — sorry if I was unclear. I meant that if a child feels that they are in danger from their parents, and their parents have ordered the child to essentially never talk to another adult without them present — I would understand it if the child nonetheless took the risk of disobeying.

    But other than that, yeah, parents absolutely have the right to insist on being present.

  45. Eric Facer says:

    That’s what I thought. And I agree with the point you were making about a child in certain situations feeling the need to disregard his or her parents’ wishes. Heck, I did that with some frequency when I was kid, but rarely (if ever) for a good reason.

    Nice post, by the way. As you say, a LONG OVERDUE step in the right direction, perhaps motivated by a desire to defuse somewhat the MTC debacle. But whatever the motive, I’ll take it.

  46. Eric Facer says:

    I meant to write: “. . . defuse somewhat the MTC debacle before General Conference.”

  47. Chadwick says:

    I’m concerned with the fact this isn’t being made known to all. I can already see an executive secretary cornering a beehive in the hall for an interview with the bishop, and follows policy by asking if she needs an advocate in passing as she’s rushed into a bishops office.

    Parents need to know. Parents need to give their kids advance notice, so that they can think now about who they want in the room with them at their next interview. We have to be methodical here otherwise it’s just business as usual. The kids need to know this now and not be informed seconds before the interview begins.

  48. pconnornc says:

    Chadwick – maybe you’re using hyperbole here, but “concern” seems extreme. LDS newsroom publications, sent to all leaders, ward council discussions – it seems like a pretty “methodical” way of getting the word out. Perhaps publishing it in the Ensign would be best – everybody reads that each month ;-)

    I agree w/ other posters too – I am 1000% behind this change and think it’s great. But I also know of an incident of familial abuse that would never have come out if a) a parent had been in the room and b) a bishop did not probe beyond a binary yes/no answer to obeying the law of chastity. I would love to be able to have a policy/process that gives us everything, but my mind it’s understanding of human weakness doesn’t seem to see it.

  49. Susie Phillips says:

    I trust that you and all other brave individuals speaking out against abuse are considering the young male members of the Mormon church that may become victims of abuse as well.

  50. I was taking to a therapist that specializes in treating abuse survivors in light of recent high profile Church. Yes, the majority of abusers are male, but the incidence of abuse by women is under reported. I am glad the two deep male teaching policy is going away. Men don’t need to be demonized.

  51. I am not able to find the letter in the Official Communication Library even after changing the language to English. So, it seems that these new guidelines apply only to North America, since the letter was send to local leaders only in USA and Canada.

  52. “The contrast of “should be present” and “should consider” here with the “must not” and “must be present” found in the bullet points before and after suggests this policy is not quite as mandatory.”

    Really? Should isn’t conditional in this context, it implies an obligation or an expectation. Why justify exceptions when we want to provide better protection?