Vulnerable And At-Risk Children: A Target Of Sex Offenders

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is facing a lawsuit filed by another member of the Navajo Nation, who claims he was abused in a now-defunct program that sent children into foster care for the school year. There have been numerous previous lawsuits with different plaintiffs, alleging the same source of their sexual abuse.

According to the complainant, he was baptized into the Mormon Church before he started fifth grade in 1984 and placed with an LDS foster family in Utah.

The alleged victim said he was one of thousands of Native Americans who participated in the church's Indian Student Placement Program "to give children educational opportunities they didn't have on the reservation." The program started in the 1940s and ended around 2000.

The suit contains allegations that the complainant was sexually molested three times in the 1980s by a church bishop who lived across the street from his foster family. Two incidents happened at the bishop's home and one at a church office.

When the victim told his foster mother about the abuse, she accused him of lying. She sent the victim to bed without dinner and grounded him another time, according to the lawsuit. His foster father spanked him for reporting the abuse to a case worker.

The victim told a teacher about the abuse but nothing happened.

According to the lawsuit, the victim stole money from his foster family and was sent back home to the Navajo Nation. It was part of his plan to get kicked out of the program.

The church is alleged to have failed to keep the victim safe and did not have a way to supervise those who participated in the placement program.

The church did not report the abuse to law enforcement, the victim's family, or the public, according to the lawsuit. Felicia Fonseca "LDS Church failed to keep child safe from abuse" (Jan. 10, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Perpetrators often target children who are vulnerable or at-risk. Children who are mentally, emotionally, or otherwise impaired; children with substance or alcohol abuse issues; children from broken families; or children who are neglected are often targeted.

In the above matter, a minority foster child is a high-risk child. Moreover, the alleged perpetrator was known to, and possibly respected by, the foster family, creating a barrier for reporting.

When the target did report the alleged abuse, he was punished or ignored…the exact opposite of what should have happened in this matter. Most victims of abuse do not lie about the abuse.

How can organizations that serve youth help protect them from sexual abuse?

  • Train everyone who works with children about the dangers and signs of child sexual abuse.
  • Make sure everyone knows they must report reasonable suspicions of child sexual abuse immediately to law enforcement.
  • Make sure the physical plant of your program does not allow for any adult to be alone with a child without being easily observed.
  • Do not automatically discount a report from a child of sexual abuse. Never judge a report or belittle a child who reports.
  • Perform background checks on every employee and volunteer.
  • Always be vigilant. Watch other adults for inappropriate behaviors like boundary violations like favoring one child over others; bringing gifts for a child; offering to take a child on a trip or give the child a ride home.
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