he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published a new website aimed at providing help, healing, and protection for victims of abuse and those who want to help prevent abuse.
Twelve percent of children were sexually abused this past year.
An estimated one in three women experience physical and/or sexual abuse at some point in their life.
Youth violence is the fourth-leading cause of death in young people worldwide.
One in four adults were physically abused as children.
Sixteen percent of people aged 60 years and older were abused in 2017.
According to the handbook for Church leaders, “The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form” (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops , 17.3.2).
The Church’s Newsroom states that not only is the first priority to help the victim and stop the abuse, but the Church also cooperates with law enforcement to report and investigate abuse. “We must do everything we can to protect and love [victims of abuse]. We urge our local leaders and members to reach out to victims, comfort and strengthen them, and help them understand that what happened was wrong, the experience was not their fault, and that it should never happen ever again” (“How the Church Approaches Abuse”).
According to Travis Baer, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and program manager for LDS Family Services, abuse.lds.org extends the reach of resources LDS Family Services has provided for decades, which include counselling services to members and families as well as consultation and helpline services to leaders for abuse-related issues. “For several years we have discussed how we can broaden our scope to make resources available to all,” said Baer. “This website is an outgrowth of the efforts of many, and we hope it will be a resource for healing and protection to those who are affected by or vulnerable to abuse.”
Resources on abuse.lds.org emphasize that safety for victims comes first. The site’s In Crisis section includes emergency phone numbers to national crisis help lines and links to additional online resources. Also included are:
Sources of support, hope, and healing for victims of abuse.
Suggestions for how to help victims of abuse, such as knowing the signs of abuse and what to do next.
Ideas for preventing abuse and protecting others from abuse, such as recognizing patterns and types of abuse and learning how to talk to children about abuse.
Resources for Church leaders on how to protect members and report abuse.
According to Baer, content on abuse.lds.org was carefully curated and has been reviewed by several community and national thought leaders and professionals.
Tracey Tabet, administrator for the Utah Children’s Justice Center program, said the site “is an excellent resource and unequivocally states a critical principle—that abuse, in all its forms, has no place.” It also addresses many of the questions and uncertainties that keep victims and those who care about them from reaching out, she said.
Another reviewer is recording artist Deondra Brown, and member of the Church and part of the sibling classical piano performing group The 5 Browns. As a survivor of child sexual abuse and an active child protection advocate, Brown knows firsthand the kind of support victims need. “Survivors need to hear they aren’t at fault and that Heavenly Father still loves them and has never stopped. They need to hear it over and over again,” she said. “The fact that the Church is willing to say “we hear you” and offer resources and practical tools is a powerful statement. I hope survivors of abuse will feel they are not alone and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.”
“Abuse is a dramatically under-reported crime,” said Tabet. Victims often fear that no one will believe them, that they are to blame, or that they are somehow broken and beyond help. “I hope victims visiting the site hear these key messages: It is not your fault and it does not define who you are. You deserve to be heard and supported.” While the healing process is different for each person, it is possible.
Her message to survivors is “If you have never told anyone, I sincerely hope that you decide that today is the day to ask for help. No one has to face their abuse alone,” she said.
Brown said that abuse affects victims in many areas of their life, including their spirituality and faith. “My hope is that survivors of all faiths will come to the website and find peace and reassurance that will help them persevere on the road ahead. I hope that every member and congregation will have their hearts opened to the fact that survivors worship right next to you each Sunday.”
Protect and prepare children
“Every child [and person] deserves to be safe and cared for,” said Dinah Weldon, director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Families at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. “Helping individuals and families understand what is considered abuse and providing language to discuss the various types of abuse helps prevent it from happening; it also encourages appropriate responses when abuse is suspected or disclosed.”
Brown said parents can protect and prepare their children by learning how to talk to them about abuse. “Abuse.lds.org can help families begin these important discussions,” she said. “Abuse thrives in secrecy. The more parents and children can discuss abuse and what to watch out for, check in regularly with each other, and establish family rules and boundaries as a group (with each member offering suggestions), the more likely they will all act as a team of protectors for each other.”
Tabet agreed, adding that these sometimes uncomfortable but still “crucial” conversations should not be limited to families. “The more that faith, school, and neighbourhood circles discuss the dynamics of abuse openly and honestly, the greater our chances of reducing victimization,” she said.
How you can help
Tabet urges members to report any suspected or known abuse to the appropriate authorities. “After abuse has been reported, friends and loved ones may struggle to know what to say or how to help. But love and support are essential to a person’s healing, so I hope that visitors to abuse.lds.org will leave the site feeling more prepared to be that lifeline.”
“Resources such as this website are an important beginning,” said Weldon, “but it is up to individuals, families, and communities to act. It is everyone’s responsibility to extend a hand of comfort and, at times, protection to those who are experiencing the pain of abuse.”
Brown said abuse is more common than people might think; it happens everywhere. “Someone you are close to is an abuse survivor; you just may not realize it,” she said. “Leaders and members need to support and help abuse survivors by treating them the way Christ would, with consistent love and kindness. Survivors each take a different path to healing. It may take us a long time to get there, and that’s okay and to be expected. Love us continually. Stand by us. You don’t have to have the perfect thing to say. … We just need to know you are there.”
To navigate to the new content on abuse on LDS.org, look under the heading “Families and Individuals,” click on “Hope and Help,” then click on “Abuse.” This content also will soon be available on the Gospel Library app under “Life Challenges.”
Other abuse-related efforts
Abuse.lds.org is just one of several recent efforts from the Church to prevent, identify, and respond to abuse.
In a March 26 letter, the First Presidency encouraged Church leaders to reach out in love to assist those suffering from abuse: “This global issue continues to be of great concern to us today. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who are affected by this serious problem.”
Accompanying the letter was a resource document updating guidelines for how bishops and stake presidencies counsel victims of sexual abuse and how they conduct interviews with Church members. (Read the four new important policy statements.)
Recently the Church also launched “Protect the Child,” a video outlining the responsibilities of ward and branch councils for preventing child abuse, updated the Gospel Topics page on abuse, and joined in signing the Safe Children Initiative for Utah Faith Leaders.