Mormonism and sexual violence

Authored by: Andrea G. Radke-Moss

The Routledge Handbook of Mormonism and Gender

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815395218
eBook ISBN: 9781351181600
Adobe ISBN:


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In 2003, the kidnapping and prolonged sexual captivity of Elizabeth Smart brought renewed media attention to the incidents of sexual violence among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Church’s response to that abuse. Historically, violent religious persecution made Mormon women victims of wartime rapes; however, the introduction of Mormon plural marriage practices brought accusations that the Church itself promoted nonconsensual marriages of adolescent girls to older men. Indeed, church members have been in both positions: innocent victims of outsider attacks as well as perpetrators of sexual crimes within their own ranks. In the twentieth century, church leaders focused more on sexual misconduct among its members, leading some to dismiss reports of sexual crimes as the inevitable results of women’s own sexual behavior or immodest dress. Making matters worse, some high-profile cases have portrayed an institutional church that struggles to handle its sexual abuse cases, in part because of widespread institutional authority given to unpaid and untrained male lay leaders. Still, the demands of modern society, with its increasing sexual assault awareness, attention to victims’ rights, and the pervasiveness of social media have encouraged changes in how religious institutions respond to sexual assault. The Church of Jesus Christ has been similarly affected by these changes, especially in making slow but persistent efforts to respond more carefully to sexual assault victims.

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