SALT LAKE CITY – A woman who claims in a lawsuit that her father sexually abused her as a child said Thursday that the Mormon church leaders allowed the abuse to continue by not reporting to the police.
Kristy Johnson said at a press conference that her now deceased mother told local leaders of the church in Utah and California about the abuse multiple times during the 1960s and 1970s. Her father, Melvin Kay Johnson, a church employee who worked for the religious education of the poor of the faith, was moved to different cities by the church after each report, but the police were not contacted, she claims in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in the u.s. state of Utah.
Johnson, now 55 and living in La Habra, California, said she finally reported the abuse to the police in California in 1986, when she returned from a Mormon mission. Her father was never arrested, but the church kicked. He was allowed back a year later, he went before a church court and convinced them that he had repented, said the woman.
Melvin Kay Johnson, who now lives in Lehi, Utah, did not respond to a voicemail left at a listed phone number.
The Mormon church is not named in Johnson’s lawsuit because of statute of limitation rules, but the accusations follow other lawsuits that claim that the religion is not treated properly, sexual abuse.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Eric Hawkins did not immediately comment about the lawsuit.
The court cases have put the spotlight on how the church deals with sexual abuse, allowing the religion to explain and re-examine what the lay leaders who run local municipalities should do when a member of the church trusts them abused.
Some Mormons have expressed dismay that they were advised to stay in abuse or keep in the house.
The church says it has “zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and announced in March a series of updated guidelines for how the male bishops should deal with sexual assault reports. The guidelines direct them to never ignore a report of abuse, a more direct statement than the previous guidelines, and the call of a church hotline that will help them find assistance to victims and the report of the crime.
The Associated Press does not usually name victims of sexual violence, but Johnson said she decided to go public with her story following the deaths in the last years of her mother and brother, who she says encouraged her to seek justice.
A documentary about her story, called “Glass Temples,” is debuting Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Johnson said that the abuse started when she was 6 and continued until she was 18. Her father would come into her bedroom in the night and assault her, she said. They would try to listen to her father ‘s footsteps and then turns the light on and pretending she was studying the Scriptures, an excuse for him to go away,” she said.
“But sometimes I didn’t hear him and I would wake up and he would do stuff to me,” said Johnson, crying. “I would blame myself.”
Like other people who have called about the sexual abuse of children, they say occurred in the Mormon family, Johnson said her experience illustrates systemic problems in the church. She believes her mother, who is separated from her father in the 1980’s, do not report the abuse because they are acquiescing to the Mormon culture that has been called for abuse reports are handled internally.
She said that the abuse made her question if there was a God, and has a great impact on her ability to her professional goals, trust in people and having healthy relationships. She is divorced with a child and not have a job.
“It is a life-long sentence for the victims,” said Johnson. “You can get as much therapy as you want, but it is something that is always with you.”
Craig Vernon, her lawyer, claimed that the religion deals with abuse as sins instead of crimes. He has represented others who have called the church, including Dave Denson, who accuses a former training director of raping her in the 1980s.
He urged religion to instruct members to report abuse directly to the police, not of the bishops.
“The church is going to protect against sexual predators with their policies and culture, or are they going to protect children?” Vernon asked.